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Analysis - McLaren looking strong 08 Jun 2007

Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 8 June 2007 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 8 June 2007 Alex Wurz (AUT) Williams FW29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 8 June 2007 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 8 June 2007 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB3.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 8 June 2007

The usual suspects up front, but field closing on BMW?

McLaren emerged as the strongest team after the first day of practice here in Montreal, with Fernando Alonso comfortably fastest in 1m 16.550s and Lewis Hamilton third on his debut at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on 1m 17.307s.

In between then, Felipe Massa gave Ferrari cause for optimism with 1m 17.090s, and Kimi Raikkonen’s fourth fastest time of 1m 17.557s confirmed that the two series leaders remain unchallenged at the top.

While the McLaren drivers were able to focus straight away on set-up work as they found reasonable grip and balance, the Ferrari duo struggled for grip in the morning and only became stronger in the afternoon as the track rubbered-in. Nevertheless, Massa left feeling that they can fight for pole on Saturday.

At BMW Sauber there is growing awareness that Renault and Williams are making progress, but they were quite happy with Nick Heidfeld’s performance in setting fifth-fastest time of 1m 17.827s. The German’s only problems came with a couple of brushes with walls in the afternoon, but Robert Kubica lost all morning with a fuel leak and was thus on his back foot in the afternoon as he worked down to 1m 18.399s for 12th. Overall, the mood in this camp is its usual calm confidence that more points can be gathered in on Sunday.

Williams were very happy with Nico Rosberg’s sixth-fastest time of 1m 17.992s, less so with Alex Wurz’s 1m 18.971s which left the Austrian only 17th.

It’s difficult to know how much to read into Rubens Barrichello’s seventh-fastest time of 1m 18.108s for Honda. Both the Brazilian and team mate Jenson Button (13th on 1m 18.474s), found it hard to find a balance over long runs on the Bridgestone option tyre (the super-soft), but so did several others. They felt that they were quite competitive, however, on the soft tyre.

Renault had Giancarlo Fisichella in eighth place on 1m 18.130s and Heikki Kovalainen 22nd on 1m 20.519s. The Italian’s performance encouraged the team that the improvement they showed in Monaco was continuing, but the Finn’s understeering meeting with a wall was a bit of a dampener.

Red Bull were also feeling aggrieved by the evening, because of the collision at the end of the session between Mark Webber and Toro Rosso stable-mate Scott Speed. There is sufficient damage that the team now only have one spare floor left, and the incident did not impress bosses in either camp. After setting the initial pace, Webber fell back to ninth with 1m 18.181s, while David Coulthard was 11th on 1m 18.316s.

Takuma Sato was Super Aguri’s leading runner with 10th-fastest time of 1m 18.309s, while Anthony Davidson was 15th on 1m 18.545s, showing how close things were in the lower midfield. There were no problems in this camp, but that wasn’t the case at Toro Rosso. Besides Speed claiming that Webber brake-tested him, Tonio Liuzzi’s chances of retaining what was at one stage third-fastest time of 1m 18.493s faded when he suffered yet more gearbox trouble in the afternoon, having also been afflicted in the morning.

The Toyotas were in trouble all session, with Jarno Trulli breaking his right front suspension against a wall and later suffering failure on the same side when he ran over a kerb, and Ralf Schumacher lost 45 minutes as a direct result of Trulli’s first failure as the team checked out both cars. Not surprisingly, both drivers claimed they have yet to realise the TF107’s potential here.

Finally, the Spykers were again close to the Toyotas. Adrian Sutil suffered graining on the super-soft tyres, but generally the balance of both cars improved as the afternoon session progressed, and but for small errors by both men on their quick laps, they might have usurped the Toyotas.