Emilia-Romagna GP: Valtteri Bottas aims to beat Lewis Hamilton with Mercedes set to secure title
Watch the Imola race live on Sky Sports F1 on Sunday. Race build-up from 10.30am with lights out at 12.10pm; Mercedes set to clinch 2020 constructors' title and head front row again ahead of Max Verstappen, with Valtteri Bottas on pole this time
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 01/11/20 12:54pm
Valtteri Bottas will bid to improve his F1 pole-victory strike rate and beat Lewis Hamilton in an Emilia-Romagna GP in which Mercedes are set to clinch a record seventh Constructors' Championship in a row.
F1's first running of a two-day weekend for the sport's well-received return to Imola has hitherto not knocked Mercedes out of their stride, with the world champions enjoying their most dominant Saturday for several races as part of their 11th qualifying one-two of the season.
But for just the fourth time year it was Bottas who won the head-to-head duel with Hamilton.
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So often on the wrong side of a tenth of a second margin this year, it was the Finn who delivered the superior final Q3 lap this time to pip Hamilton to F1's first pole at historic Imola for 14 years.
"It's been so close many times, so now at least it's the other way around," Bottas admitted to Sky F1. "It's a good feeling to get the lap at the end."
But the Sunday challenge for Bottas is certainly more formidable.
For starters, the Finn has a conversion rate of just 36 per cent (five wins from 14 poles) when previously starting from the head of the grid in Formula 1.
He has also lost leads to Hamilton in each of the last two grands prix, in Germany and Portugal.
Bottas admitted: "I need to be on the ball tomorrow if I'm going to win because this guy [Hamilton] is pretty quick, and I'm sure Max [Verstappen] is going to challenge as well."
Sunday's race is live at 12.10pm on Sky Sports F1, with extensive build-up from 10.30am.
The top 10 on Sunday's Imola grid
|1) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes||2) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes|
|3) Max Verstappen, Red Bull||4) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri|
|5) Daniel Ricciardo, Renault||6) Alexander Albon, Red Bull|
|7) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari||8) Daniil Kvyat, AlphaTauri|
|9) Lando Norris, McLaren||10) Carlos Sainz, McLaren|
Hamilton hopes from second place? And what about Verstappen?
Leading Bottas by a commanding 77 points in the championship, Hamilton is likely to have a first chance of clinching a seventh Drivers' Championship as soon as the next event in Turkey on November 15 irrespective of what happens in Sunday's race.
But a ninth victory of the season at Imola would undoubtedly put one one hand on the trophy again.
Although Hamilton was not particularly pleased with either of his laps in Q3, the six-time champion appeared relaxed about missing out on pole and promised to "give it everything I've got" to win the race from second on the grid.
But the world champion warned that following - and particularly overtaking - would not be straightforward on a fast, flowing Imola circuit that has never been famed for passing opportunities.
"You can overtake on this long straight but it's quite narrow - and you can't follow," said Hamilton.
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"Once you get into Turn One there is no single place to overtake anywhere else. It's going to be a challenge for people following but as I said the DRS will hopefully give some overtaking opportunities into Turn One for people.
"For us, that means…as you see we are within half a tenth of each other and to have an opportunity of overtaking I think you have to have a gain of something like two seconds or something to the car ahead to have a chance.
"Nonetheless, I'm going to give it everything I've got tomorrow and fingers crossed."
Max Verstappen, however, may require something more than crossed fingers to truly get in the mix with the Mercedes pair over the 63-lap race distance.
The Dutchman starts third on the grid for the seventh time this year after a qualifying session disrupted by an electrical issue on his Red Bull at the start of Q2. It left him with time for just one timed lap at the end of the session after rapid repair work from the team in the garage.
"I'm trying all the time!" said a smiling Verstappen when asked if Sunday would be tighter with Mercedes.
"Let's see how quick they're going to be."
Verstappen shares the second row with former team-mate Pierre Gasly, who starred again in 2020 to take AlphaTauri's best grid spot in F1 since the 2008 Italian GP when a young Sebastian Vettel claimed the then-Toro Rosso team's only pole.
Daniel Ricciardo, another ex-Verstappen team-mate, starts fifth for Renault. Current Red Bull stable-mate Alex Albon is sixth ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.
How Mercedes can clinch 2020's first world title
Mercedes lead second-placed Red Bull, the only other team still in mathematical contention, by 209 points in the Constructors' Championship heading into Sunday's race - the 13th round of the 17-race season.
There are only a maximum of 176 points left up for grabs in the four events after Imola.
So to deny Mercedes another constructors' coronation on Sunday, Red Bull must outscore their great rivals by 34 points to make them wait at least two more weeks to Turkey to retain the trophy.
But even if Red Bull were to finish one-two with the fastest lap (44 points), one Mercedes driver would just need to finish fourth to clinch the team another crown with four races to spare.
With the constructors' race therefore highly likely to be settled on Sunday, Mercedes are set to move alongside Lotus on seven Constructors' Championship titles in F1 history, with one fewer than McLaren and two fewer than Williams. Ferrari lead the all-time table with 16.