It’s a key weekend for the championship as the F1 circus moves to Canada. Lewis Hamilton is 25 points behind leader Sebastian Vettel and must start narrowing that gap. It’s a good time therefore for him to be driving on a circuit where he’s already won five times in his career. Let’s take a look at how the first two practice sessions unfolded as the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari continues.
First Practice Session
A great start for Hamilton as he just finished ahead of Sebastian Vettel. There was a gap of 0.198 seconds between the pair with team-mate Valtteri Bottas in third and Kimi Raikkonen fourth. So again, the Mercedes and Ferrari’s look evenly matched, so just who can get the advantage over the weekend?
Force India again showed their recent improvement with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon finishing fifth and sixth. Seventh spot was filled by Max Verstappen in his Red Bull with Felipe Massa eight in his Williams and the other Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo down in ninth.
After his superb effort in the Indy 500, Fernando Alonso has been rather vocal about the chances of him remaining with McLaren-Honda when his contract expires at the end of this season. He wants to see the car competitive so you can just imagine his feelings when his car suffered a lack of hydraulic pressure and he was told to stop on the track. He wasn’t too keen on that as he was close to the pits at that stage and chucked the impact-protection foam out of his cockpit.
Those feelings probably got even worse when the engineers were unable to say what had caused the problem. All he could say to reporters was a rather defeatist “We are used to it.” It puts the pressure even more on Honda, after the McLaren executive director Zak Brown again told them there needs to be big improvements in the performance of the car, “Right now, we’re not racing well, not finishing races and that can’t happen any more,” says Brown. The one lap that Alonso did complete saw him finish 16th fastest with team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne 11th.
Ferrari regained the advantage in the second practice session but it was Kimi not Sebastian who was fastest. He was 0.215 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton with Vettel 0.265 seconds behind the British driver and Bottas in fourth.
The top two teams still look evenly matched, especially during the race-simulation runs they held so it could be a cracker of a race on Sunday. The gap between Mercedes and Ferrari was just less than 0.1 seconds when using the ultra-soft tyres with Bottas and Raikkonen showing the most pace. It was another session that produced a few problems for Hamilton. Just read what Sebastian Vettel told his team, “I’m stuck behind Hamilton who is making mistakes and backing off.”
Max Verstappen struggled with technical problems and that led to the session but still finished fifth quickest. Not such good news for Ricciardo though who had engine problems and slumped to 14th fastest.
There was good and bad news for Honda-McLaren but isn’t there always? Alonso finished seventh fastest but again the Honda engine was being troublesome. The problems encountered in the first session were still being worked on when the second began and the Spaniard missed the first hour. He did an encouraging 17 laps though and was well clear of Vandoorne who finished 19th fastest, a time set on soft tyres. Not so much fun for him on the ultra-soft tyres after a spin.
We’re all set for a fascinating weekend then. The battle between Mercedes and Ferrari continues and Hamilton just has to finish in front of Vettel this weekend. If the gap starts getting over 30 points then that’s going to be even more worrying for the former world champion. Some sloppy driving in the second session won’t have boosted his confidence though. I’ll be back later with a report on qualifying, till then enjoy your racing.