Valtteri Bottas says he's encouraged by the improvements Mercedes has made since the F1 season-opener in Bahrain but remains wary of Red Bull despite it having a troubled Friday at Imola.

Bottas dominated Friday practice for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix as he topped both sessions.

In first practice, Sergio Perez’s running was cut short after colliding with Esteban Ocon, while in FP2, Max Verstappen’s Red Bull ground to a halt after just ten minutes.

Reflecting on Friday at Imola, Bottas said: “To be honest, starting this weekend, if I compare it with Bahrain and how the car is feeling, it’s definitely better, so that’s nice. As I said yesterday, it’s a different kind of track, a different type of circuit and surface and grip level, but at least the weekend started in a positive way and the car really wasn’t far off in terms of setup.

“There are still things to be tunned but, overall, the balance is good. I’m. a lot happier with the car now than three weeks ago.”

Mercedes struggled to find much time when running on the soft tyre during the qualifying simulations, meaning it was only a tenth clear of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly in FP2.

Bottas is wary of the threat posed by the midfield and he expects Red Bull to still be the team to beat in qualifying.

“The whole grid looks, the midfield and the front-end, looks really close and we definitely didn't see the best out of Red Bull yet today, we're going to see that in Q3 tomorrow,” Bottas added. “But no doubt they're going to be fast and we still don't think we are the fastest car. We really need to prove that on Saturday.”

Lewis Hamilton ended both sessions just behind his teammate in second place.

The seven-time world champion believes Mercedes’ improvement is down to a combination of the track suiting the W12 and improvements with the car setup.

“I think a bit of both,” Hamilton said. “I think the team has definitely worked really hard to try and understand what happened in the last race where we were weak and see if we can try and tweak the car a little bit better with set-up. I think the track has also come a little bit more in our direction.

“Yeah we started off with a really good set-up, small tweaks here and there but no major issues, and so far good pace for us.”



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