Lewis Hamilton signalled that Mercedes is prepared to take the fight to rivals Ferrari at the Canadian Grand Prix with the triple Formula 1 world champion back on top of the timing charts following first practice on Friday.
Putting a poor effort at the Monaco Grand Prix behind him, Hamilton, who can equal the 65 career pole positions of boyhood idol Ayrton Senna in Saturday’s qualifying, blazed around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with a best lap of 1:13.809 seconds.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, a four-times world champion with Red Bull who leads Hamilton by 25 points after six races, was second quickest with 1:14.007, just in front of Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes.
While Mercedes have claimed the label of underdogs, they displayed plenty of bite on the Montreal track with Hamilton and Bottas swapping spots at the top of the timing charts through much of the session.
The Canada Grand Prix would look an ideal place for a Mercedes pushback, with Hamilton having triumphed five times on the island circuit and Bottas reaching the podium the last two years driving for Williams.
Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who clocked the fourth best effort, both had early problems coming to grips with the circuit, spinning out but without causing any damage.
The two Ferrari drivers weren’t the only ones to have difficulty on a blustery overcast morning as Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Force India’s Esteban Ocon also had spins.
Best of the rest were the Force India pair of Sergio Perez and Esteban, fifth and sixth fastest, suggesting that Circuit Gilles Villeneuve may be a circuit where Mercedes powered cars may have the edge.
Max Verstappen was seventh fastest in the quickest of the two Red Bulls, with Daniel Ricciardo ninth.
Williams driver Felipe Massa split the Bulls with the eighth best time, with Daniil Kvyat in the Toro Rosso rounding out the top ten.
It was another bitterly frustrating day for Fernando Alonso as the double world champion was once again forced to the sidelines with mechanical problems.
Alonso, who skipped the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the Indianapolis 500, has quickly discovered little progress has been made at McLaren in his absence, leaving little hope the team will be able to score their first points of the season.
Teenager Lance Stroll, the first Canadian racing in the Canadian Grand Prix since Jacques Villeneuve in 2006, got his first taste of the circuit with the Williams rookie recording the 13th best effort, though that was more than two seconds back of the pace setter.
Canadian Grand Prix, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – Free Practice 1, Best Lap Times
|5||11||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:14.578||+0.769s||34|
|6||31||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:14.785||+0.976s||35|
|7||33||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:14.861||+1.052s||19|
|9||3||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:15.441||+1.632s||23|