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Analysis
Formula 1 Canadian GP

What we learned from Friday practice at the F1 Canadian GP

Following an unusual day of practice action at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a Mercedes 1-2 emerged on the timesheet while Red Bull languished down the order. While both teams had explanations for these situations, and effectively losing an entire practice session muddied the waters further, it appears a more open contest than at recent races could be on the cards

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Formula 1's bizarre brace of Friday practice sessions for the Canadian Grand Prix ended with Lewis Hamilton holding the fastest time, as rain and technical issues left their respective marks.

The seven-time world champion moved to the top of the timesheets at the expense of his team-mate George Russell, in an important FP2 session as brief running in FP1 was caused by issues with the circuit's CCTV system.

Although the Ferraris had boasted strong pace in the opening part of the second practice session, the Mercedes duo shuffled them down the order prior to the customary longer runs, which teams were eager to carry out as the threat of rain loomed over the second half of the session.

In the meantime, Red Bull's hunt for its 100th grand prix victory began with a rocky start as Max Verstappen could only manage the sixth-best time overall, while team-mate Sergio Perez was eighth on the timesheets - behind nominal FP1 topper Valtteri Bottas.

Here's everything we've learned from a madcap Friday in Montreal.

Bottas topped first practice that was cut short by CCTV system issues at the track

Bottas topped first practice that was cut short by CCTV system issues at the track

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

The story of the day

The opening hour-long session featured barely any running as a routine red flag, caused by Pierre Gasly's stoppage as the Alpine driver's steering wheel suffered an electrical issue, degenerated into an even longer stoppage as the circuit's CCTV systems suffered their own glitches.

Delays between the CCTV equipment and their output ensured that running could not resume on safety grounds, with the session being eventually cancelled. The teams and drivers were compensated for their lost run-time as an extra half-hour was tacked onto FP2, although Bottas was afforded the bragging rights from the aborted opening session with the best recorded lap.

Although rain was forecast for FP2, the session was largely unfettered by the threat of inclement weather. A pair of red flags produced unwelcome interruptions; Nico Hulkenberg's car was engulfed by an acrid plume of smoke that forced the German to stop ahead of Turn 1 after the opening 30 minutes. Not long after the session resumed, Esteban Ocon gave Alpine a further headache when he was asked to bring the car to a halt at Turn 9, adding a further - albeit shorter - delay.

According to GPS data, the Mercedes appeared particularly strong in the traction zones. Although the delta times show that Red Bull and Aston Martin offered arguably the best platforms in the slow-speed corners, the Mercedes easily made that time back up with a stronger exit out of the corners

Ferrari had initially led the session and Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz traded times at the top, but the Scuderia was knocked off its perch by George Russell once the session was back in full swing. The Briton's possession of the fastest time was brief, as Hamilton brushed him aside a few seconds later with a 1m13.718s.

Focus switched to long-run pace, albeit with the engineers looking over their shoulders as dark clouds began to linger above the Ile Notre-Dame. Precipitation was predicted to pepper the circuit with 20 minutes left on the clock, but the clouds held off for another quarter of an hour to offer opportunities for a little added mileage.

A deluge then attacked the northern part of the circuit, swarming the hairpin in rainfall to bring an end to any conventional running. A few brave drivers explored the conditions armed with intermediate tyres, but these proved ineffective as the standing water intensified within a tight timeframe. Nonetheless, with wet conditions predicted to continue over the rest of the weekend, the cursory experience of a wet Circuit Gilles Villeneuve may prove rather handy.

Cla Driver Chassis Laps Time Gap Interval
1 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 30 1'13.718    
2 United Kingdom George Russell Mercedes 31 1'13.745 0.027 0.027
3 Spain Carlos Sainz Ferrari 39 1'13.844 0.126 0.099
4 Spain Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 38 1'14.044 0.326 0.200
5 Monaco Charles Leclerc Ferrari 38 1'14.094 0.376 0.050
6 Netherlands Max Verstappen Red Bull 34 1'14.142 0.424 0.048
7 Finland Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 40 1'14.220 0.502 0.078
8 Mexico Sergio Perez Red Bull 29 1'14.250 0.532 0.030
9 Canada Lance Stroll Aston Martin 31 1'14.419 0.701 0.169
10 France Pierre Gasly Alpine 39 1'14.477 0.759 0.058
11 Australia Oscar Piastri McLaren 38 1'14.533 0.815 0.056
12 Denmark Kevin Magnussen Haas 36 1'14.544 0.826 0.011
13 United Kingdom Lando Norris McLaren 40 1'14.617 0.899 0.073
14 China Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 37 1'14.811 1.093 0.194
15 Japan Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 43 1'14.941 1.223 0.130
16 Netherlands Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 38 1'15.002 1.284 0.061
17 Thailand Alex Albon Williams 33 1'15.003 1.285 0.001
18 France Esteban Ocon Alpine 17 1'15.092 1.374 0.089
19 United States Logan Sargeant Williams 38 1'15.426 1.708 0.334
20 Germany Nico Hulkenberg Haas 11 1'16.369 2.651 0.943
It wasn't a smooth day at Red Bull as it targets its 100th grand prix win this weekend

It wasn't a smooth day at Red Bull as it targets its 100th grand prix win this weekend

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Why Red Bull's bid for a 100th grand prix win faces a challenge

The charge from Mercedes in the second half of the session was partly as a result of flipping its run plans around, placing its longer runs on the medium tyre at the start of the session and opting to go for its all-out soft-tyre runs later on. This afforded the W14s slightly more preferable track conditions as the circuit was slightly more rubbered in. This was corroborated by Russell, who felt that the different rhythm that Mercedes opted to tackle the session made it difficult to take the timing boards at face value.

