Verstappen answers critics by topping Montreal practice

Max Verstappen answered his critics by topping the times in both Montreal practice sessions. (AFP pic)

MONTREAL: Under-fire Dutchman Max Verstappen delivered a perfect riposte to his critics on Friday when he topped the times in both practice sessions for this weekend’s Formula One Canadian Grand Prix.

After a flawless showing to go fastest in the morning at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the 20-year-old Red Bull driver followed up with a similar run in the afternoon.

It was the first time he had topped the times in any practice sessions this year.

“Yeah, that was a pretty good day for me, but I think Mercedes looked very fast in the longer runs,” he said in a brief post-session comment.

Twenty-four hours after his impetuous performance at a pre-race news briefing, in which he threatened to “head-butt” his inquisitors, it was a perfect answer to those who had questioned his temperament after a series of incidents this season.

Verstappen clocked a best lap in one minute, 12.198 seconds to outpace nearest rival Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion, of Ferrari by 0.130 seconds in the second session.

That left his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who won the Monaco Grand Prix two weeks ago, down in third, four-tenths of a second adrift, ahead of championship leader and defending four-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes.

Ricciardo had problems early in the session, but after repairs was able to rejoin the fray and clock a very competitive time.

Different problems

“My problems weren’t with the MGU-K (power unit) again, but it wasn’t the best day for me. But we’re still ok: Max had good pace, but Mercedes are going to be big tomorrow (Saturday),” he said.

“I think they’re the ones to beat. We hope to have a smooth day again and then get a bit more pace and see.”

Sebastian Vettel, who trails Hamilton by 14 points in the title standings after six races, was fifth for Ferrari, seven-tenths off the pace ahead of Finn Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes.

Ferrari and the Renault-powered teams were all running with updated engines, but Mercedes continued to use the power units they have been running since the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in March.

The Mercedes men also chose not to use any of their supply of the fastest ‘hyper-soft’ tyres that degraded alarmingly for them at the Monaco Grand Prix.

They have five ‘hyper-soft’ sets each and decided to delay using them until they need them for qualifying on Saturday when, according to Hamilton, the team expect to make best use of them without the problems experienced in Monte Carlo in the race.

Hamilton is aiming for a record-equalling seventh victory in Montreal.

The afternoon practice session, like the morning one, delivered two major incidents when Spaniard Carlos Sainz smacked the wall in his Renault, bringing a red-flag interruption for seven minutes, and later when Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne went into the barriers at Turn Eight, breaking the suspension of his McLaren.

It was also a grim day for the struggling Williams team with Canadian teenager Lance Stroll and Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin brushing the barriers and ending up 19th and 20th at the back of the field.