Valtteri Bottas maintained his recent habit of being fastest on Friday when he clocked the quickest lap in opening practice for this weekend's inaugural Tuscan Grand Prix.
Heading into qualifying on F1's first competitive visit to Mugello on a grand prix race weekend, Hamilton had trailed his Mercedes teammate in all three practice sessions.
Max Verstappen was unable to challenge Mercedes - the Dutchman finishing third, 0.365 sec behind Hamilton - with his Red Bull team-mate Alexander Albon fourth.
With Hamilton failing to improve, Bottas said he "definitely" could have stolen pole off his championship-leading Mercedes team-mate, who hung on and now has seven F1 2020 poles from nine sessions.
"I still had more time in there", Bottas, who - barring Q2 - was faster than Hamilton in every weekend session before Q3, told Sky F1's Jenson Button. "The circuit is really lovely and on top of that, we are celebrating our team's 1000th GP in Formula 1". 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).
Ferrari unveils anniversary livery for 1000th F1 GP at Mugello
"I have been working really hard in the background to improve on my lines and set-up and I finally got the lap I needed. You go through Turns 6, 7, 8, 9 at 170-180mph and the G-force we're pulling is insane, it gets more and more as you go through".
Yet, with a yellow flag raised as a result of Ocon spinning off the track in his Renault, Bottas could not complete his last run and ultimately placed second.
"I still had more time in there, and I was just waiting to get it all right", Bottas explained after the chequered flag. "I've found that I am breathing heavier because there is so much focus and there is no room for error".
His despair was a sharp contrast with Leclerc's delight.
"I was doing laps and struggling to find the limit in certain sectors and Valtteri was miles ahead, so the pressure was higher than ever", he said. "The midfield in Formula 1 always has surprises, this has been a nasty surprise but we kept our heads down and we managed to improve the vehicle quite a lot going into qualifying so we also need to be happy and proud as a team that we didn't lose our heads too much". Monza and Spa were very disappointing. "In the end we made it happen".
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