Lewis Hamilton has topped the times in the first two practice sessions for the Canadian Grand Prix. The McLaren driver led almost the entire first session, and then set the pace early in the second session and stayed at the top of the times.
Behind Hamilton, the times were very close, as has become the norm in 2012. The top 13 drivers were separated by less than three quarters of a second in Free Practice 2, which suggests that we are in for a very close and exciting qualifying session tomorrow.
The day’s proceedings were dictated by the threat of rain. A few of the teams chose to use the supersoft option tyres in FP1, as they expected FP2 to be wet. In the end, although there were a few drops of rain in the first session, the running time remained mostly dry. The heavens opened shortly after the end of FP2, the promised thunderstorms finally arriving.
With walls so close to the track, it was inevitable that there would be one or two accidents. The first came in FP1, when Heikki Kovalainen lost the back end of his Caterham and hit the wall on the exit of turn nine. Although the suspension on the right hand side of the car was destroyed, the team managed to repair the car in time for Kovalainen to complete 24 laps in FP2.
Bruno Senna became the first driver to hit the “Wall of Champions” this weekend in FP2 when he carried too much speed into the final chicane and his car swapped ends on the exit. A big impact resulted in extensive damage to the front and rear of his Williams, meaning the team will have their work cut out to get his car ready for tomorrow morning’s practice session.
Although Hamilton appeared to have a comfortable Friday, Jenson Button had a nightmare day in the other McLaren. The team identified a problem with the gearbox early in FP1, which took until mid-way through FP2 to solve. Button completed only 14 laps in FP2, ending up ninth, just over half a second off the pace of his team-mate.
McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, Force India and Sauber all look quick. Lotus were surprisingly slow given their strong start to the season, but it is possible that they have yet to show their true pace. Qualifying tomorrow afternoon will reveal the pecking order. At this point, Hamilton is a good bet for pole position.
Michael Schumacher topped the times in second practice for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix. After a damp morning session, which saw Lewis Hamilton a full second clear of the field, the afternoon was dry, and Schumacher made the most of it to finish two tenths up on the McLaren driver.
The Mercedes DRS has dominated the headlines this weekend, with Lotus lodging an official protest against the system on Thursday. The FIA unanimously dismissed the protest, which will be gratifying to Mercedes, but also means that the other teams now need to find a way to bridge the gap to Mercedes in qualifying. Schumacher qualified fourth in Australia and third in Malaysia. His form this weekend so far suggests that there could be a Mercedes on the front row of the grid for the first time since 2010.
Further down the field, Fernando Alonso’s predictions appear to be coming true. The Spaniard expects Ferrari to struggle to make the top ten in qualifying, a fear that is supported by their practice times. Alonso and Massa were 11th and 12th respectively in the morning session, and finished 10th and 17th in the afternoon session. All the signs point to another difficult weekend for the Scuderia.
The man to watch for qualifying will, as ever, be Lewis Hamilton. He potentially faces a five-place grid penalty if McLaren decide to change his gearbox, and will want to minimise the penalty by qualifying as well as possible. After topping first practice and finishing second in the afternoon session, Hamilton seems well on course to achieve that aim.
Formula One teams finally had a completely dry session this morning, with bright sunshine in Melbourne for the third practice session of the weekend. So Massa, Senna, Vettel and Schumacher took full advantage by spinning under braking.
In the case of Massa, it looks like he may have put a wheel on the grass in turn 15. Again. He did that yesterday too in turn 9. Senna also lost it in the slow turn 15, which is quite easy to do, according to Jaime Alguersuari who is commentating for BBC.
World Champion Sebastian Vettel lost the back end of his Red Bull in turn 6. Vettel has not been happy with his car throughout the weekend. The team now has very little time to prepare for qualifying. Vettel managed to produce some magic in qualifying last season. Can he do it again today?
Schumacher lost his Mercedes under braking for turn 9. There didn’t seem to be an obvious reason for the spin. Perhaps his DRS stuck open, which would certainly cause instability at the rear of the car. Nonetheless, the Mercedes is looking quick, so Schumacher and Rosberg should be competitive in qualifying.
Lewis Hamilton topped the times for McLaren, highlighting the pace of the MP4-27. Romain Grosjean was second for Lotus, which suggests that the E20 is working well.
Qualifying starts in about 45 minutes. All the indications so far suggest that it will be close. It’s quite possible that some big names will not make it into Q3. The Ferraris have looked out of sorts since the beginning of pre-season testing. Alonso and Massa will have to produce something special to be competitive. At this stage, predictions of pole are difficult, although Hamilton and Button have been looking very comfortable in the McLarens.