Following the missed opportunity of the Monaco Grand Prix, Max Verstappen went some way to relieving the pressure on his shoulders by topping both Friday free practice sessions.
At a track which places increased importance on the power unit, Verstappen and the Renault-powered Red Bull appear to have struck a balance at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, with the Dutchman’s time of a 1:12.198 leading Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
“It was a good day,” said Verstappen, “I think the car is working well, but we’re still lacking a little bit of top speed, you can see that in our runs, I think Mercedes are very quick there.
“I think we are not too far away so it was generally a very positive day.”
Whilst Verstappen enjoyed a sought-after clean day of running, Ricciardo’s side of the garage were battling with power-related gremlins. He remained in the pits for more than half of the session as the team swapped various air boxes and electronic components in an attempt to solve the issue.
He managed to return to the track to set a time good enough for third, but he was unable to complete any long runs to further assess the tyres. Speaking to media after the day’s running, he claimed that the issue was unrelated to the MGU-K, which still remains to be changed despite Adrian Newey’s earlier claims that Ricciardo would see a penalty for swapping the component.
As they did in the first practice session, Mercedes avoided the hypersoft tyre altogether in free practice two, suggesting that they could look to start the race on a harder tyre and potentially favour not running the compound in the race.
Setting his best time on the supersoft tyre instead, Lewis Hamilton’s effort of 1:12.777 was just over half-a-second away from Verstappen’s benchmark, but it remains to be seen how much more performance over one lap Mercedes might extract with the hypersofts.
Intriguingly, the average pace of the four drivers from the ‘top six’ to set longer-run lap times (Verstappen, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Bottas) was relatively similar. Their lap times in the mid-1:16’s suggest that there is an advantage to starting on a harder compound, if a team is able to successfully negotiate qualifying with it.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel endured a low-key FP2. He spent a lot of time in the pit lane as Ferrari continually swapped components on the SF71H, which hampered his race simulations. The second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, who completed his best lap on the ultrasofts, completed the top six.
Romain Grosjean’s bid to score his first points of the season began strongly with the Haas driver finishing FP2 in seventh place ahead of midfield rivals, Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez.
Surprisingly, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso elected not to run the hypersoft tyre, but still managed to take a place in the top ten with an ultrasoft tyre lap.
Following a poor start to the day for Renault, who lost a lot of morning running due to a gearbox problem with Nico Hulkenberg’s car, Carlos Sainz had his FP2 session cut short.
The session was red-flagged just before the half-hour mark after Sainz hit the wall, crashing as he exited turn seven. He lost the rear of the car and went backwards into the concrete wall, but he recovered back to the pits with damage to the rear wing, suspension and diffuser. The scattered carbon was enough to send out the red flags.
There was to be further disruption to the session later on when Stoffel Vandoorne also drove too close to the wall. He fell foul of the concrete boundaries on the exit of turn nine, damaging a wheel and possibly the suspension of his McLaren. He parked up on the exit of the hairpin, which brought out a virtual safety car.
Already handed a setback by the delayed delivery of the updated Mercedes power units, Williams’ weekend worsened with incidents for both of their drivers in the opening free practice session.
Local favourite Lance Stroll was the first victim of the ‘Wall of Champions’; he clipped the right rear wheel against the barrier and damaged the wheel rim, causing a puncture and ending his session early.
Added to that, team-mate Sergey Sirotkin lost the rear of the car under braking for turn six and went backwards into the barrier. It was, however, a minor hit and the Russian could recover to the pit lane. It was further evidence that Williams are struggling to find a good balance at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
CANADIAN GRAND PRIX, Free Practice
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m12.198s – 39
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m12.328s 0.130s 42
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m12.603s 0.405s 17
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m12.777s 0.579s 39
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m12.985s 0.787s 24
6 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m13.061s 0.863s 40
7 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1m13.620s 1.422s 34
8 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m13.747s 1.549s 40
9 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m13.754s 1.556s 40
10 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault 1m13.668s 1.668s 30
11 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 1m13.884s 1.686s 39
12 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1m13.889s 1.691s 42
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1m13.956s 1.758s 39
14 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m13.967s 1.769s 37
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m14.108s 1.910s 41
16 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1m14.167s 1.969s 14
17 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m14.433s 2.235s 9
18 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 1m14.486s 2.288s 39
19 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1m14.703s 2.505s 40
20 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1m14.782s 2.584s 35
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
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