Canadian GP 2014: Fernando Alonso lays down marker as Ferrari's subtle overhaul edges out Mercedes

 

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

Ferrari and Renault and their associated teams came to Montreal desperately hoping that modifications to their power units might help them narrow the gap to the all-conquering Mercedes. So there were sharp intakes of breath in some quarters when Fernando Alonso set the fastest time for Ferrari in the first free practice session on the Île Notre Dame ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

The engine specifications have supposedly been frozen since the start of this season, to keep costs down, but in the useful guise of "reliability" and "safety" the more cunning engineers in the paddock have long explored any feasible way to add power.

"It is possible to be more aggressive with settings arrived at during dynamometer testing and Montreal marks the first time that Fernando and Kimi Raikkonen will have access to them," Ferrari's technical director, James Allison, explained.

Hamilton was not alone among the Mercedes runners in taking all that with a pinch of salt. "I'd be guessing," he said on Thursday in response to a suggestion that the gap might be reduced, "but I don't feel that will be the case. We're particularly strong on the straights, but I don't know, maybe we will be surprised … but long straights do suit us very well.

"Renault and Ferrari would have to have done an exceptional job coming into this weekend, in terms of that area, to be able to keep up with us on the straights."

It seemed that Ferrari had achieved that, however, when Alonso lapped in 1min 17.238sec to pip Hamilton to fastest time by 0.016sec; Hamilton's best lap was 1:17.254 with Rosberg on 1:17.384. Sebastian Vettel, in a Renault-powered Red Bull with similar power updates, was fourth, albeit quite a bit slower on 1:18.131.

The reality, however, is that Hamilton would have been a lot faster had he not encountered a slowing Alonso at the end of a lap in which he had set the fastest times in the first two sectors until being obliged to trail into the pits at the same time as the Spaniard.

While Hamilton has been suggesting that he and Rosberg have patched up their troubled relationship, the Monaco GP winner expressed things slightly differently.

"Our relationship hasn't changed in any way," Rosberg said. "But of course it is more difficult, that's clear. We are fighting every single race weekend."

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