The headline times from Canadian Grand Prix Friday practice look unusual, it’s true, but ignore them.
Mercedes is not suddenly the fastest Formula 1 car in qualifying and among the slowest in the race. The reality is somewhere closer to 2023 normality.
Between circuit electrical glitches, red flags and the weather, we had a highly unusual Friday practice day, with no FP1 to speak of (CCTV failure) but a 1.5-hour FP2 which was affected near the end by heavy wind gusts and sudden extreme rain.
There was plenty of dry running in between, but Mercedes in choosing to do its long runs early (banking against the rain) did so on a much slower track than the others, so making it difficult to know where it fits in, despite heading the fastest times list (those quick times done later when the others were doing their long-runs, so benefitting from the same grip ramp-up which punished their long run comparison).
If we take it as read that Max Verstappen’s Red Bull remains the gold standard, we can say that the Ferraris look far more competitive than at Barcelona, conforming to the team’s expectations. Their straightline performance was impressive, even shading Red Bull in that respect.
Verstappen wasn’t entirely happy with his Red Bull though, saying. “It isn’t fantastic at the moment over the bumps and kerbs. I mean it’s still not too bad, but we definitely need to fine tune a few things. I think it might be raining tomorrow which will throw a few surprises out there in qualifying, then perhaps dry on Sunday so that will also affect things.” The bumps are particularly severe this year, with Lewis Hamilton feeling this to be by far the bumpiest track of the season to date.
The fastest times of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were set at much the same time as Verstappen did his and Leclerc’s long-run was of decent length and only around 0.15s slower than Verstappen’s. The Ferrari, with no fast corners to hurt it, looks in a much happier place here than at Barcelona.
“The feeling I had in the car was very good,” reported Leclerc. “We are bit further down the order as we couldn’t do a second run on the softs because of the red flag. Our race pace felt good as well and we will keep working in the current direction.”
The heavily revised Aston Martin took some time to tune in, but Fernando Alonso’s time in between the two Ferraris looks fairly representative, though his position in the long runs just behind Verstappen is flattered considerably by his much shorter run (four laps vs 11). It would appear that the car, even in its revised version, is still carrying more drag than the Red Bull (and Ferrari), with Alonso trailing 12km/h behind Sainz through the speed trap before the braking zone for the final chicane (and 8km/h slower than Verstappen).
The Mercedes is a little faster than the Aston Martin through the speed trap, but on how they compared over the lap to everyone, even the team can offer only educated guesswork.
“Between Barcelona and here are two very different circuits,” said Russell. “I feel like we might be on the tail end of the group, especially in qualifying and maybe even have a Valtteri Alfa snapping at us, but race day tends to come to us.”
“The car didn’t feel bad,” added Hamilton, “but we have some work to do. It’s not the greatest it’s felt, but not the worst. We need to improve our ride control and the through-corner balance, with the rear end.”
As Russell intimated, Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo looks to have ‘best of the rest’ potential this weekend, though it’s not easy to gauge the potential of the Alpine given its truncated running, Esteban Ocon stopping out on track when the water pressure took a dive and he was asked to switch off.
Long run averages
Ferraris appear twice as their runs on both hard and medium tyres are listed separately