Jack Evans, F1 Corresponsent
Lewis Hamilton topped the timesheets in both Friday Free Practice sessions of the 2012 FIA Formula One Canadian Grand Prix, going just faster than Sebastian Vettel in the morning, then beating out Fernando Alonso in the afternoon.
His 1:15.259 time set on prime (soft) tires in the latter session stood out as fastest of the weekend. Tomorrow, of course, will be the final practice prior for the drivers aiming for the pole position.
“Even though the Option tyre was a little quicker, I preferred running on the Prime tyre,” Hamilton said.
Ferrari did well to follow Hamilton up in FP2. Felipe Massa’s third-fastest effort may relieve the troubled Brazilian of some pressure pre-qualifying.
“I think we had a good day.
Vettel stayed close to the top in both practice outings, second and fourth-placed, respectively.
“I think we had a good day,” he said. “We got decent laps and even with the different approach in terms of when we ran the tyres, I think we can be happy. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”
Crashes of the day included Heikki Kovalainen’s tire clip against the wall in FP1 that put him in the garage for the rest of the day. In FP2, Bruno Senna met the famous “Champions Wall” at the exit of the final chicane having gone wide at the entry to the corner complex. The back of his Williams was badly damaged, and the wreck brought out a short red flag period.
The other McLaren of Jenson Button suffered from oil leakage and spent much time in the pits, gathering little information for rest of the weekend.
“The delays stopped us from doing any high-fuel running or any set-up work simply because we had to get out on the circuit and get some laps in,” Button explained. “It meant we didn’t put a set-up on the car that felt quite right”
The importance of the setup at low-downforce but high-brake force Montreal may mean the Briton is less-prepared for tomorrow’s qualifying and the race.
Monaco winner Mark Webber continually pushed the limits of his RB8, going wide and running over the grass on several different occasions, as well as getting frighteningly close to the wall at Turn 9. His efforts got him as high as fifth in the early run, but only twelfth later on.
7-time Canadian GP winner Michael Schumacher was found ninth and seventh in his Mercedes, down a bit from his expected performance at this track.
Kamui Kobayashi brought his Sauber up first to seventh, then sixth. Other well-placed runners were Nico Hülkenberg in sixth in session one and Paul Di Resta in fifth in session two.
Light rain fell in FP1, upsetting the soft-compound testing of most teams. Kimi Raikkonen was then the first to attempt the damp conditions of super-softs, convincing teammate Romain Grosjean to do the same. Eventually, on the fastest Pirelli tires as well, Vettel, Nico Rosberg, and Alonso got near Hamilton’s early benchmark. The session ended before it could be surpassed.
The session did not end, however, before a myriad of local wildlife species tested the track themselves. First a Red Fox trotted past Raikkonen’s 160mph+ Lotus, then a Squirrel in front of Grosjean. Even a local Groundhog made an appearance.
Both of these Lotus cars were notably absent from the top ten in each running, though. Grosjean had to make a front anti-roll bar change in FP2, and was also prevented from a clean run by the rain. Their erratic circumstances from race to race has left them wishing for clear information on their standing, but it seems to have eluded them once again.
Race stewards are reportedly investigating an off-track overtake by Sebastian Vettel on Bruno Senna that occurred before the latter crashed out.
Hamilton, having won here in 2007 and 2010, is a favorite for pole position but Vettel has also shown mastery here and his Red Bull is not off-pace. Ferrari’s Alonso is also likely to start well Sunday, and Massa might even make a move up the grid from his usual lowly qualifying performances.
Today was the first official day of the Canadian Grand Prix, as the usual free Thursday activities around the paddock were closed to spectators after student protestors set off a smoke bomb in a metro station in the name of lowered tuitions earlier this week.