Both drivers reported that the circuit was particularly bumpy, and Hamilton reckoned that overnight work was still necessary to improve the car's ride control to ensure a more stable platform for qualifying.

According to GPS data, the Mercedes appeared particularly strong in the traction zones. Although the delta times show that Red Bull and Aston Martin offered arguably the best platforms in the slow-speed corners, the Mercedes easily made that time back up with a stronger exit out of the corners. Taking the hairpin as an example, Aston Martin was able to navigate the corner with a two-tenth advantage over the W14 - but just over 100m later as the cars accelerated, the swing in Mercedes' favour was well over six tenths of a second.

Ferrari was altogether stronger in the realms of top speed, as its acceleration appeared to pick up in the second half of the straights. But the SF-23 fell short of the Red Bull and Aston Martins during the cornering phase and could not match the Mercedes under initial traction. Although Sainz cut much of the arrears to Hamilton's best lap with a strong exit from the chicane, although a spike in Hamilton's throttle trace hints at a slight mistake on the exit of the corner.

Red Bull's struggles were the most curious, and Verstappen left the session feeling that there was much to do overnight to bestow him with a greater feeling behind the wheel. Many of the issues he faced appeared to stem from difficulties dealing with kerbs and bumps, which could go some way to explaining why he lost so much time on the exits of corners. On the exit of the final chicane, Verstappen shed time relative to Alonso having had to contend with the oft-brutal kerb parked upon the apex.

In dry running, Ferrari might be the best placed to challenge for pole if it can fine-tune its corner entry speed, as corner exits can be easily compensated for under acceleration. Mercedes, despite its protestations, still has a very good chance of challenging for rewards on the front row should its strengths under traction remain intact on Saturday. It's folly to rule out Red Bull and, should conditions remain normal, a tantalising three-way scrap for pole is not outside the bounds of possibility. But rain threatens to provide further twists. Forecasts predict that precipitation will remain omnipresent throughout Saturday's proceedings and, should that come to pass, then the formbook will have to be thrown out of the window.

Rain is forecast throughout Saturday in Montreal

Rain is forecast throughout Saturday in Montreal

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Race day, however, looks as though it will be largely dry - if not overcast. In that instance, medium tyre pace over the longer runs appears much more difficult to predict as, again, Mercedes did its medium tyre running at the start of the session. Hamilton's best laps on the yellow-walled compound fluctuated around the low-to-mid 1m18s, while Verstappen was into the 1m17s on his stretch with the medium Pirellis.

Sainz's runs on those tyres were less consistent; although faster than Hamilton's runs on the medium, and sometimes having pace to beat Verstappen's, the Spaniard's runs straddled the 1m17s - 1m18s barrier more than the Dutchman's. But it's here where Leclerc suggested that he can, if Ferrari keeps its tyres in, give the two-time champion a run for his money; he was able to sit in the low 1m17s more than Verstappen although, again, consistency was much more elusive to Ferrari.

And then there's the Fernando Alonso factor. Aston Martin's medium-tyre runs were far shorter than the other three teams in the Big Four, but the smattering of laps he did were within the same bracket as Verstappen and Leclerc. It might all come down to qualifying - and if the rain strikes, it's anyone's guess.

"I don't think we can read too much into the timings obviously we did our low fuel qualifying prep towards the end of a session when the track was quicker" George Russell

What they said

Verstappen: "Of course it was not very straightforward with no running in FP1, but it's the same for everyone, at least we got some running in FP2. I think we still have some work to do. The car is not fantastic at the moment over the bumps, over the kerbs. It's not too bad but we definitely need to fine tune a few things. But you see now it's raining, probably tomorrow it's raining but maybe Sunday it's dry again. A bit more of a tricky session but sometimes you have those days."

Hamilton: "I love driving this track. It is mega. I love it from the moment you leave the pit lane you are like yeah... so the car didn't feel bad but I think we definitely have got some work to do. It's not the greatest but not the worst by far. So it's feeling pretty decent, it's just bumpy. I think everyone's having struggles with the bumps. So I think we've just got to improve our ride control and improve the balance trough a corner and I think we will be alright."

Russell: "I mean it's obviously been a bit of a strange day with obviously what happened in FP1 and then the extension of FP2. It was a reasonably productive session. I don't think we can read too much into the timings obviously we did our low fuel qualifying prep towards the end of a session when the track was quicker. It's bloomin' bumpy out there. I do think that the upgrades we brought to the car in Barcelona have helped the limitations that we probably would have had more of with the old specification of car. We need to find out where we're going to be. I think we're still on the tail end, especially in qualifying pace compared to Ferrari and Aston Martin. We always know it comes to us on a Sunday, so that's when it's going to matter."

Can Mercedes, Ferrari or Aston Martin halt the Red Bull domination this weekend?

Can Mercedes, Ferrari or Aston Martin halt the Red Bull domination this weekend?

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

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