4-time Canadian GP winner Hamilton fastest in practice
MONTREAL (AP) Ever since his first career victory in Montreal as a Formula One rookie in 2007, Lewis Hamilton has taken a liking to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Four times he has arrived at the track on the Ile Notre Dame and earned the pole position. Four times he has taken the checkered flag as the winner - including last year, en route to his second consecutive Formula One championship.
''The track is fantastic to drive,'' said Hamilton, who posted the fastest times in both practice sessions on Friday. ''I just like it.''
Hamilton arrived at the seventh race of the season trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 24 points in the championship race, but his success over the 2.71-mile (4.36-km) road course could help him close the gap considerably on Sunday. (First place is worth 25 points.)
Hamilton was fastest in the morning with a best-lap time of 1 minute, 14.755 seconds. In the afternoon, his best lap came in at 1:14.212 - already better than the lap he posted to earn the pole a year ago.
''It's been an awesome day,'' Hamilton said. ''This has always been a strong circuit for me and I'm really enjoying being back here again. ... I'm enjoying myself and hoping the weather stays like this over the weekend for all the fans out there in the grandstands.''
Rain is forecast for the weekend, so Saturday's session could prove more useful to teams attempting to determine their set-ups for the race. In 2011, after a record delay of more than two hours, Jenson Button won after Sebastien Vettel skidded slightly in the rain on the final lap.
''The weather is really playing some games with us this weekend, and the various forecasts seem to be showing all eventualities apart from snow,'' said Phil Charles, the chief race engineer for Toro Rosso. ''We will therefore need to keep the weather factor in mind when it comes to making set-up decisions looking forward to Sunday.''
Second in the morning practice was Rosberg, who leads the standings 106-82, coming in 0.331 seconds slower than Hamilton. In the afternoon, Ferrari's Vettel was second-fastest, 0.257 seconds behind Hamilton, with Rosberg third.
Others having strong practice runs were Red Bull rookie Max Verstappen, who was fourth in both sessions, and Valtteri Bottas, who was sixth twice. Daniel Ricciardo was 11th-fastest in the morning but running fifth in the afternoon as he tries to overcome a pit stop blunder in Monaco that cost him a victory and instead handed it to Hamilton.
Hamilton, whose four Canadian Grand Prix wins are second only to the seven collected by Michael Schumacher, knows how Ricciardo feels. He arrived in Montreal last year following a pit stop blunder in Monaco that cost him precious points in the standings.
Red Bull said it had moved forward after the fiasco, which cost Ricciardo about 10 seconds and the lead when he came in for new tires but they weren't ready.
''I think the way Daniel dealt with it has been very good,'' team principle Christian Horner said on Friday. ''He's focused on the practice.''
The only significant damage of the day was early in the first session, when Williams' Felipe Massa spun out in Turn 1 and crashed tail-first into a barrier. He was not injured, but he finished only seven laps in the morning - the fewest of any driver.
He was back out in the afternoon and in the middle of the pack.
''The day was not really great, but I hope everything will be OK tomorrow,'' said Massa, who had problems during last year's race when he had to swerve to avoid a groundhog on the track. ''I hope we can use the car in the best way and stay completely away from the wall.''