MONTREAL (Reuters) - Formula One revved up for the first Canadian Grand Prix since 2019 on Friday with Max Verstappen setting the practice pace for Red Bull and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz having a close encounter with a groundhog.
Championship leader Verstappen lapped the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, named after the late Ferrari great, on a warm but cloudy afternoon with a best time of one minute 15.158 seconds.
Sainz was second on the timing screens, with a best effort 0.246 slower than the Dutch driver, and double world champion Fernando Alonso third for Renault-owned Alpine.
The groundhog momentarily diverted attention from 'porpoising', the bouncing effect causing pain for the drivers of some cars and notably Mercedes, when it crossed the track right in front of Sainz.
The Spaniard missed the lucky animal by a whisker.
Red Bull's Sergio Perez was fourth fastest, ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc whose car has had a number of power unit components replaced after retiring from the lead in Azerbaijan last weekend.
Verstappen has won four of the last five races and leads Perez by 21 points after eight races with Leclerc third and a further 13 behind.
Mercedes' George Russell was sixth and Canadian Lance Stroll seventh for Aston Martin with seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton, also a seven-times winner in Canada, completing the top eight for Mercedes.
A discarded paper towel caused a brake fire after becoming lodged in the front right wheel of Esteban Ocon's Alpine, with the Frenchman pitting for it to be removed.
AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda will start from the back of the grid on Sunday after penalties for exceeding his power unit allocation for the season.
The Canadian Grand Prix was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)