Max Verstappen delivered a strong response to his recent critics by completing a practice double for the Canadian Grand Prix.
Verstappen’s crash last time out in Monaco marked his fifth big mistake from six rounds, and he arrived in North America threatening to “headbutt someone” following a series of questions about his accident-prone campaign.
But the 20-year-old Dutchman topped the time sheets in both sessions in his Red Bull at a sun-drenched Circuit Gilles Villeneuve as he allowed his driving to do the talking.
Verstappen finished 0.130 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen with championship leader Lewis Hamilton half-a-second off the pace. Sebastian
Vettel, who trails Hamilton by 14 points in the title race, was fifth in the order.
Hamilton fears he will not be in contention for the victory this weekend after his Mercedes team failed to bring a scheduled engine update with them to the seventh round of the campaign.
It means Hamilton, 33, is set to be down on power, while he continues with an engine that he has used at every round since the opening rubber in Australia. In contrast, Vettel has been afforded the luxury of a fresh Ferrari power unit.
Red Bull, too, are running an upgraded Renault engine, and after Daniel Ricciardo dominated in Monte Carlo a fortnight ago, it was the turn of Verstappen to impress here.
Ricciardo missed much of the second session with engine troubles, but the Australian emerged in the closing moments to post a time good enough for fourth, four tenths adrift of his team-mate.
There will be more time to come from Hamilton, who is chasing a record-equalling seventh win in Montreal, after his Mercedes team elected not to use the fastest ‘hypersoft’ tyre compound on Friday.
The second running was red-flagged when Carlos Sainz hit the wall at turn seven after losing control of his Renault. The Spaniard limped back to the pits, but the session was stopped to deal with the resulting debris.
Fernando Alonso is competing in his 300th grand prix this weekend, and the two-time world champion finished 10th.
Elsewhere, Williams, who are rooted to the foot of the constructors’ championship, saw both of their drivers struggle.
Canadian teenager Lance Stroll thudded the so-called ‘Wall of Champions’ and suffered a puncture, while his team-mate Sergey Sirotkin spun at turn six in the day’s first running. The duo then propped up the time sheets in the concluding session.
At a press conference ahead of this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, the Red Bull driver was asked about a series of incidents he has been involved in this season, the latest coming when he crashed during practice at the Monaco Grand Prix.
It was a line of questioning that exasperated Verstappen.
“I don’t know,” Verstappen said in response to a reporter who asked why he keeps getting into accidents. “But as I said at the start, I am tired of these questions and if I get any more I am going to head-butt someone.”
“I’m really tired of all the comments about me – that I should change my approach.
“I will never do that. It has brought me to where I am right now and after the race is not the right time to talk.”
“I don’t listen to it anyway. I just do my own thing.
“Of course it hasn’t being going that well in the way I like it. A few mistakes, especially Monaco and China, but it doesn’t make sense to keep talking about it.”
Verstappen, who has failed to finish in two of the six races this season with a best result of third in Spain last month, is sixth in the standings some 75 points behind leader Lewis Hamilton and with less than half the number of his Australian team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
However, he’s expecting an upturn in his fortunes.
“I’m confident I can turn things around,” he said. “I’ve always been fast and the pace is there every single weekend.”
After two races in Europe, Formula One heads across the Atlantic to North America for the Canadian Grand Prix.
Here, we take a look at the key talking points ahead of Sunday’s race in Montreal.
Hamilton’s the Montreal master
If you had told Hamilton that he would lose only three points to Vettel in Monaco, a notorious bogey track for his Mercedes team, the Brit would have nobbled your arm off.
And after salvaging third, only one place behind the Ferrari driver, Hamilton can now head to a circuit where he has become the master in recent years. Following trips to California, to check in on his pet dogs Roscoe and Coco, and then up and over to New York, Hamilton, 33, arrived in Montreal on Tuesday night.
It was here where he won his first grand prix, back in 2007, and it is a venue where he has gone on to triumph a further five times – including a hat-trick for Mercedes (2015, 2016, and 2017). Indeed should Hamilton win on Sunday, he will match Michael Schumacher’s record of seven Canadian Grand Prix victories.
Vettel needs victory to spark title charge
Vettel’s campaign started in spectacular fashion after he recorded back-to-back wins, but following an accident through no fault of his own with Max Verstappen in China, before falling off the track in Baku, and Mercedes and then Red Bull’s resurgence in Spain and Monaco respectively, Vettel heads to Canada winless from his last four races.
Montreal has been well-suited to Mercedes, but let us not forget Vettel should have won there back in 2016 only for Ferrari’s two-stop strategy to backfire and afford Hamilton the win.
It will not be a disaster for Ferrari if Hamilton triumphs on Sunday, but should Vettel upset the odds and beat his rival, then it will go some way to sending a statement of intent, and one which you fancy he needs, to reignite his championship charge.
Ricciardo facing grid penalty misery
Ricciardo won in Monaco despite nursing an engine problem so terminal that his Red Bull boss Christian Horner likened it to the troubling Apollo 13 space mission. But Ricciardo’s engine failure in the principality will come back to bite him this weekend with the Australian due to serve a hefty grid penalty on Sunday.
Indeed Ricciardo could be thrown to the back of the pack, dependant on the number of engine parts his Red Bull team have to change. It is a blow for Ricciardo’s title chances after he moved up to third, and within 38 points of Hamilton following his Monaco triumph.
But after the dreary spectacle in Monaco a fortnight ago, at least we can rely on one of the finest overtakers in the sport fighting his way back through the field to provide the entertainment this weekend.
Triple ton up for Alonso
Fernando Alonso will this week become only the fourth driver in Formula One history to reach the landmark of 300 grands prix entries. Rubens Barrichello (326), Jenson Button (309) and Schumacher (308) are the only other men to have surpassed the milestone.
Alonso was set to finish seventh in Monaco before he retired (his first DNF of the season) with a gearbox issue. The 36-year-old Spaniard fears the high-powered Montreal track will work against his McLaren car.
“Canada is going to be challenging,” Alonso said. “It’s a tough circuit with long straights. Our lack of speed is maybe a penalty there.”
Lawsuit filed against Raikkonen
A Canadian waitress has filed a reported seven-figure lawsuit against Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen, the 38-year-old Finn, has been accused of touching the woman’s breasts after the Montreal race two years ago.
The woman made the allegations in a blog back in 2016, but did not name Raikkonen. Earlier this year, she gave her version of events to the police.
Raikkonen has denied the allegations and has claimed he is a victim of blackmail. The Finn’s lawyers have filed an extortion counterclaim.