Why Lewis Hamilton has a special affinity with the Canadian Grand Prix

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve defines Lewis Hamilton like no other.

It was here, in 2007, that he placed his first, vivid signature on Formula One. It was his first victory in his thrillingly precocious rookie season for McLaren, and he has won twice more here in the past three years.

Hamilton thrives on this small island in the St Lawrence River, with its long, fast straights, its bumps, high kerbs and stark dangers. It is one of the world's most challenging circuits. And it is named after the driver who, apart from Ayrton Senna, is closest to the purity of Hamilton's racing heart.

Six years ago, when he first came here, he enjoyed the fuss that was being made of Villeneuve on the 25th anniversary of his death. On a cold, damp weekend – much as it is now – Villeneuve's many admirers scuttled along the Rue de la Commune, beside the old port, to pay homage to their hero at a special exhibition.

Villeneuve was, they said, the fastest race driver of them all, and their gushing testimony is supported by many of the driver's old rivals. But he died with only six wins and no world championship.

Hamilton, with 21 victories and a world crown in 2008, has already achieved much more. But he is still unfulfilled. Will we, in 25 years' time, be attempting to convince another generation that he really was special, the fastest driver of his very competitive time?

In the cramped Montreal paddock Hamilton looked like a wounded warrior in his tent. He hardly looked like a driver on the brink of extending his sequence of three triumphs in five races here (there was no Canadian Grand Prix in 2009).

He has been roundly outdriven by his Mercedes team-mate, Nico Rosberg, who has taken the past three poles before winning convincingly in Monaco two weeks ago. And now, even darker than the clouds that are sailing over Montreal like black galleons, there is the possibility that Mercedes will be harshly punished by FIA later this month after the sport's ruling body decided that the team has to explain their three-day tyre testing session with Pirelli after the Spanish Grand Prix. Paul Hembery, Pirelli's motorsport director, pulled out of Friday night' FIA press conference on advice from his company's lawyers.

"Trouble just seems to follow me wherever I go," Hamilton shrugged, a little forlornly, having hoped that he had left that behind when he quit McLaren at the end of last year. "There is politics in every sport, more in this sport for some reason. Politics follow the money. Politics is the negative side of the sport."

He thinks Mercedes will be vindicated. "I don't have any fears or doubts. I was told we did the right thing and I believe the team. It could go either way. Who knows what is going to happen, I have just not put it in my mind. I am just focusing on getting ready for the races.

"What's most important to me is getting back to the top, finding that edge that I know I have and extracting that. That's all I am focusing on. I am putting 100% into that."

Hamilton's biggest challenge here is coming to terms with his braking. He is still trying to find his feeling for the Mercedes and has lost his exceptional ability to brake late – and braking is more important here than anywhere else.

"I have always had success here because it suits late braking. I like late braking. I always have done. It suits being hard on the brakes and driving close to the wall. I have got a great car. I just need to take the bull by the horns. Whatever I get in I can drive. I just need to get around it and adapt. I don't believe that I can't adapt.

"I don't want to spend the rest of this year getting it right. I want to get it right now. I want to get it done as soon as possible so I can move on. I think we will make the next step with the brake pedal at Silverstone."

Hamilton hardly made the next step in Friday's first practice session, where he was 16th, nine places behind Rosberg. But he was more competitive in the second, afternoon session, by which time the track had largely dried, and he finished second to Fernando Alonso, on this occasion finishing three places ahead of Rosberg.

Hamilton was followed by Romain Grosjean, Mark Webber, Rosberg and Felipe Massa. The world champion Sebastian Vettel was seventh – Red Bull have never won here – two places ahead of Jenson Button. But it was Alonso, who drove more laps (48) than any other driver, who dominated the session. It was a relief for Ferrari, who had such a disappointing outing in the last race in Monaco, and who have come here with a number of additions, including a new front wing.

In the earlier and wetter practice session, Paul di Resta finished top of the time sheets, followed by Jenson Button.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul Weaver in Montreal, for The Guardian on Friday 7th June 2013 19.15 Europe/London

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image: © David Wall