For the fourth time this season, Valtteri Bottas upstaged Formula 1 teammate Lewis Hamilton in qualifying to claim pole position for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. 

After his disappointment of missing out on pole at the previous round in Portugal having dominated throughout practice, Bottas appeared to be facing the prospect of another narrow qualifying defeat at the hands of Hamilton after the first runs of Q3 were completed. 

The Finn was just 0.031s slower than Hamilton after the opening salvo in the pole shootout, but this time around, Bottas was able to turn the tables to inflict a frustrating defeat on Hamilton. 

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Bottas was made to work extremely hard to snatch pole away from Hamilton to top qualifying for the 15th in his career by taking extra risk on his last lap in Q3 on F1’s first official two-day weekend at the returning Imola circuit. 

“You always have to [fight for it],” Bottas said. “You don’t ever get easily the pole positions and I really enjoyed it. 

“This track, when you push flat-out, it’s beautiful. I knew I had to improve in the last lap and I found those small gains that were needed and it’s a great feeling when you get those. Definitely I had the shakes after. It was good fun.”

It was a rare moment of triumph for Bottas in a season that has largely been dominated by Hamilton, who has taken nine poles and won eight of the 12 events that have taken place so far to establish a huge 77-point advantage over his teammate.

While the numbers will tell you that Hamilton has beaten Bottas in all but four of the 13 qualifying sessions held this year, Bottas has run Hamilton close in the majority of them, pushing the Briton to reach new levels of performance. 

Aside from a wet qualifying at the second race in Austria and big deficits of over half a second at the Belgian and Russian Grands Prix, Bottas has managed to get within three-tenths of Hamilton every other weekend, with the gap standing at less than a tenth on three occasions. 

This is against the greatest F1 qualifier of all time, with Hamilton sitting on 97 poles - 28 more than the tally the great Michael Schumacher achieved. 

Yet Bottas’ performances have still been the subject of heavy external criticism at times for not giving Hamilton enough of a fight, with his teammate effectively running away with the 2020 world title. 

With all that considered, has the job Bottas has done this year been underrated? 

“I don’t really think about that, how people rate me,” Bottas replied when asked that very question. “It’s something that I think is the wrong area to focus on.

“Sometimes you get criticism, I think everyone does. That’s normal in life, and there’s always people who want to drag you down. I just try to turn it into positive energy and try to use it as a strength.

“So, I’m not really one to comment on [whether I’m] underrated or overrated, whatever, I should not think about that.

“I’m just focusing on my driving, trying to get pole, trying to get wins. That’s my job. That’s what I like to do.”

After being left to bemoan a “piss poor” final effort that cost him a shot at pole, Hamilton said he believes “not many people” could perform at the same level Bottas has been able to extract time and time again, particularly this season. 

“I don’t really think I need to say much, I mean, jeez, he just got pole position, he’s ahead of me,” Hamilton explained. 

“I have more poles than anyone here so it’s not like I’m a slowpoke and so he’s doing an amazing job.

“I think his result today speaks for itself and I don’t really need to say much more. He does his talking on the track and that’s the great thing about Valtteri.

“I don’t think there’s many people that can do what he’s doing, if I’m really honest. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for him.”

But it is on race day when Bottas tends to underwhelm, having only converted five of his previous 14 poles into victories and amassing just nine wins compared to Hamilton’s 39 victories during their four-season spell together at Mercedes. 

All eyes will now be on the start and whether Bottas will get his elbows out and can give Hamilton a firmer fight. 

The other stars of qualifying 

Behind the dominant Mercedes duo who sealed a 75th front-row lockout for the German manufacturer, there were a series of impressive displays. 

Pierre Gasly claimed an impressive fourth for AlphaTauri in what was the stand-out performance of qualifying, posting a time just 0.326s slower than what Verstappen managed in his Red Bull and less than a second off Bottas’ benchmark. 

Gasly also outpaced Albon - who replaced the Frenchman at Red Bull last year - with the Thai racer under increasing pressure to retain his seat at the senior team for 2021. 

P4 is the best qualifying result for AlphaTauri since Sebastian Vettel was on pole for the then Toro Rosso outfit at Monza in 2008. It marks the best dry-weather qualifying result for the Faenza squad - which has just announced that Gasly will stay put at the team for next season - since its Minardi days in 1990. 

Gasly’s teammate, Daniil Kvyat, whose F1 future remains uncertain beyond the end of the year, ensured both AlphaTauri’s made it into Q3 for the first time this season with his own best qualifying result of 2020 in eighth. 

George Russell was equally impressive in his Williams. Dubbed F1’s ‘Mr Saturday’, Russell turned in another outstanding display to take his eighth Q2 appearance of the season and take 13th place on the grid, out-qualifying Ferrari driver Vettel for the second consecutive race. 

It was the latest in a string of stunning performances in 2020 for Russell, who stretched his remarkable unbeaten qualifying record against his F1 teammates to 34-0 on a weekend his seat at Williams was reconfirmed for 2021 following much speculation that he could inexplicably lose his drive.