We are a lot closer to the front, says Hamilton

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton voiced a positive note about Friday's running, claiming that his team looks to be closer to the front of the field than at any points in the opening six races of the year.

Mercedes have had a tough start to the season despite some flashes of impressive speed. However, the opening day of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix indicated that the Anglo-German outfit might have taken a step forward thanks to a raft of upgrades that have just been bolted on the W15.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton finished the opening session down in P7, but he displayed a much more encouraging performance in the second one-hour practice, taking fourth in the overall standings.

"It’s been a good start to the weekend. We had a productive day and were able to run all three compounds. The balance of the car felt good, and I had a positive feeling out there. Several other teams look quick, in particular McLaren and Ferrari, but we’re a lot closer than we have been so far this season. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves though so let’s see how tomorrow goes.

"I am really grateful to everyone back at the factory for working so hard to bring these updates. We are seeing improvements in the car and our performance on track," added the seven-time world champion.

On the other side of the garage, George Russell was also left encouraged after the opening two practice sessions. The one-time race winner finished Free Practice 1 in an impressive second place while the second one-hour running saw him set the fifth-quickest lap time.

Speaking of his day, Russell also praised his team for the upgrade package that will make its debut this weekend in Imola.

"The car was feeling great today and both Lewis and I were happy behind-the-wheel. We looked reasonably competitive and slightly closer to the front of the field than we looked in Miami. Come Qualifying tomorrow we will find out exactly where we stand in the pecking order. McLaren looked very strong along with Ferrari but hopefully we can find a bit more speed and get closer to them. As always, it will be fine margins.

"The team has done a great job to bring the updates to the car so quickly. It definitely feels like a step forward at this point. It’s great to see the motivation within the team despite having a few tough races recently," Russell said.