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Sport

Hamilton beats Bottas to first Tuscan GP pole

(Reuters) - Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton took pole position for the first Tuscan Grand Prix at Italy’s Mugello circuit on Saturday and dealt another blow to Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas.

Formula One F1 - Tuscan Grand Prix - Mugello, Scarperia e San Piero, Italy - September 12, 2020 Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrates qualifying in pole position Pool via REUTERS/Luca Bruno

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen qualified third behind the Mercedes pair with Thai team mate Alexander Albon lining up fourth.

Charles Leclerc kept Ferrari’s head up for their 1,000th world championship grand prix, qualifying fifth at a track owned by the Italian team who are struggling after two dismal performances at Spa and Monza.

Sebastian Vettel was more than half a second slower and will line up 14th in the other Ferrari.

The pole was the 95th of Hamilton’s career and seventh in nine races this season, continuing Mercedes’ 100% record on Saturdays.

Bottas had every right to be disappointed, after lapping fastest in every practice session and also in the first phase of qualifying.

The Finn was then denied a chance to go faster just when it mattered most when Renault’s Esteban Ocon spun off and brought out yellow flags just after Hamilton had completed his final effort.

Hamilton’s provisional pole lap of one minute 15.144 seconds was ultimately good enough for the top slot, while the best Bottas could manage was 0.059 slower.

“It’s been a really tough weekend,” said Hamilton, who had struggled on Friday.

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“This track is phenomenal... It’s a really, really challenging circuit and you saw Valtteri was quicker than me all day yesterday and even this morning, and in Q1 (the first phase).

“I’ve been working so hard in the background to really try and improve on my lines, improve on the set up and with the engineers and mechanics we did such a great job and finally got the lap that I needed.”

Hamilton is 47 points clear of Bottas in the standings after eight races and the Finn needs to pull out something special to prevent the Briton running away with a seventh title.

He will have to make a much better start than last weekend, when he was also alongside Hamilton on the front row at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza but had dropped to sixth by the end of the first lap.

The jury is also still out on how easy it will be to overtake at Mugello, a fast and flowing circuit making its championship debut after the COVID-19 pandemic forced other venues to cancel.

“I still had more time in there,” said Bottas. “I was looking forward to the last lap but I didn’t get the opportunity.”

Verstappen said he had been surprised by the Red Bull’s pace: “I didn’t expect to fight in qualifying but this weekend it has looked very promising,” said the Dutchman.

AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, who won the astonishing race at Monza, will need to pull off an even bigger shock on Sunday after qualifying 16th.

“He had too much understeer on the car... he simply was too slow,” said team boss Franz Tost.

Mexican Sergio Perez qualified sixth for Racing Point but will drop behind his Canadian team mate Lance Stroll on the grid due to a one-place drop incurred in Friday practice for a collision with Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo starts eighth for Renault with Carlos Sainz ninth for McLaren and Frenchman Ocon completing the top 10.

“I am sorry for the guys that couldn’t complete their laps,” said Ocon of his spin. “Everyone pushes hard on this track and it bites you when you go over (the limit).”

Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Toby Davis

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