Formula One leader Sebastian Vettel smashed into the “Wall of Champions,” while Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso set the practice pace on a crash-filled day of practice at the Canadian Grand Prix on Friday.
Double world champion Alonso roared around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in a best time of 1 minute, 15.107 seconds offering hope that Ferrari, without a pole since Singapore in September last year, might be able to take the fight to Red Bull.
“It was definitely one of our best Fridays,” Alonso told reporters. “It doesn’t happen often that we see our cars in the top five places. It’s hard to drive in these conditions and then there are three or four places here where the slightest error sees you end up in the wall.”
“In the race, I expect the safety car will play a part,” he added.
The sunny afternoon session was interrupted by several crashes with Sauber’s Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi, Belgian Jerome D’Ambrosio for Virgin and Force India’s Adrian Sutil all causing delays when they skidded off the track into the wall.
World champion Vettel, winner of five of the season’s first six races and sure to be the man to reckon with again on race day, damaged his Red Bull in the morning.
With 34 minutes remaining in the opening session, Vettel drifted wide coming out of the chicane into the home straight and joined a list of illustrious names to have hit the notorious wall over the years.
Vettel was one of the first on track in the afternoon and set a time that immediately sent the 23-year-old to the top of the timing screens, remaining there until finally being nudged into second by Alonso.
The reigning champion ended up with the day’s second best time of 1 minute, 15.476 seconds.
“I lost the rear, but by the time I hit the wall I had low speed, so the crash was quite mild,” Vettel told reporters. “There wasn’t much damage so we could fix the car and get back in the afternoon. It’s a special circuit here, it’s quite rough with the curbs and chicanes, but I like it.”
Brazilian Filipe Massa was third quickest in the afternoon followed by the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton, a double winner in Canada, and fellow Briton Jenson Button.
Another Briton, Paul di Resta, was sixth for Force India.
“It was a very good session, a good day for me and we got through a a lot of tests,” said Hamilton, who took his first grand prix win in Montreal in 2007 and led a McLaren one-two from pole position last year. “I think the speed is there.”
“It looks very close between us, the Ferraris and the Red Bulls. We’re competitive it looks like we have good race pace,” he added. “I just have to work really hard tonight and get the car dialed in for tomorrow.”
Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa, a McLaren reserve driver, was 18th fastest in the Sauber after being drafted in as a race replacement for Mexican rookie Sergio Perez, who was still feeling the effects of his big Monaco crash.
“Just 10 minutes before the session I was told [to go], if I was ready,” said De la Rosa, who raced for Sauber last year until he was dropped. “After that it was all bang, bang, bang. It is the latest call in my whole career, but I am extremely happy McLaren has released me and Sauber thought about me to replace Sergio.”
“I have a lot to learn, but we will build on today,” he added.
Virgin will also have a lot of building to do, the team reporting that D’Ambrosio would need a chassis change after his crash.