You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Formula 1 paddock who wasn’t thrilled to be back in Canada and at Montreal’s epic Circuit Gilles Villeneuve after two years without the race on the calendar. So how did the drivers perform in the first two practice sessions of the weekend? Here are five things we learned from Friday’s race…
1. Red Bull hold the advantage in a tense encounter
Max Verstappen hasn’t had the smoothest weather on Fridays this year, but apart from some clipping issues – when the battery runs out of juice at the end of the straights – it was a very impressive day for the champ world title.
He was the fastest of them all in FP2 and seemed to have a lot more in the tank. When we analyzed the numbers, there was nothing to choose between Red Bull and Ferrari in qualifying, which in itself is an improvement.
FP2: Verstappen edges Leclerc by 0.081 seconds to sweep Friday practice sessions in Montreal
At race pace they held a 0.12 second advantage over the red cars, their advantage – as in recent races – coming on the straights thanks to their straight line speed advantage.
It wasn’t so easy for Sergio Perez, the Mexican on the back foot after struggling with the setup during his low fuel run, and that means he will continue the performance over the weekend. But from what Verstappen has demonstrated, Red Bull really is the one to beat this weekend.
READ MORE: Perez admits he’s ‘on the back foot’ in Montreal after finishing FP2 in 11th as Verstappen dominates both Friday sessions
2. Ferrari is in the fight, but Leclerc faces an uphill battle
Carlos Sainz feels Ferrari are catching up with Max Verstappen after practice on Friday – and although he feels they are lacking both a lap and race pace, he believes the progress the team tends to make from Friday to Saturday should bring them into battle for the top positions.
They hold the advantage in the slow and medium corners (there are no fast ones here) but lose around 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 their control electronics, triggering a 10-place grid penalty. Any further engine component changes this weekend will mean it will go even further.
It’s a track where overtaking has been possible in the past – and although he admitted overtaking was “a bit more difficult than I expected today”, he feels the pace is there to return to 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 in Friday’s practice in an attempt to improve the W13’s stance, but like in Monaco and Baku, the handling continues to throw the car off balance in low- and high-speed corners.
Lewis Hamilton said the day had been a “disaster” and he felt the car was “getting worse”. His team-mate George Russell had the best time and believes he and Hamilton will be able to find a “middle ground” overnight after going completely different directions with the setup.
Their qualifying pace looks better than Baku’s, but they’re still three-quarters of a second off the pace – and slower than Alpine and McLaren. The race pace is better, as they are fourth overall, but they are still half a second per lap behind championship leaders Red Bull.
It could be another tough weekend for Mercedes, but they have shown in recent races that even if they don’t have the pace to compete for the ultimate prize, they can salvage a good number of points.
READ MORE: ‘It was a disaster’ – Hamilton says Mercedes W13 ‘getting worse’ after Experimental Friday in Montreal
4. Alpine continues exciting Friday form
Alpine has become accustomed to delivering strong performances on Friday, but they struggled to follow that up over the weekend. Whether or not that changes this weekend remains uncertain, but the data for fuel-efficient racing and racing is more promising than usual.
Fernando Alonso was third quickest in FP1 and fifth quickest in FP2, with the Spaniard quick from the very first moto, nailing a basic set-up he was happy with from the first gates, then showing very consistent pace on the lower compounds. tougher when they rated the car on high fuel.
They are third in the qualifying simulations, 0.66s off the pace, and closer when it comes to the race – reversing the trend of recent times – at 0.42s slower, a tenth quicker than Mercedes. Best of the rest has to be the minimum target if they’re backing up with a really good day at 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 comfortably able to match teammate Lando Norris, who missed a heap of track time in FP1.
He was able to get into a rhythm quickly and built a rhythm throughout the day. Norris recovered in the afternoon – and both looked reasonable on a one-lap pace, the orange cars fourth in the pecking order.
‘There’s more to the bag’ – Ricciardo feels positive after ‘solid’ Friday in Canada
There’s a bit more work to do on longer runs, with Norris saying he feels uncomfortable in that area as he hasn’t raced as much as he wanted on a lot of fuel. But McLaren is still fifth in the long-term pecking order, a tenth behind Alpine in third, on a track where overtaking is possible.
With rain expected to hit in qualifying tomorrow and warmer conditions expected to return on Sunday, there is still a lot to play for.
WATCH: Get on board with Max Verstappen as he sets Friday’s fastest lap in Montreal