Lewis Hamilton bounced back to top the times for Mercedes ahead of championship leader Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari in Friday’s opening practice for this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix.
The three-time champion Briton, who is 25 points adrift of Vettel in the title race after a desultory Monaco Grand Prix won by the German, clocked a best lap in one minute and 13.809 seconds to wind up 0.198 seconds clear of his rival.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third fastest ahead of his Finnish compatriot Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari, Sergio Perez of Force India and his team-mate Frenchman Esteban Ocon.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was seventh for Red Bull ahead of Felipe Massa of Williams, Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull and Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso.
On a cool and dry morning at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Mercedes were relieved to demonstrate they are back in contention after suffering tyre performance problems in Monte Carlo where Ferrari reeled off a dominant one-two.
The session was littered with minor incidents as most of the field suffered spins and two were forced to withdraw from the fray – Carlos Sainz pulling up with smoke billowing from his Toro Rosso after only one lap and two-time champion Fernando Alonso abandoning his McLaren-Honda with gearbox problems.
Fernando Alonso repeated his threat to quit not only McLaren-Honda, but also Formula One, on Thursday when he faced reporters ahead of this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix.
The two-time world champion, who revelled in the freedom he experienced at the Indianapolis 500 two weeks ago, when he retired while running seventh, cited two possible reasons for making an exit after 16 years.
The Spaniard said that if McLaren were not able to win by September, he would leave the team and added that if the sport increased its race calendar to 25 or more he would quit.
“A third world championship is my biggest priority,” he said. “That’s what I came to McLaren to win – and now after three years we are not winning. If we don’t win, I will jump in any car I can in any category.
“I’m not afraid of the future. If I can’t succeed here I will go and I will race in any series.”
Alonso has made previous and similar threats about his future with the team, but this one follows a warning to engine suppliers Honda from McLaren team chief Zak Brown that they are close to the end of their patience with the Japanese company.
“We’re near our limit,” Brown said. “So far, it hasn’t worked… A year in Formula One is an eternity. Three years is a decade – and you just can’t go on forever.”
Brown spoke after it was revealed that Honda had failed to produce expected updates for their engines for this weekend’s race, the seventh of the season following a miserably disappointing start to the year.
Alonso, who praised the open and happy atmosphere he found at Indianapolis, confirmed also that he would quit F1 if the calendar is to be enlarged to 25 races from 20.
“When I started it was with 16 races with some testing,” he said. “Now it is 20-21, with preparation, sponsors, testing and more so and if it is 25, it will be too many for me.
“I will decide what I am doing after the summer, in September or October, but I want to keep some quality in my life. I think things have to change.”
Widely regarded as one of the most talented drivers of his generation, Alonso was expected to succeed Germany’s seven-time champion Michael Schumacher as the most dominant racer of the past decade.
But his career moves saw him go from a triumphant Renault to a bleak and unhappy season at McLaren-Mercedes in 2007 and then back to Renault before he moved to Ferrari and McLaren-Honda without success.
He was champion in 2005 and 2006, but has won only six races in the last six seasons before this, and is without a victory since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.
McLaren-Honda have failed to score a point this year.
A happy, if not confident, Lewis Hamilton returned to the place where it all began on Thursday, a decade after claiming his first Formula One victory in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix.
Speaking at a routine pre-race news conference ahead of the 50th running of the popular North American event, he revealed a flash of deeply-held emotion when he recalled seeing his father in the crowd below the podium 10 years previously.
“It was the most amazing experience,” said Hamilton, who claimed his maiden victory in his sixth outing. “I was on the podium and I looked down and I could see my dad and I could see one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen in my life on his face.”
This weekend, he seeks to claim his sixth victory at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to add to those of 2007, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016, but conceded that rivals Ferrari, and not his defending champions team Mercedes, are the favourites.
“We have seen, obviously, that Ferrari are the quickest at the moment, so they’re the favourites,” he said. “But we’re working very hard to rectify the issues we had at the last race and we hope that we can attack again this weekend.
“They’ve got some unique bits on the car that I think will work well for them this weekend, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take the fight to them.”
He added that he had been to the Mercedes factory for a de-briefing following the team’s disappointing showing at the Monaco Grand Prix, won by four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel for Ferrari, but without finding a solution to their problems with tyre performance.
“We’ve definitely done some analysis, but we’ll find out whether or not there are things we can improve on this weekend,” he said.
“You push, or you drive slow, depending on the temperature, and when it comes to doing your laps, sometimes they’re ready, or not – it’s difficult. It’s a kind of numb feeling.”
Vettel leads the title race with 129 points after three wins in six races ahead of Hamilton on 124, having won twice.