Hamilton tops opening practice for Canadian Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton led for Mercedes AMG Petronas in the opening 90-minute practice session for this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, thus giving the first blow back to the Silver Arrows after its rough weekend in Monaco.

While it appeared as though the team was set for a 1-2 with Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas trading the fastest lap, Sebastian Vettel interrupted proceedings and slotted into second at 0.198 behind for Scuderia Ferrari, a 1:14.007.

Vettel aside, Hamilton and Bottas engaged in a proper neck-and-neck scrap at the top of the timesheets, as the low grip Circuit Gilles Villeneuve circuit rubbered in over the course of the session.

With just over 30 minutes left in the session, Hamilton posted a lap of 1:14.173 that beat teammate Bottas by just over a tenth of a second. But then Bottas then went to a 1:14.046 lap immediately thereafter to supplant him.

That only stood until Hamilton posted the weekend’s first 1:13 lap, a 1:13.961, which was 0.085 of a second ahead of Bottas. Hamilton went quicker still to a 1:13.809 as the session reached the 20-minute remaining mark.

Behind the top three, Kimi Raikkonen was fourth for Ferrari, with the pair of Mercedes-powered Sahara Force India drivers also having a very good session in fifth and sixth. Sergio Perez (only 0.769 of a second behind) and Esteban Ocon (0.976) were both within a second. Ocon spun near the end of the session, though, one of several in the session. The best of the Red Bulls was only Max Verstappen in seventh, with Daniel Ricciardo in ninth.

All of the top six drivers set their fastest times on Pirelli’s ultrasoft tires, the softest compound on offer at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

As could be expected, grip was at a premium to kick off the weekend festivities on the Isle Notre Dame, the park/street course that is only utilized at most two race weekends per year.

The low grip track led to a number of spins and off-course excursions. Ocon, Raikkonen, Vettel (below) and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson all spun at least once, while Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg (below) and Jolyon Palmer, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Williams’ Lance Stroll also had offs that were caught on camera.

Palmer at one point balked Verstappen as the Dutchman reported in to his Red Bull Racing team that “Palmer wasn’t looking in his mirrors.” Verstappen later had a moment of his own.

The session didn’t even last a lap for Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr., his unbadged Renault power plant smoking and stopping at the exit of the hairpin on his installation lap.

And then, sadly, there was another chapter written in the saga of Fernando Alonso’s 2017 F1 season with McLaren Honda. It took until the final 25 minutes of the session before the returning driver could post an official lap, either, before his similar fate of mechanical woes also returned.

His McLaren Honda did an installation lap early on but didn’t register a proper lap until he posted a time of 1:16.521 with 20 minutes to go, good for 16th and almost a half second behind Vandoorne in 11th.

Almost true to form, Alonso’s car stopped on track after completing just that one lap. He parked the car at the hairpin, the team having told him to stop on track. He got out, threw his headrest down in frustration, and bantered with the corner marshals. On replay, Alonso reported in the “gearing was super heavy.”

The other driver of note worth watching this weekend is Canadian Stroll, the teenager having his first laps in Montreal as the first Canadian in his home Grand Prix since Jacques Villeneuve in 2006 with BMW Sauber. Stroll posted a best time of 1:16.313 on Pirelli’s soft compounds, good for 13th.

Wildlife also made its first appearance during the weekend at Montreal, as a squirrel darted across the track without incident.

Coverage for second free practice from Montreal comes your way at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via the NBC Sports App. Times from FP1 are below.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.