Valtteri Bottas heaped praise on the Mugello circuit on Friday after completing a controlled 'double top' to outpace Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in a crash-hit second practice for this weekend's first Tuscan Grand Prix.
Bottas clocked a best time of one minute and 16.989 seconds around the spectacular 5.245km Ferrari-owned Mugello circuit, two-tenths quicker than championship leader Lewis Hamilton with Max Verstappen a familiar third for Red Bull.
It is the fifth Friday at successive events that the Finn has been fastest in at least one session. But he went better this time by topping both sessions, boosting his bid to close the 47-point lead that Hamilton has built up in the drivers' title race.
"It's been a lot of fun today and I've enjoyed every single lap," said Bottas. "The whole opening section, with the high-speed chicanes, and the second sector, is just amazing and the car felt pretty good out there.
"This track is definitely one of the most physically demanding, but we'll only see the effects in the race, but even today I could feel it -- and it's going to be tough for everyone on Sunday."
Hamilton was also enthusiastic about the circuit near Florence, which is more used to hosting MotoGP than F1 contests.
"I have to say, this track is pretty intense -- so fast and challenging," said reigning champion Hamilton.
"It's definitely a real challenge, it's just I'm not that great at it –- not just yet."
The afternoon session was stopped twice for red flags after Lando Norris crashed his McLaren after spinning and, later, Sergio Perez of Racing Point collided with Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.
Alex Albon was fourth in the second Red Bull ahead of the two Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon, Perez and last Sunday’s Monza winner Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri.
Raikkonen was ninth for Alfa Romeo and Charles Leclerc tenth in his Ferrari, as the Italian team showed a solid improvement after two pointless weekends before this weekend’s celebration of their 1000th Grand Prix.
His Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who is leaving the team at the end of the season, ended the session stranded out on the track after the engine of his gleaming burgundy-red car cut out.
- Norris crash -
The session ran in balmy conditions with an air temperature of 29 degrees and the track at 45, perfect weather for the few paying spectators, from the official Ferrari Fan Club, allowed inside for the first time in this coronavirus-hit season.
After a flurry of action led by Norris, the burgundy-liveried Ferraris joined the fray and Leclerc spun on his hard tyres on his out-lap, returning immediately to the pits as Verstappen went fastest for Red Bull.
Bottas then picked up where he had left off in the morning by going top in 1:18.019, a time he soon trimmed before Norris crashed at the exit of Turn Three after running wide and into the gravel.
The impact as he slid into the barriers tore the front wing off his McLaren car before he slid to a halt. He was unhurt and walked away, but the session was red-flagged for eight minutes to allow for the wreckage to be cleared.
On resumption, Bottas was quick again on soft tyres as he cut his lap to 1:16.989, enough to keep him two-tenths ahead of team-mate Hamilton.
Next, it was Vettel who ran off at Turn 13, prompting a brief yellow-flags period after a full spin before Perez clipped Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo at Turn One, sending the Finn into a gravel trap.
The session had to be stopped again to clear the debris, this time for 11 minutes, leaving little more than five minutes of action before the chequered flag.