Hamilton heads Mercedes one-two in extended Canada practice
By Mat Coch
Saturday 17th June, 2023 - 8:12am
Lewis Hamilton headed a Mercedes one-two in an extended Free Practice 2 session in Canada.
The session had been extended by 30 minutes after technical problems hit Race Control during Free Practice 1.
That limited running to less than 10 minutes, the clock ticking down under red flags before finally being abandoned 10 minutes prior to its scheduled conclusion.
As a result, half an hour was added to Free Practice 2, which began 30 minutes earlier as a result.
It was a session that produced mixed-up results as teams ran different programmes to compensated for the lack of running in Free Practice 1, cover off the threat of rain, and manage the impact of two red flags.
With little running having taken place earlier in the day, unsurprisingly it was a busy start.
The likes of Williams and Aston Martin were looking to evaluate significant new upgrades, though Alex Albon remained in the garage for the opening minutes.
When he did emerge, the right-side of his FW45 was coated in flo-vis paint as the team assessed the new parts – upgrades Logan Sargeant won’t receive until the British Grand Prix.
Ferrari is without upgrades this weekend, but that didn’t stop Charles Leclerc from going fastest early on with a 1:16.564s on a set of medium tyres.
It came as some ran the yellow-walled rubber, like Leclerc, and others the softs, such as Fernando Alonso.
Times in the early stages meant little as the circuit evolved rapidly; the dust that hung in the air in the opening laps visually cleared as the session wore on.
An early factor proved to be the bumpiness of the circuit, which saw cars touching the ground more than was expected.
That was a contributing factor with regards to the timesheets, which had fallen to a 1:14.726s, courtesy of Max Verstappen, after 15 minutes.
There was plenty more on offer with none of the 20 drivers truly attacking the kerbs as they built into the session.
An engine failure for Nico Hulkenberg saw the Haas driver roll to a halt on approach to Turn 1 as the session went red.
The German quickly jumped clear as the car smoked away before marshals eventually doused it in extinguisher foam.
As it had in Free Practice 1, the clock continued to tick down under the nine-minute stoppage while the car was recovered to the pit lane.
The resumption brought with it the qualifying simulations, Sergio Perez coming close to the wall exiting Turn 7 before abandoning the lap soon after.
It was a moment that also impacted Max Verstappen, who was behind him on track.
Perez headed to the pits where he was given the all-clear and headed back out, only for his next effort to be impacted by a red flag for Esteban Ocon.
The Alpine had crawled to a halt on drivers’ left exiting Turn 9, on the run towards the hairpin, with a loss of water pressure.
It capped off a tough day that saw an electrical problem, caused by the steering wheel, halt Pierre Gasly in the opening session.
Ferrari front-loaded its session with soft tyre running, both Leclerc and Carlos Sainz banking what effectively equated to qualifying laps in the opening 30 minutes which left the pair atop the timesheets a third of the way into the 90-minute outing.
The red flags therefore had little impact on its single-lap runs but did interrupt its longer running – a known weakness in the SF-23.
It also safeguarded them from the threat of rain which increased in the final half hour of the session.
That prompted a renewed urgency among teams to bank their qualifying simulations.
Alonso was only fifth fastest with his first push lap, losing time in the final sector to Verstappen with a more than 10km/h deficit through the speed trap.
Mercedes ran moments later, with Hamilton and Russell rising to the top of the timesheets, the benchmark lowered to 1:13.718s.
Aston Martin had carried on with its short run programme while many had swapped back to race performance – most lapping in the 1:16 and 1:17 bracket.
That lasted until the final 20 minutes when Lance Stroll headed out with the right side of his car coated in flo-vis paint.
It was a race against time with the weather closing in.
Oscar Piastri grazed the wall exiting the final corner, reporting that the impact appeared to have done no damage.
He sat 11th at the time with a 1:14.533s, two places clear of Lando Norris in the other McLaren with a 1:14.617s.
Drops of rain were reported with 15 minutes remaining, with the wind having also picked up. The track remained dry, though race control declared it wet.
Red Bull reacted by bolting a set of intermediate tyres to both its cars as they roaded a set for both Verstappen and Perez.
Mercedes, Alpine, and Ferrari did the same.
The rain finally arrived at the hairpin end of the circuit with seven minutes remaining, intensifying quickly but remaining comparatively localised.
A handful braved the conditions as teams gathered data given the rain is expected to remain for at least part of Saturday’s running.
Valtteri Bottas was among them, sliding off the road on approach to the hairpin where the weather had become almost monsoonal, but doing not damage.
The session ended with Mercedes atop the standings over Sainz, Alonso, Leclerc, and Verstappen in a muddied session.