Lewis Hamilton firmly put his stamp on the opening day of the Canadian Grand Prix weekend with fastest time in the Friday Free Practice session and a very strong long run.
The 29 year old lost the initiative at the last race in Monaco to Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg, but here, on a track where he has had three wins and three poles, he took it back again, setting a lap 0.175s faster than the German in the sister car.
The next non-Mercedes was world champion Sebastian Vettel, who did better than Red Bull expected with third fastest time ahead of the Ferraris.
But when the Mercedes pair went out to do long runs on the supersoft tyre and later the soft, their pace was well clear of the rest, indicating that they will drive off into the distance on Sunday.
Hamilton did a 16 lap run on supersofts, simulating the opening stint of the race, with laps consistently in the low 1m 20s.
“It felt pretty good out there today but we’ve still got improvements to make and there is more to come from the set-up and balance tomorrow,” said Hamilton. “This is quite a technical circuit which is all about the kerbs and apexes; you have to have a car that reacts well to the bumps. You’re always trying to find the limit so we’re not quite where we want to be yet.”
With track temperatures in the low 30s, colder than projected for qualifying and the race, the Mercedes seemed to be able to get the tyres into the correct operating window quickly and then maintain them there for the long run.
Mercedes did a lot of homework today, with 42 laps this afternoon for Hamilton and 39 for Rosberg.
The battle for the podium will be interesting with Red Bull team boss Christian Horner forced to reconsider his pre weekend prediction that his team would be doing well to finish fifth here. He said that Red Bull had the same amount of power available to it this weekend as in the last race, so still not reaching the maximum from the Renault engine.
Ferrari had a number of undated on the car, aerodynamics such as the new floor that Alonso tried in the morning and Raikkonen in the afternoon, as well as many updates on the engine.
The Ferrari looks more competitive here and it will be interesting to see whether they can be the team to reach the podium.
Force India, tipped by many to do well here, seemed to struggle with tyre degradation and both drivers were outside the top ten in qualifying simulation pace.
Instead Williams looked the best of the customer Mercedes engined teams with Massa 6th and Bottas 7th, ahead of the McLaren pair.
Daniel Ricciardo escaped with a warning after a close shave in the pit lane in FP1 as he passed Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus, while Jule Bianchi rather blotted his copybook by crashing in FP1. In FP2 a power unit issue curtailed his running to just 3 laps.
Fuel consumption is quite high at this circuit (around 1.45 kilos per race) and all the teams will be careful to manage it over 70 laps, with only 100kg allowed.
Strategy wise we are likely to see a mixture of one and two stop strategies, but if the temperatures rise as forecast, that will push more drivers into making two stops.
CANADIAN GRAND PRIX, Montreal, Free Practice 2
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m16.118s 42
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m16.293s +0.175s 39
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m16.573s +0.455s 26
4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m16.648s +0.530s 31
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m16.701s +0.583s 27
6. Felipe Massa Williams 1m16.774s +0.656s 37
7. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m16.893s +0.775s 37
8. Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1m17.052s +0.934s 42
9. Jenson Button McLaren 1m17.059s +0.941s 38
10. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m17.180s +1.062s 40
11. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m17.626s +1.508s 28
12. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m17.644s +1.526s 36
13. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m17.712s +1.594s 35
14. Sergio Perez Force India 1m17.819s +1.701s 33
15. Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1m17.868s +1.750s 27
16. Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m17.964s +1.846s 47
17. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m18.340s +2.222s 43
18. Max Chilton Marussia 1m18.693s +2.575s 34
19. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m18.732s +2.614s 9
20. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1m20.244s +4.126s 38
21. Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1m22.418s +6.300s 13
22. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m32.127s +16.009s 3