Hamilton closes out Canadian GP practice fastest

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Lewis Hamilton has finished fastest in the final practice session ahead of qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix, which is live on NBCSN from 1pm ET today.

The Briton produced a repeat performance from FP2 by finishing in first place, but he was not followed by Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg this time around. The German driver was forced to settle for third place behind a high-flying Felipe Massa in the Williams.

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve bathed in bright blue skies at the beginning of FP3, giving the drivers and teams the perfect conditions in which to complete their final running ahead of qualifying.

The shorter session meant that the drivers had to get out on track quickly to complete their installation runs, ensuring that all systems on the car are as they should be. Kevin Magnussen was the first to post a lap time, and eventually brought his best effort down to a 1:18.325 before any other driver threatened to topple him.

The session came to an abrupt halt when Esteban Gutierrez span his Sauber at the first chicane. The Mexican driver ended up careering backwards into the wall, bringing out a red flag to help recover the stricken C33. After a terrible start to the season, it will only give the Swiss team another headache to deal with ahead of qualifying later today.

Once the session restarted, the front-runners soon headed out on track to post their first lap times. Sergio Perez was the first to better Magnussen’s lap time before Lewis Hamilton pulled out another seven-tenths over the Force India. Ferrari enjoyed a brief period in the top two positions with Fernando Alonso leading from Kimi Raikkonen, but Hamilton soon redressed the balance by going another half a second quicker.

Williams soon got into the mix as Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas moved up into second and third place respectively, only for Hamilton to widen the gap by half a second yet again despite a nervy moment coming out of the final corner. His teammate, Nico Rosberg, soon found his feet to go just six-hundredths of a second faster. Once again on the harder tire, the advantage clearly lay with Mercedes.

In the final ten minutes, a number of others also looked to complete a final qualifying simulation run ahead of the session later today. Hamilton and Rosberg both ventured out late on, but neither opted to post a time on the super-softs. Felipe Massa was the big mover, jumping up into second place behind Hamilton and ahead of his German teammate. Fernando Alonso finished in fourth place ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen.

Hamilton’s gap of four-tenths of a second came despite posting his time on the slower set of tires, and the Briton appears to be set to claim his fifth pole position of the season later today. However, Rosberg will be keen to fight back and hold on to his championship lead, setting the stage for a close battle.

You can watch qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix live on NBCSN from 1pm ET today.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “