Ferrari topped the timesheet on the first day in Canada, with Charles Leclerc being the Friday “pole man” with a best time of 1.12.177. Next up on this theoretical grid would be his team-mate Sebastian Vettel who did a 1.12.251. This track is very power dependent and Scuderia Ferrari seems to be very competitive, as indeed was the case in Bahrain. The Prancing Horse seems particularly comfortable with the red-banded Pirelli tyres, while the yellow Mediums did not seem to suit them so well.
“It has been a positive day overall. There was quite a bit of concrete dust on the track this morning, which, in combination with high temperatures, gave us a challenge in terms of grip. The conditions improved throughout the day and I felt more comfortable in the second session.
We made a good step between FP1 and FP2 and will have to continue working hard to repeat this tomorrow. It is still difficult to say where we will stand in qualifying. We expect our competitors to be strong and will do our best to secure a good result,” said Leclerc.
And what of Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport? The dominant team over the first third of the season was on top in the morning session, with Lewis Hamilton (1.12.767) ahead of Valtteri Bottas (1.12.914,) lapping significantly quicker than the rest, with third-placed Leclerc a whopping second slower in 1.13.720. In the afternoon, Bottas, in particular, looked good on the long runs, with the Finn posting a time of 1.12.311 to go third quickest. That meant he was keeping pace with his closest rivals and was really fast when he did a race simulation on the Hard tyres, running quicker and more consistently than Leclerc, who was attempting a long run on the Mediums at the same time.
Lewis Hamilton had to settle for sixth place in 1.12.938 in FP2. The five times world champion had to sit out most of the afternoon session when he hit the wall a hefty blow at the exit to turn 9 with the right rear wheel. He managed to limp back to the pits slowly despite having a puncture, but there was not enough time for the mechanics to repair the car before the end of the session. So, his true potential over a qualifying lap remains unclear, even if his race pace was not in doubt.
“The morning session went smoothly; the track was very dirty in the beginning, but we’re all in the same boat. I made a mistake in FP2 and damaged the car. The boys tried really hard to fix it, but there wasn’t enough time. I don’t remember the last time I missed a whole session before. It’s definitely not great to watch the session from the garage; it feels like sitting in the headmaster’s office, wishing to be back in class. It was an innocent mistake, I was doing multiple laps on the Medium tyre and was really trying to find the limit. Obviously I went slightly over, I had a big snap out of Turn 9 and was drifting for a long time, hoping I wouldn’t hit the wall. But these things happen; you just have to put it behind straight away you and get back on the horse. Luckily Valtteri had a good session today, so there’ll be a lot of analysis from that. The boys will do a great job fixing the car tonight and we’ll come back ready for a better day tomorrow,” said Hamilton.
In this situation, one would have expected to find the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team ahead of Hamilton, but it was not the case. Max Verstappen showed promise in the morning, getting close to the Ferrari, but in the afternoon, he could do no better than 13th in 1.13.388. He might have done better but he missed most of the session, after hitting the famous “Champions Wall” at the final corner. His teammate Pierre Gasly was twelfth in 1.13.345. The main beneficiary of these various travails was Carlos Sainz, an impressive fourth in 1.12.533 and, as we have seen before, Kevin Magnussen did an excellent job in the Haas to be fifth in 1.12.935.
Completing the top ten this Friday were two teams: SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team had Sergio Perez in seventh (1.13.003) and the local hero Lance Stroll was tenth in 1.13.171. In between these teammates were the two Renaults, with Daniel Ricciardo (1.13.016) ahead of Nico Hulkenberg (1.13.168.)
As usual, what’s really happening on Friday is clearer to the teams than to everyone else, but there are always a few facts than be read into it. Track conditions in Montreal are in a constant state of rapid evolution, which means anything can happen, but it’s a fact that Mercedes are still the undoubted favourites. In qualifying at least, Ferrari might be a little bit closer, but in the race, one has to consider tyre degradation, given that today, the air temperature reached 29 °C and the track 47. It could even hotter over the next two days.
Even today, there was a big crowd at the Gilles Villeneuve track, as is always the case thanks to the enthusiasm the Montreal fans have for Formula 1. As for the famous venue, this year the teams, the media and the Paddock Club guests have got new facilities to enjoy with a new pit building erected in just ten months, thanks to financing from the City of Montreal and the Quebec government. It means the Ile Notre Dame facility is now bang up to date.