Lewis Hamilton was visibly delighted with his P1 sealing lap in Friday practice as he waved and celebrated in front of the very fans that bore witness to his maiden victory in Formula One last year.
One year on and the McLaren driver is looking in great shape to challenge for the race victory again after a strong day of running that culminated in going quickest of all in the afternoon session.
The British ace was pleased with the handling and balance of his McLaren around the demanding Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and was relishing being able to throw MP4-23 into the corners – no more so than on his final flying laps in the dying seconds of second warm up when he led a blistering assault on the circuit to top the timing sheets.
The manner in which he attacked the kerbing at the notorious final chicane would have seemed aggressive even in qualifying trim, let alone free practice. The upshot was P1 by two tenths of a second to an on-form Robert Kubica, fresh from his third podium of the season at Monaco a fortnight ago, and a further tenth of a second ahead of third place man Kimi Raikkonen.
“In the afternoon, we were able to improve the car on every run,” explained Hamilton afterwards. “I felt very comfortable with the set-up and balance, particularly when we switched to the option tyre, which allowed me to lean on the car as the track conditions improved.”
“We’ve still got some work to do ahead of qualifying and the race, but we’ve already got some positive running under our belts.”
Heikki Kovalainen in the sister McLaren, who has gone on record this weekend saying that he is still firmly fighting for the championship title despite being twenty points adrift of his team-mate, lapped fourth quickest behind Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica, and half a second slower than Hamilton.
The Finn later admitted that he has yet to fully hook his MP4-23 up around the fifteen corner temporary street circuit and is looking at ways to set up his car so that he can attack the circuit in the way Hamilton did.
“Today was a pretty useful day, although I don’t really feel as though I’ve yet found a truly perfect balance,” reflected the 26-year-old.
“We chose not to carry out too much running this morning, but we were able to start developing the car in the afternoon. We worked hard on set-up, focusing particularly on calming the rear-end, but I have yet to really start attacking the track.”
“However, by the end of the session, I felt we’d come a long way towards resolving our main issues. After we’ve had a good look at the tyres and made some changes ahead of tomorrow morning’s practice session, I think we’ll be in much better shape.”
McLaren’s senior management were buoyed by the performances of both their drivers in tricky conditions ahead of the all-crucial qualifying session for the Canadian Grand Prix on Saturday.
“We often experience mixed weather conditions at the Canadian Grand Prix, and today was no exception,” said McLaren Team Principal Ron Dennis.
“We chose to conserve our supply of wet tyres throughout this morning’s damp session, but we were pleased with the developments we made to the cars this afternoon. We feel confident that the improvements will allow us to be competitive.
“Nonetheless, we’re fully aware that this race is often unpredictable, so we’re taking absolutely nothing for granted. It’s still too early to judge where we are compared with our competitors, but we’re heading in the right direction.”
Norbert Haug, vice-president of Mercedes-Benz motorsport added: “As usual on Fridays, we focused on preparing for both qualifying and the race. As a result, we completed a number of stints, evaluating different set-ups and tyres. The results look pretty encouraging.”