MONTREAL — Ferrari has renewed hope going into the Canadian Grand Prix following a successful second practice run on Friday.
Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel set the fastest lap times in the afternoon session, beating out Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Ferrari is looking for its first victory of the season after six races, all won by Mercedes.
"It has been a positive day," said Leclerc, the first-year Ferrari driver. "The steps we took from FP1 (free practice) to FP2 have been very good. Now we need to do the same into qualifying. The car felt better but we need another step to challenge Mercedes tomorrow.
"I still believe that Mercedes is quicker than us. Today doesn’t give the full picture."
Leclerc, the Monaco driver who was forced to retire from his hometown race two weeks ago, led the way in the afternoon practice at one minute 12.177 seconds while his German teammate Vettel nabbed the second-quickest lap at 1:12.251.
Finnish driver Bottas was not far behind, posting the third-best time of 1:12.311.
"At the moment I think we still need to improve a little bit," said Vettel, the defending Canadian Grand Prix champion. "But it’s not like something dramatic or anything, just fine tuning."
Five-time world champ Hamilton was leading when he punctured his right rear tire. The British driver rode the curb on turn eight, slid across the track and crashed into the wall.
Hamilton apologized for the mistake on the team radio.
The second practice run was very different from the first, when Mercedes easily set the fastest lap times and dominated the field. Hamilton’s quickest lap of 1:12.767 was nearly one second better than Leclerc’s Ferrari.
Ferrari’s comeback bodes well for a competitive race weekend in a season that’s been controlled by Hamilton and Bottas.
Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, which boasts several long straightaways, favours a Ferrari car that is generally faster than Mercedes in flat-out speed on the straightaway.
"If you are quick in the straights, you will struggle a bit more in the corners," said Leclerc. "At the moment, that’s our compromise. That’s how we work the best. We’ll see tomorrow if that’s enough."
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz of Spain was fourth in the afternoon session at 1:12.553 while Haas driver Kevin Magnussen of Denmark came in fifth in 1:12.935, three one thousandths of a second ahead of Hamilton.
Montreal native Lance Stroll, in his first Canadian Grand Prix with new team Racing Point, finished 10th of 20 drivers at 1:13.171.
Stroll vastly improved on his morning run, when he finished 17th.
"I’m pretty happy," said the 20-year-old Stroll. "The car is feeling alive, which is a good thing on Friday. There is stuff to build on going into tomorrow."
The Canadian is looking to end a devastating run of 10 consecutive exits in the first round of qualifying this weekend. He’s also hoping to erase the memory of last year’s Grand Prix in his hometown, when he crashed out of the race in the opening lap.
"We are definitely in the fight," said Stroll of the competitive midfield. "We have to keep working on the balance of the car, the performance, to get more lap time out of it. The field is very tight. The others will push hard tomorrow as well."
The Red Bulls of Pierre Gasly and Max Verstappen had a disappointing afternoon. They finished 12th and 13th respectively. Verstappen was fourth earlier in the day.
Stroll wasn’t the only Canadian on the track for the first of two practice sessions.
Williams reserve driver Nicholas Latifi of Toronto finished last, 3.432 seconds off the leader. The 23-year-old F2 driver, previously with Force India, ran wide on a turn before locking up into the hairpin a few laps later.
"There’s always a balancing act about how hard you want to push and not make a mistake," said Latifi of his first practice run of the season. "You don’t want to do something silly and affect the race driver’s program for the rest of the day or the weekend by putting it into the wall."
A third practice session is on Saturday followed by qualifying. The race is on Sunday.
Notes: Hamilton has won six of the past 11 Canadian Grand Prix races. He is looking for his seventh victory in Montreal, which would tie Michael Schumacher’s record.