Whatever “little bits and pieces” Mercedes have changed on their cars this weekend, they seemed to work for Hamilton as he pipped Vettel by 0.198s in a windy opening session on Montreal’s Ile Notre-Dame.
With the track surface predictably ‘green’, there were plenty of spins and off-track moments during the 90 minutes, which ended with Force India beating Red Bull to the best-of-the-rest slot as Sergio Perez in fifth headed Esteban Ocon and Max Verstappen.
It was Perez who set the pace initially, with 1m 17.584s on soft Pirelli tyres, before the Ferraris took over, with Raikkonen on 1m 15.837s on ultrasofts and Vettel soon joining him with 1m 16.689s to make it a Maranello 1-2.
Brakes and tyres were cold initially, in the 27 degrees Celsius track temperatures (21 air), and both of the Ferrari drivers had early spins - Raikkonen in Turn 7, Vettel in Turn 2, despite running on the softest compound.
There was rotten luck for Carlos Sainz, whose Toro Rosso appeared to suffer an engine failure on his opening lap. And there was a spin for Nico Hulkenberg when he looped his Renault between Turns 6 and 7, and a great catch by Hamilton in Turn 6.
Soon after Bottas had gone fastest for Mercedes on supersofts, with 1m 15.039s, Hamilton aced that on the same rubber with 1m 15.003s, so things were looking good for the Silver Arrows even though the Ferraris displayed their usual tenacious turn-in and traction.
When the Mercedes switched to ultras after a lull, Bottas went fastest on 1m 14.374s, with Hamilton 0.194s down on 1m 14.568s for second. As Bottas improved to 1m 14.280s, however, Hamilton went quicker with 1m 14.173s before the Finn replied with 1m 14.046s. Hamilton’s ultimate response was 1m 13.961s, and as the Finn had flat-spotted his right front tyre, that was it.
Ferrari came out again, and showed their hand with Vettel’s 1m 14.307s and Raikkonen’s 1m 14.293s, which displaced Perez’s swift ultrasoft-shod Force India with which the Mexican had lapped in 1m 15.053s, and team mate Ocon managed 1m 15.192s before they trimmed down to 1m 14.578s and 1m 14.839s respectively. Vettel then lapped in 1m 14.007s to split the Mercedes, as Raikkonen improved to 1m 14.230s.
Ocon and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson later joined the Turn 6 spinners, but that did not detract from the young Frenchman’s impressive performance as the top six cars were covered by 0.976s.
Red Bull have yet to show their hand after running supersofts all through the session. Verstappen was seventh on 1m 14.861s before flat-spotting his right front with a wild moment going into the final chicane, while Daniel Ricciardo spent the session beneath the radar on his way to ninth with 1m 15.441s, behind Massa’s Williams. Massa’s rookie team mate Lance Stroll was a second down on him in 13th on his home debut.
As Stoffel Vandoorne set the 11th fastest time for McLaren Honda, with 1m 15.943s on ultrasofts, Fernando Alonso’s return to F1 was the same old thing as his McLaren stopped with 15 minutes to go. At that point he had spent a lot of time in the garage and was 16th on 1m 16.521s, and this time it was the gearbox that led the team to order him to stop at the hairpin rather than try to limp back to the pits.