The championship leader though cannot clinch a record-equalling seventh world title this weekend no matter what happens, with the gap at 77 points.
Valtteri Bottas’ narrow window of opportunity is quickly closing, but mathematically the Finn is not technically out of contention just yet, and a race win would be a welcome one after a demoralising weekend in Portugal.
With wins at Mugello, Nürburgring and Portimão, Mercedes has won at all of the new venues added to the 2020 calendar, and are likely to extend that streak at Imola. Should Hamilton take victory, he would still be able to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 13 wins in a single season, jointly held by Sebastian Vettel.
Time appears to be running out for Alex Albon’s chances to secure a seat at Red Bull for 2021. While Max Verstappen may well have challenged Valtteri Bottas for second in Portugal had the team started on medium tyres, Albon ended up a lap down on his team-mate and outside of the points yet again.
Team principal Christian Horner has made it clear that he has only a few races to stake his claim for the second seat, so Albon could use a better weekend than he had back at the Nürburgring, the last time F1 staged a two-day race event.
Pierre Gasly’s confirmation at AlphaTauri for 2021 has ruled him out of a potential reunion alongside Verstappen at Red Bull, but Horner also added that Albon could achieve similar results if he was in Gasly’s car.
“I think Alex in that car would probably perform equal to how Pierre is at the moment,” he told Sky F1.
“We have so much information on these drivers and the characteristics of our car are very different.
“That’s something that Alex in certain conditions is struggling with, as Pierre did 12 months ago. That’s something we probably need to work on.”
With Red Bull starting to tame the unstable rear end of the RB16 and Mercedes admitting that development has shifted away from its 2020 car, there may be a surprise or two before the end of the season.
Renault slipped to the bottom half of the top 10 after an initially promising start in Portugal, but still made up ground on Racing Point in the fight for best of the rest.
The team has come on leaps and bounds since the halfway mark of the season, and is arguably the team with the most momentum out of their rivals heading into the final stages of the year.
“Imola is another new one for us. I’m excited about going there as we’ve had a great run of racing at new places and I’ve enjoyed them all so far,” Daniel Ricciardo said.
“It’s also back to another Italian race and I’ve had good results in Italy this year so I’m hoping to have another strong one this weekend.
“I haven’t raced at Imola before and I’m sure there will be a bit of an aura about the place as there is so much history there and that will be nice to experience.”
Ferrari head of race strategy Iñaki Rueda is confident the team has gotten on top of its new upgrade packages, with Leclerc’s fourth place in Portugal the best for the team since Silverstone.
“In Portimão, we completed a development programme that began in Sochi. In Portugal specifically, we introduced a new floor and diffuser, which we had wanted to test at the Nürburgring, but could not because of the rain.
“We also experimented with a new configuration to the end of the floor to reproduce the downforce levels we will have in 2021, after recent changes to the technical regulations and also tried some solutions that should help to warm up the tyres, an area in which we have suffered this year, especially in the low temperatures we have encountered in this unusual season. I’d say the results were positive, to the extent we then fitted the updates to both cars.
“Now we have to confirm what we saw in Portimao this coming weekend at Imola. That will be another unusual weekend give that the event takes place over just two days.
“It won’t be the first time, given that in the past, bad weather has led to sessions being delayed to the following day, but it will still be a different experience. Who knows, it might be an additional opportunity to do well.”
Lance Stroll celebrates his birthday on the Thursday ahead of the Emilia Romagna GP, and he’ll need to have cleared his head after last weekend ended in retirement at Portimao.
It was a costly one too, with Renault scoring with both cars and Carlos Sainz’s P6 finish leaving the points situation in the midfield battle at just six points, and only a two-point buffer between Racing Point in third and McLaren behind in fourth.
“I’m very excited! Not only is Imola such a famous circuit, but we’ll have the two-day format as well, which has the potential to really mix things up,” Stroll said. “I also have great memories there, so it’s a weekend I’m relishing.”
Stroll took victory at Imola back in his Euro F3 days, and has fond memories of the legendary circuit.
“It feels like a lifetime ago! There was a lot of champagne that night. It was so emotional and a huge achievement in my racing career. I worked so hard to win it and that just makes the idea of returning to Imola all the more special.”
The P6 finish for Carlos Sainz was a huge result for McLaren as Lando Norris struggled comparatively, but the team appears to be getting a better handle on its upgrade package.
