Raikkonen's Ferrari sets pace in Canadian GP practice, Stroll 17th

By The Canadian Press
June 9, 2017 - 9:00am

MONTREAL — If Lance Stroll felt any jitters during his first laps around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve they didn't show on the 18-year-old Formula One rookie.

Stroll, a Montreal native driving for the Williams team, posted the 17th best time in a pair of 90-minute practice sessions on Friday that were dominated by the leading Ferrari and Mercedes AMG teams.

"There are always a bit of nerves but not on Friday, just on Saturday (in qualifying) and Sunday (in the race)," said Stroll. "But it's positive nerves.

"Those are the nerves that get me going, so it's good."

Ferrari veteran Kimi Raikkonen, coming off a second-place finish behind teammate Sebastian Vettel two weeks ago in Monaco, posted the fastest lap of one minute 12.935 seconds on the 4.361-kilometre track. The Finn was 0.215 seconds better than two-time defending champion Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes.

Formula One leader Vettel was third at 1:13.200 with Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes AMG fourth at 1:13.310. Max Verstappen's Red Bull was best among the rest at 1:13.338 even though his car stopped on the track with 17 minutes remaining.

Friday practices are for experimentation, when teams test different set-ups and tires to see what works best on the track known for its long straights leading to tight corners that ends with a particularly nasty chicane just before the finish. The start/finish line includes the infamous wall of champions, where six F1 champs have crashed over the years.

Ultrasoft tires seemed to work best, and Stroll's teammate Felipe Massa used those to post the sixth-quickest lap. Stroll gets his turn on them in the third practice Saturday morning before qualifying. 

"Everyone's been doing different programs, so we'll have a better idea in qualifying," said Stroll, who is aiming to reach the final group in qualifying to earn a spot near the front for the race. "This track suits our car so if everything goes to plan, with the tires working and getting the laps done, it's possible.

"We need to stay calm and concentrate on the job."

Stroll is gunning for a top-10 finish, which would bring his first F1 points. He was able to finish only two of six races so far, with his best result an 11th at the Russian Grand Prix. 

But Williams has a history of good results in Canada. Bottas finished third the last two years before leaving Williams for Mercedes AMG, which caused the British team to bring Massa out of retirement to be Stroll's veteran teammate.

Massa's mentorship may be especially important this week.

"He needs to be calm," Massa said of Stroll. "He needs to understand everything about this track, how to approach the corners.

"This track actually looks maybe easier than it is to drive. It has so many tricks — over the curbs, over the braking, over the lines. So he has a lot to learn, but now he has the whole evening to look at data and how to improve and be ready."

They will all have trouble knocking the F1 leaders out of the top spots. Ferrari has a slight edge on Mercedes AMG so far in both the constructors standings and the drivers table, where Vettel leads Hamilton by 25 points.

But Hamilton has won five Canadian Grand Prix, starting in 2007, which is second only to Michael Schumacher's seven titles. Vettel won it in 2013 while Raikkonen's lone win was in 2005.

"There's stuff we want to improve on, so we'll see. It's tricky here," said Raikkonen.

In practice, the leading lap time improved by nearly a second from the morning practice and the fast times showed how this year's bigger, more powerful F1 cars are likely to set track records.

It was a rough afternoon for Romain Grosjean of the Haas team, who spun out three times and told his crew "I'm starting to get a bit fed up."

Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull, the 2014 Canadian GP winner, left after only eight laps with unspecified technical issues and did not return. 

Clearly frustrated two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso pulled his McLaren off the track during the morning practice with a hydraulics problem. He waved to the crowd, returned to his garage and was not seen until late in the afternoon session.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons reminisces on 1980 MLB draft