2014 Canadian GP Practice One: Fernando Alonso takes updated Ferrari to fastest time
Ferrari trialling power unit and aero upgrades for the first time on Friday; Lewis Hamilton strikes first in Mercedes battle; Low-grip surface sees host of drivers running off track
By James Galloway in Montreal. Last Updated: 06/06/14 6:37pm
Fernando Alonso gave Ferrari early encouragement about their key power unit upgrades for the Canadian GP by outpacing the dominant Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in Practice One in Montreal.
In an opening session dominated by the sight of drivers running off the circuit as they grappled for grip around the 4.36km barrier-lined lap, Alonso ultimately set the pace on 1:17.238 to head up the timesheet by just 0.016 seconds from Hamilton.
Ferrari, with just one podium finish so far in 2014 and without a race victory in 13 months, have targeted this weekend as the place to start closing the power gap to Mercedes and the F14 T features numerous changes under the bodywork in addition to new front and rear wings for the low-downfoce challenge presented by the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Alonso's pacesetting start might therefore give the team early encouragement over the upgrade package's performance, however, the caveat at this early stage of the weekend is that the Spaniard is actually the only driver other than Hamilton to top the P1 charts in the seven race weekends to have taken place in 2014, with Ferrari appearing to regularly run lighter on fuel in the opening session than most.
Hamilton, despite a pair of off-course moments at the first corner, ran strongly throughout the 90-minute session en-route to second and the Briton outpaced team-mate and championship leader Rosberg by just over a tenth of a second.
Red Bull have emerged as Mercedes' closest challengers in recent races but Montreal's power-dependent nature is thought likely to highlight their Renault power unit's deficiencies relative to the Mercedes and while Sebastian Vettel finished fourth in P1, the German wound up nearly nine tenths back on Alonso.
While one Williams, Felipe Massa, was delayed by ERS problems, Valtteri Bottas, who starred in wet qualifying in Canada last year, took fifth for Williams ahead of the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren pair Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen.
Kimi Raikkonen was ninth after completing only 15 laps after delays in the garage, with Jean-Eric Vergne rounding out the top ten for Toro Rosso.
Aside from the early pace of Ferrari, the other talking point from the weekend's opening forays was the number of cars running off the circuit.
Although dry throughout, the session played out in relatively cool conditions under leaden skies and as a result drivers struggled to get their soft tyres up to temperature and bite into the track surface.
Most of the 22 drivers were duly tripped up by one of the circuit's two perennial hot spots - the chicanes at Turn Eight and the final corner - although Marussia's Jules Bianchi was the only driver to noticeably brush the wall, a moment which damaged the car's track rod.
"The cars were moving around like I expected them to in Monaco to be honest, another temporary circuit of course. It was really good to see them sliding around; we've seen a lot of mistakes - drivers braking too late, getting on the power too early up against the wall," commented Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle.
"I don't think the tyres are biting into the tarmac as well as they did back in Monaco, so the drivers are fighting and it's good to see."
The good news for drivers and their teams, however, is that temperatures are poised to rocket by up to ten degrees come the weekend, with the track surface picking up grip all the time as the F1 schedule and support programmes continue.