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.

Malaysia planning ‘long break’ from hosting F1 after 2017

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Malaysia is planning to take a “long break” from hosting Formula 1 after deciding to end its grand prix contract early over spiralling costs, according to Sepang International Circuit chief Razlan Razali.

After previously expressing concern over the future of the race, officials at Sepang announced earlier this month that the 2017 grand prix would be the last in Malaysia, ending its contract one year early by mutual agreement with F1’s new owner, Liberty Media.

Speaking to AFP, Razali said that the increasingly unbalanced economic forecast for hosting the race made the decision to drop it a simple one, and that a return will not be considered for some time.

“Since 2014 the numbers don’t add up anymore, so it was quite an easy decision to not host Formula 1 anymore,. It was not difficult at all to be honest,” Razali said.

“Right now we are firm in our decision to take a long break. We are looking at a seven to 10-year break.”

Razali also expressed his distaste at ex-F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone’s recent admission that he overcharged tracks to host grands prix, believing it made Malaysia “look like idiots”.

“For [Ecclestone] to come out with that statement, we can’t help but feel suckered by him in some ways and quite disappointed,” Razali said.

“We thought we have a relationship. But I guess the reality is there are no loyalties in this business, it is all about dollars and cents.

“So with that statement, yes, it upsets us in a way.”

Vettel takes Russian GP pole, heads up Ferrari front-row lock-out

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Sebastian Vettel will start Sunday’s Formula 1 race in Russia from pole position after edging out Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen in the final stage of qualifying.

Vettel turned in a fastest lap time of 1:33.194 in Q3 to wrestle pole away from provisional leader Raikkonen, who ran wide at the final corner on his last timed effort.

The mistake appeared to open the door for Mercedes to continue its pole position streak, only for Valtteri Bottas to fail to improve, finishing third.

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton also had a session to forget, ailing to fourth on the grid, finishing over half a second behind Vettel.

The result marked Ferrari’s first front-row lock-out in F1 since the 2008 French Grand Prix, when Raikkonen took pole ahead of then-teammate Felipe Massa.

Red Bull finished as the ‘best of the rest’ once again in qualifying, with Daniel Ricciardo ending up fifth ahead of teammate Max Verstappen in seventh. Felipe Massa split the pair for Williams, with Nico Hulkenberg, Segio Perez and Esteban Ocon rounding out positions eight to 10.

Carlos Sainz Jr. had hoped to compensate for his three-place grid penalty carried over from Bahrain by reaching the top 10, only to miss out by two-tenths of a second, qualifying 11th.

Lance Stroll followed in P12 for Williams ahead of home favorite Daniil Kvyat, who struggled to impress in front of his home fans en route to P13 ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen.

Fernando Alonso’s woes with McLaren continued as he lagged to P15 in Q2, finishing 3.3 seconds off Bottas’ fastest time. The Spaniard called it “unbelievable” over the radio as the issues with his Honda power unit once again left him off the pace and crest-fallen.

After changing chassis overnight and engine following FP3, Jolyon Palmer’s miserable weekend continued when he crashed out at the end of Q1, leaving him 16th on the grid.

The incident sparked yellow flags and prevented a number of drivers from improving their time, with McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne ailing to 17th. Sauber drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson finished 18th and 19th respectively, the former also spinning on his final Q1 lap, while Romain Grosjean propped up the timesheets for Haas in P20.

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Sirotkin set for F1 practice return in Spain as Russia run is cut short

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Sergey Sirotkin is set to get his next chance in a Formula 1 race weekend during practice for the Spanish Grand Prix after completing just two laps on Friday in Russia.

Sirotkin was given the chance to impress in front of his home fans in Russia on Friday with Renault, deputizing for Nico Hulkenberg as part of his test driver deal with the French manufacturer.

Sirotkin’s hopes of impressing the watching F1 paddock were dashed when a gearbox issue caused his car to lose power on his second installation lap, forcing the Russian to park up at the side of the track early on.

“It was a short run for me in FP1, but that’s motorsport and it’s better to have an issue with the car in practice than in qualifying or the race,” Sirotkin said.

“There’s not much I can say about today other than I was happy with the car at the Bahrain test and I was fully prepared to deliver everything required today.

“I’m next out in Spain so that’s where my focus now lies.”

“We got some good mileage on our new aero package today despite a tricky morning for Sergey which saw his session cut short after a hydraulic problem which then damaged the gearbox,” Renault technical chief Nick Chester added.

“It’s disappointing as we know he would have done a good job.”

Besides his Renault duties, Sirotkin has no full race program in 2017, having opted against a third straight year in GP2 (now Formula 2).

Honda in talks with ‘various’ F1 teams over 2018 engine supply

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Honda is in talks with various Formula 1 teams over a possible engine supply for 2018 as it looks to reach beyond its current partnership with McLaren.

Honda returned to F1 as an engine supplier in 2015, striking an exclusive deal with McLaren that saw the famed partnership of the late 1980s and early ’90s be rekindled.

The championship-winning form enjoyed back then has been hard to come by, with reliability and performance issues with the Honda power unit leaving McLaren at the back of the field, currently without a single point to its name in 2017.

McLaren previously blocked Honda from working with other teams, but is now receptive to the idea, with the Japanese manufacturer talking to possible customers for 2018.

“From the start of this Formula 1 activity, we committed to support this Formula 1 society, so from that point of view it is duty and we have to support multiples teams,” Honda F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa said.

“Also we are thinking it will give us some benefit to have multiple teams as we will have more data and more chance to make the car running, so we don’t deny to have a second or third team.

“We are talking to various teams but at this moment, unfortunately, we have nothing to say here.”

Honda has most closely been linked to Sauber for 2018, with the Swiss backmarker outfit currently using year-old Ferrari power units.

Current Formula 1 Power Unit Supplies

Ferrari – Ferrari, Haas, Sauber (2016-spec)
Mercedes – Mercedes, Force India, Williams
Renault – Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Renault
Honda – McLaren