Tension rises between Verstappen and Hamilton ahead of Canadian GP


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MONTREAL — Training isn’t usually such an exciting event. It might be interesting to watch a hockey team perform their drills or a basketball team work on new plays, but there’s a reason they don’t sell tickets for that stuff.

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Allen Iverson was right: it’s just practice.

And yet, there was an undeniable buzz at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Friday afternoon. Three years have passed since the last Canadian Grand Prix, and so Formula 1 fans – and, almost certainly, fans of getting out and doing something different after years of pandemic-induced boredom – have come en masse on the island to watch the practice. The stands were full, the walkways teeming, the bridges leading to the island had spectators several rows deep for a view. Even the groundhogs were enthusiastic, one of the little devils rushing down the track in what for a moment seemed like very poor natural selection.

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The creature managed to survive its sprint between the cars of Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso, however, so Formula 1’s return to Montreal at least avoided its first road accident.

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Pilots said they were thrilled to finally be back in Canada, fans said they were thrilled to be able to see them zipping around the island at ridiculous speeds while making absurd sounds, and across the river, the checkered flags and people wearing F1 merchandise in Old Montreal only added to the party atmosphere. After an afternoon of heavy rain on Thursday, the weather even managed to cooperate on Friday. Good atmosphere all around.

Except, you know, with the competition. Among some of the rival teams, there are distinctly grumpy vibes.

The latest setback began on Thursday night with the news that the FIA ​​would introduce new regulations to combat « porpoising », a fun word that is used to describe the distinctly non-fun phenomenon of racing cars bumping up and down at because of the way the air flows under them at tremendous speeds. The potent Mercedes team have battled porpoising issues mightily this season, knocking it well off the pace of Championship leaders Red Bull, and the rebound was so bad last weekend in Azerbaijan that Lewis Hamilton could barely get out of it. his car after the race and his teammate George Russell called the 90-minute drive « excruciating » due to how the floor of the car repeatedly shook the ground. Hamilton said ahead of Friday’s practice that he had serious concerns about his long-term health if all the shaking continued, while Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly said drivers will need a walking stick. 30 years old if it continues.

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You can see the need for a fix there.

Or maybe not.

The Red Bull team has been skeptical about imposing new rules mid-season simply because some teams have issues with the regulations that were set at the start of the season. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said earlier in the week that teams with cars that kept touching the ground could simply lift their cars. The new regulations for the 2022 season have forced the cars to be completely overhauled, with varying degrees of success.

« It would seem unfair to penalize those who did a decent job, versus those who perhaps slightly missed the mark, » Horner said.

Max Verstappen, the defending champion who leads the standings this season, was more blunt: « If you can’t design the car properly for it, then it’s your fault. »

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These pleas have been ignored and new regulations have limited the degree to which « vertical oscillations » are permitted.

It’s unclear whether this will be an advantage for teams like Mercedes, because if their only means of limiting shock is to raise the car, it would lead to a corresponding drop in speed.

Russell said in Montreal that driver safety should take precedence over competition concerns, although it raises the question of why it took an FIA rule change to impose changes the team could have made through it. -same.

Underneath all of this is the bitterness that has developed between Red Bull and Mercedes in general, and Verstappen and Hamilton in particular, as the two fought for a world title last season which included metaphorical and literal collisions and a final race duel with dodgy officials. . In this case, the on-the-fly rule changes worked to Verstappen’s advantage – and added a note of irony to Red Bull’s grumbling this time around.

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Despite all the drama, evidence from the first practice does not suggest any serious grid reshuffling in Montreal. Verstappen set the fastest time on Friday afternoon, with teammate Sergio Perez in fourth. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc finished second and fifth, with only Alpine’s Fernando Alonso slipping through the two teams that have topped the podiums in eight races. Russell and Hamilton were sixth and eighth, familiar places for either in 2022.

Business on the track will get more serious with Saturday’s qualifying session. The controversy over him will no doubt continue for some time after this.

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