You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the Formula 1 paddock who wasn’t excited to be back in Canada and at Montreal’s epic Circuit Gilles Villeneuve after two years without the race featuring on the calendar. So how did the drivers fare in the weekend’s opening two practice sessions? Here are five things we learned from Friday’s running…
1. Red Bull hold edge in tense encounter
Max Verstappen hasn’t had the smoothest time of it on Fridays this year, but aside from some clipping issues – when the battery runs out of juice at the end of the straights – this was a very impressive day for the reigning world champion.
He was quickest of all in FP2 and looked like he had plenty more in the tank. When we crunched the numbers, there was nothing to choose between Red Bull and Ferrari in qualifying trim, which is in itself is an improvement.
FP2: Verstappen pips Leclerc by 0.081s to sweep Friday practice sessions in Montreal
On race pace, they held a 0.12s advantage over the red cars, their advantage – as it has in recent races – coming on the straights courtesy of their straight-line speed advantage.
It wasn’t as straightforward for Sergio Perez, the Mexican on the back foot after they had an issue with the set-up on his low fuel run, and that means he’ll be chasing performance as the weekend goes on. But based on what Verstappen demonstrated, Red Bull are very much the ones to beat this weekend.
READ MORE: Perez admits he’s ‘on the back foot’ in Montreal after finishing FP2 in 11th, as Verstappen tops both Friday sessions
2. Ferrari are in the fight, but Leclerc faces uphill battle
Carlos Sainz reckons Ferrari are playing catch up to Max Verstappen after Friday practice – and while he feels they are lacking in both one-lap and race pace, he believes the progress the team tends to make from Friday into Saturday should haul them into the battle for the top positions.
They hold the advantage in the slow and medium corners (there aren’t any fast ones here) but do lose around a couple of tenths of a second on the straights to their championship rivals.
But no matter what they manage to achieve overnight, Leclerc has a long afternoon ahead of him on Sunday after his team changed his control electronics, triggering a 10-place grid penalty. Any further engine component changes this weekend will mean he’ll start even further back.
This is a track where overtaking has been possible in the past – and while he admitted overtaking was “a little bit more difficult than I expected today”, he reckons the pace is there to fight back towards where they should be in the pecking order.
READ MORE: ‘It was the best decision to make’ says Leclerc, as Ferrari confirms Montreal grid penalty for Monegasque
3. Mercedes in a world of pain
Mercedes tried a few modifications across Friday practice in a bid to get the W13 into a better place, but like in Monaco and Baku, the ride continues to unsettle the car both in low and high-speed corners.
Lewis Hamilton said the day was a “disaster” and that it feels like the car is “getting worse”. His team mate George Russell had the better time of it and reckon he and Hamilton will be able to find a “happy medium” overnight after they went in completely different directions with set-up.
They’re qualifying pace looks better than Baku, but they are still three quarters of a second off the pace – and slower than the likes of Alpine and McLaren. Race pace is better, as they are fourth overall, but there’s still a half a second per lap deficit to the championship leaders Red Bull.
This could be another difficult weekend for Mercedes, but they have shown in recent races that while they lack the pace to compete for the ultimate prize, they can salvage a strong points haul.
READ MORE: ‘It was a disaster’ – Hamilton says Mercedes W13 ‘getting worse’ after experimental Friday in Montreal
4. Alpine continues exciting Friday form
Alpine have made a habit of delivering strong performances on Friday, but they’ve struggled to carry that into the weekend. Whether or not that will change this weekend remains unclear, but the data on both low fuel and race runs is more promising than usual.
Fernando Alonso was third quickest in FP1 and fifth fastest in FP2, the Spaniard quick from the very first run, nailing a base set-up he was happy with early doors and then showing very consistent pace on the harder compounds when they evaluated the car on high-fuel.
They’re third in the qualifying sims, 0.66s off the pace, and closer when it comes to race trim – reversing the trend of late – at 0.42s slower, a tenth quicker than Mercedes. Best of the rest must be the minimum target if they build on a very good day’s work in Montreal.
HIGHLIGHTS: Watch the action from the second practice session in Montreal, as Verstappen leads the Ferraris
5. McLaren in the mix for more points
Daniel Ricciardo was the happier of the two McLaren drivers on Friday – and it’s not often we’ve been able to say that this year. The Australian carried momentum from Baku to Canada was a comfortably able to match team mate Lando Norris, who missed a bunch of track time in FP1.
He was able to get in a groove quickly and built a rhythm through the day. Norris recovered in the afternoon – and both looked reasonable on one-lap pace, the orange cars fourth in the pecking order.
‘There’s more in the bag’ – Ricciardo feeling positive after ‘solid’ Friday in Canada
There’s a bit more work to do on long runs, Norris saying he feels on the back foot in this area as he didn’t get as much running as he wanted to on high fuel. But McLaren are still fifth in the long run pecking order, a tenth shy of Alpine in third, on a track where overtaking is possible.
With rain set to strike during qualifying tomorrow, and warmer conditions expected to return on Sunday, there’s certainly plenty still to play for.
WATCH: Ride onboard with Max Verstappen as he sets the fastest lap of Friday in Montreal