Mercedes unleashed their Phase 2 engine for the first free practice session of the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, and Lewis Hamilton promptly set the fastest time in the morning session at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Friday.
Hamilton was 0.147 seconds faster than teammate Bottas, the biggest problems for the Silver Arrows was a complaint from their World Champion about the narrowness of the pits, while the Finn had his final run cut short with a fuel pressure issue.
Nevertheless, the silver duo were almost a full second faster than next best Charles Leclerc on the first day of a weekend in which Ferrari were expected to be the pacesetters. But after the 90-minute session it is clear the Scuderia are keeping their powder dry – neither driver sampled the Pirelli supersofts while both Merc drivers set their times on the red band tyres.
Or they are in very serious trouble. Tune into FP2…
Sebastian Vettel was fifth, spinning his Ferrari during the session in which the track was very slippery. He was a couple of tenths down on his teammate in third.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, in fourth place, split the Reds on the timing screens. He too did not bolt on the softs and ended 0.988 of a second down on the prime time. Pierre Gasly had a scrappy session, ending 13th and nearly a second down on his teammate.
It was a morning of mixed fortunes for Alfa Romeo with Kimi Raikkonen in sixth, suggesting the car may be handy around the Ile. On the other side of the garage disappointing rookie Antonio Giovinazzi did his shares no good when he clipped the wall, before stopping on track.
Too many errors from a driver who appears out of his depth in F1 despite his impressive junior resume and enviable opportunities afforded him by Ferrari’s backing.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was fastest of the Renault brigade in seventh, a tenth up on eighth-placed Daniel Ricciardo in the Renault, Racing Point driver Sergio Perez in ninth and the Haas of Kevin Magnussen rounding out the top ten.
Notably, the gap from Mercedes to next best was almost a full second, the same time separated Leclerc in third and Toro Rosso rookie Alexander Albon in 16th. The midfield is getting larger and closer.
Local hero Nicolas Latifi took over the cockpit of Robert Kubica for the session, the Formula 2 driver was slowest of all and two-tenths shy of teammate George Russell.
The other Canadian on duty, Lance Stroll, could not find the sweet spot on home tarmac ending 17th and six-tenths slower than Perez in the sister car.
Perhaps this was a deceptive session as some suggest, surely Ferrari cannot be that far behind and of course they kept their soft rubber unpacked for now. But the reality is that Mercedes are going to be hard to beat as they have been all year.