One of last weekend’s star performers, Sainz showed that McLaren has a great race pace still after a brief dip in form, and it comes at a crucial time with the minimal points separating third from sixth in the constructors’ standings.
“We come away from Portugal after scoring good points that are crucial for both championships,” the Spaniard said.
“The car felt a step better last weekend, so we did a good job as a team in understanding the different upgrades and deciding which direction to take.
“It’s great to be heading to Italy for the third time this season with this weekend being in Imola. No running on Friday will be an interesting test as there will be limited time to get to grips with the track and less data to analyse ahead of quali.
“Personally, Fridays make sense as long as the number of races are reasonable. Looking forward to this weekend.”
AlphaTauri is the only team on the grid to have tested around Imola with its 2020 car. The Faenza team conducted a private test prior to the resumption of racing in the summer, but Pierre Gasly believes the team will have its work cut out to get the car dialled in with the shorter weekend format.
“In June we had a filming day with the team there, and even if it was possible to do only a few laps, I enjoyed running around the track a lot. It’s an old-school track, one of those I really like, with gravel traps, high-speed and blind corners and elevation changes.
“It’s not going to be easy to set up the car properly for qualifying and the race with only one free practice, but it’s a nice challenge which makes the weekend very exciting.
“We have tested this format at the Nürburgring when both Friday sessions were cancelled, and I have to say we managed to do everything we needed and the race was a really good one. Hopefully, it will be the same in Imola where the temperatures might be quite cold like in Germany.
“Last but not least, it’s another home grand prix, the closest one to the team’s HQ – only around 20km away. I’ll try to do all I can to deliver the best possible performance like always, good points in Imola would be a big thank you to them all.”
Team principal Fréd Vasseur is hopeful of another good result on a compressed weekend, with the team scoring points at the Eifel GP.
“The Imola weekend is another experiment in this 2020 season, with the shorter programme meaning we have to extract all we can in the single practice session on Saturday: it’s not too different from the times we had a washout on Friday, most recently at the Nürburgring, so I don’t think it will take anyone by surprise.
“Last time it happened, however, we had a fairly interesting race and we came home with a point, so hopefully we will be among those adapting better to these novel circumstances.
“We saw some more performance from our team in the last few rounds and now it’s time to keep pushing to make the last step needed to be in the top ten more regularly.”
Another great performer in Portugal was Kimi Räikkönen. The Finn is the only driver on the grid with prior F1 experience around the Imola circuit, but hasn’t been fond of a few reminders he’s had in the build up.
“A few people have mentioned the times in which I retired from the lead with mechanical issues, but I also had a podium there in 2003 so things are not always so bad.
“In any case, there’s no point looking back at what we did so many years ago, I’d very much rather focus on this weekend.”
The last time F1 raced at Imola, Mark Webber secured a P6 finish for Williams. The team will need a lot of luck to replicate that result.
Williams’ head of vehicle performance Dave Robson believes the newer layout will make the single practice session even more crucial than at other new additions to the 2020 calendar.
“This week is our third trip of the year to Italy, this time for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at the famous Imola circuit. Although we have raced here in the past, this is essentially another new circuit and will present all the challenges that we have faced recently in Mugello and Portimão.
“However, this week there is the additional complexity of the shorter event format. A single free practice session shortly before the qualifying practice session will put a lot of pressure on the drivers and engineers alike and we are likely to see a range of approaches from the teams.
“Over the years, the circuit itself has been remodelled numerous times, but it retains the fast-flowing nature, the unusual anti-clockwise direction and the famous corners at Piratella, Acque Minerali and Rivazza.
“The run from the second part of Rivazza to the chicane at Tamburello is now flat-out passing the new pit complex. Setting the car up to meet the demands of such an epic circuit will be difficult in just 90 minutes, but it’s a challenge that we are looking forward to.”
The last time F1 had a two-day race weekend Haas was able to score points, with Romain Grosjean earning a ninth-place finish in the Eifel GP. This weekend is another chance then for the American team to make the most of the compressed schedule.
“I guess it’s not easy,” Grosjean said.
“There are a few tracks, like Barcelona, where you don’t really need the Friday as you know it by heart. But Imola – well I raced there a very long time ago, so I don’t really remember it that well. Saying that, the Nürburgring was kind of the same and things turned out well for us.
“I think it’s quite exciting. It brings some unpredictability into the race – that’s something Formula 1 has been generally lacking. Hopefully it will spice things up.”