IMOLA, Italy (Reuters) - Formula One leader Lewis Hamilton put Mercedes at the top of the time sheets in the sole practice session on Saturday ahead of the Emilia Romagna Formula One Grand Prix.
The 35-year-old clocked one minute 14.726 seconds on a cool but sunny morning at Italy’s Imola circuit, beating Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by 0.297 seconds.
The Briton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas was 0.492 seconds slower in third.
Mercedes, winners of all but two races this season, lead Red Bull by 209 points in the overall standings and need only a fourth place finish to wrap up a seventh constructors’ title this weekend as a maximum of 176 points will be available after Sunday.
Hamilton, 77 points clear of closest challenger Bottas, is on course to equal Michael Schumacher’s record haul of seven titles - although he will not be able to clinch it on Sunday.
The Briton broke the German great’s record for most Formula One wins by taking a 92nd career victory at last week’s Portuguese Grand Prix.
Pierre Gasly was fourth for AlphaTauri.
Charles Leclerc complained of understeer but still managed fifth, offering Ferrari -- winners with Michael Schumacher the last time Formula One visited Imola in 2006 -- some encouragement at a track named after the team's founder Enzo and his son Dino.
Daniel Ricciardo was sixth ahead of team mate Esteban Ocon, with the Renault pair watched keenly by double world champion Fernando Alonso who is set to make his Formula One return with the French team next year.
Daniil Kvyat in the other AlphaTauri was eighth. Alexander Albon, under pressure to keep his seat next season, was ninth for Red Bull.
Canadian Lance Stroll rounded out the top ten for Racing Point.
Formula One is trialling a new two-day format this weekend, due partly to teams being pressed for time due to a number of back-to-back races being scheduled.
Drivers and teams only had Saturday's 90-minute practice session to get to grips with the track. They usually have two 90-minute sessions on Friday and an additional hour on Saturday.
(Reporting by Abhishek Takle in Mumbai; editing by Pritha Sarkar)