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Valtteri Bottas said ahead of this weekend that Mercedes are the hunters, not the hunted, despite having arrived at Imola off the back of a first and third in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
He is partly right because up to this weekend, Red Bull’s RB16B has been the quickest machine on the grid, both in qualifying and race trim.
READ MORE: FP2: Bottas quickest as Verstappen stops on track and late Leclerc shunt halts second practice early
But based on Friday’s running, it looks like Mercedes have made a step this weekend, having brought a suite of new parts to the race that trackside chief Andrew Shovlin says have worked as expected.
The W12 looks more comfortable around the narrow, undulating and bumpy old school track, with both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas saying the balance feels like it’s in the right place already.
But the two-time champion said there was very little separating the midfield teams as Alpine aim to close the gap to the likes of McLaren, AlphaTauri and Aston Martin with their first points finish.
“It’s going to be very close,” continued Alonso. “I think we saw in Bahrain – and I don’t think it’s going to be very different here – two or three tenths will make six or seven positions up and down, and hopefully we are one of those in the upper part.
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“I’m happy with the progress, all the new parts seemed to work ,and we need to make further analysis, but we are quite optimistic that we made a step forward in terms of performance. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow,” he concluded.
Alonso has a terrific record at Imola as he won the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix and finished second in 2006, and now will now be preparing for his first qualifying session at the circuit in 15 years.