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McLaren Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain comes into the pits during the first practice session at the Canadian Grand Prix, Friday, June 8, 2012 in Montreal.The Canadian Press

Practice, they say, makes perfect, so McLaren's Lewis Hamilton will hope the laps he put in during Friday's open session prove the axiom true.

The British driver, who always seems to be lightning fast on Montreal's Ile Ste. Helene, finished atop the standings in both the morning and afternoon practice sessions ahead of Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix.

His times - around 1:15.3 seconds - are well short of what will be required to win the race, but they'll serve as a shot across the bow of rival outfits Red Bull and Ferrari, the silver McLarens are fast.

And if practice is largely meaningless, it isn't entirely so.

The tightly-bunched F1 teams will be looking for the ideal set-up going into Saturday's all-important qualifying session, which is expected to unfold amid dry conditions.

Straight-line speed is important in Montreal, which has long straights, but the trick is to also have enough down-force on the car to navigate the 14 mostly low-speed corners on the course.

On the strength of the Friday session, the teams who appear closest to striking the balance are McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso (0.054 seconds behind) and Felipe Massa (0.151) finished second and third in the afternoon session, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, the reigning drivers' champion, was fourth.

Force India's Paul Di Resta (fifth) and Nico Hulkenberg (eighth) also delivered good showings, Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi landed in the top six both in the morning and afternoon sessions.

Mercedes' Michael Schumacher and McLaren's Jenson Button also posted top-10 times in the second session.

Now the behind-the-scenes race takes place as engineers and mechanics pore over their telemetry data and tweak their machines to find that extra sliver of time for the weekend.

That will be an especially arduous task for the men charged with taking care of Bruno Senna's Williams - the Brazilian smashed into the champions' wall in the afternoon session, crumpling three corners of his car.

In the earlier sesson, Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen hit the same wall.

Both cars should be rebuilt in time for the qualifying session, which takes place on Saturday at 12:55 p.m.