Canadian GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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Friday practice for the Canadian Grand Prix was business as usual for Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg finishing first and second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in FP2. His Ferrari teammate, Fernando Alonso, had finished fastest in the first session this morning, and the Italian team appears to be leading the race to be ‘best of the rest’ in Montreal this weekend.

As well as the on-track formalities, there were a number of stories breaking off-track, so here’s today’s paddock notebook from the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

SESSION REPORTS

  • Fernando Alonso drew first blood in Montreal by finishing fastest in FP1 on Friday morning. He was closely followed by the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
  • Hamilton managed to redress the balance in FP2, though, finishing in first place ahead of Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen. Once again, the advantage appears to lie with Mercedes in Montreal.

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Despite a few drops of rain threatening to spoil the first session in Montreal, it actually turned out to be a hot and sunny day on the Île Notre Dame, perfect for practice. We’re expecting another hot day tomorrow, and it could aid the likes of Lotus and McLaren who have struggled in the cooler conditions so far this season.

During both practice sessions, I took some time to head out of the media centre and watch part of the session trackside. During FP1, I went down to the first complex of corners (T1/T2) to see how the cars were going through there. Surprisingly, Mercedes appeared to be struggling a bit, with Rosberg locking up three times at the first corner. Lewis Hamilton also made an uncharacteristic error, and had to take to the run-off area at one point. Maybe that car is just too fast!

Red Bull has been better through the corners than most so far this season, and it was clear here as Vettel and Ricciardo easily negotiated the difficult left-right complex. The same can also be said of Williams, with Valtteri Bottas looking particularly aggressive and happy to take a big chunk of the kerb. Caterham, on the other hand, looked very uncomfortable. Alexander Rossi’s first few laps were tentative, and even regular driver Marcus Ericsson was struggling to tame the CT-05 car.

On the whole, though, Alexander did a great job. He was upbeat when we spoke to him after the session, and is now ready to turn his attention back to his GP2 campaign with Caterham Racing.

For FP2, I headed on down to the final chicane on the track (T12/T13), and once again Bottas was not afraid to attack the corner. Hamilton and Rosberg both had different approaches, with Nico’s appearing to be a little more ragged. It is here where you can make or break a lap time, so it was good to see the drivers pushing hard and trying to be as brave as possible without binning the car in the notorious Wall of Champions.

Looking at the lap times, it is quite clear that the advantage once again lies with Mercedes. However, Red Bull and Ferrari appear to be closely matched in the race to complete the podium. We could see quite an interesting battle between Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Alonso unfold on Sunday.

Today also marked my first encounter with the 2014-spec cars – or, more importantly, the 2014-spec engines. Having only listened to the sound of the power units on TV, I didn’t quite know what to expect. The uproar about the sound has been one of the big talking points so far this season, but I tried to avoid getting drawn into the debate without having listened to them first hand.

I must say, standing at turn one and at the end of the back straight, I was still very impressed by them. These engines are still loud and impressive, and the technology behind them is sensational. Sure, they don’t sound like V8 engines, but that’s because they are not V8 engines! When you go to Le Mans, the Audi sounds very different to the Porsche and the Toyota because it is different. I find it hard to see why this perceived lack of noise is a reason not to buy a ticket to see a grand prix. It’s a very subjective topic, though.

The news about the possible scrapping of one of the Friday practice sessions came as a bit of a surprise. F1 has been pushing to cut costs for so long, but the power of the big manufacturers and teams has ended all hopes of a cost cap for now. This is the alternative, but I’m not entirely sure that it will have the desired effect. Drivers want running, so to essentially cut it by a third may not go down too well. A possible remedy to this situation is extending the two practice sessions, but quite how this pans out remains to be seen. It does look very likely, though, even if it lacks formal approval for 2015 at this stage.

Be sure to join us tomorrow for final practice at 10am ET online, followed by qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix which is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1pm ET.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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Vilander replaces Bird at AF Corse for Nurburgring WEC round

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AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.

Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.

The Finn won the WEC GT drivers’ title in 2014 and last raced full-time in the series in 2015, but will return at the Nürburgring in place of Bird, who confirmed on Monday that he would be prioritizing his Formula E commitments on the July 16 weekend.

Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.

“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.

“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”

British GP expands to four-day schedule, F2/GP3 practice set for Thursday

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The British Grand Prix weekend will expand to a four-day schedule next month as Formula 2 and GP3 practice running gets shifted to Thursday.

On-track running for all Formula 1 events traditionally takes place across three days – Friday to Sunday, bar Monaco, where practice is on Thursday – with support events following a similar format.

Silverstone has confirmed its schedule of events for the British Grand Prix weekend, with F2 and GP3 practice slated for Thursday July 13.

F2 practice will run from 15:30 to 16:15 local time at Silverstone on the Thursday, followed by GP3 running from 16:45 to 17:30.

Both support series will hit the track again on Friday for their respective qualifying sessions, taking place after F1’s second practice in the afternoon.

The remainder of the race weekend will go ahead as usual for F2 and GP3, having one race each on both Saturday and Sunday.

The F1 schedule for the weekend remains unchanged, with FP1 and FP2 on Friday, FP3 and qualifying on Saturday, and the race on Sunday.

Both Renault and Williams will take part in special show-runs during the grand prix weekend as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations.

You can see the full British Grand Prix schedule here.