F1 drivers in awe of 'incredible' Imola circuit

Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton led the praise of Imola, which hosted its first Formula One race since 2006 at this weekend's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

The famous Italian circuit stepped in to help fill the F1 calendar after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a complete rewrite of the 2020 calendar. Before 2006 it had been a mainstay on the schedule, typically as the San Marino Grand Prix.

Speaking before the one and only practice session on Saturday morning, Hamilton said: "This track is incredible -- it's unbelievable how fast it is around this track. I think for a single lap it's going to be incredible."

Hamilton was eventually beaten to pole position by Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas but his love of the circuit had not diminished after the session. The six-time world champion questioned why circuits like Imola are so rare nowadays.

"They don't build tracks like this anymore," he said. "I don't know why the new guys can't build a track like this. I mean, it's just a classic: It's got the history, which helps."

Daniel Ricciardo qualified fifth and was still trying to contain his excitement after getting out of the car.

"That was, wow, I'm still smiling," he said. "That was such a fun lap. I'm very happy with the lap and the result.

"Even that aside, pushing the cars around here, doing those lap times, is fun. It's a serious circuit, it really is. It's that combination, it's narrow, it's tight, it's fast. There's chicanes, but chicanes you can attack the kerbs.

"Not sure what it is with race cars and race drivers, something about taking kerbs and really throwing the car around, it shows a bit of personality in a way. Felt like a fun ragged aggressive session which we could manhandle. Q3 was awesome -- that lap was my best Q3 one of the year."

Bottas, who will start from the front of the grid, said the circuit became more enjoyable with each attempt.

"This track is beautiful and it's a great feeling to get pole -- I had the shakes afterwards," Bottas said immediately after the session.

In the news conference that followed, he said: "I didn't really have much experience on this track and once we got down to the qualifying session, the laps kept going faster and you really start to appreciate this track more and more.

"Towards the end of qualifying, when you're really flat out, it's really beautiful, it's enjoyable to drive, proper old school track and that's what we all like."

There were several messages of praise during the session over the onboard radio.

During practice, Kevin Magnussen told Haas: "This is absolutely mega!"

After qualifying 13th, Williams driver George Russell was quick to suggest that Imola remain on the calendar beyond 2020.

"That was a good lap, nice lap," he said. "We need more tracks like this in F1, because this is f---ing awesome."