* Mercedes give Hamilton latest specification engine
* Upgrade was delayed from Canada
* Champion laps fastest in free practice (Adds Mercedes confirmation of upgrade)
By Alan Baldwin
LE CASTELLET, France, June 22 (Reuters) - Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton was given a French Grand Prix boost on Friday when his Mercedes team finally introduced the new engine they had held back in Canada two weekends previously.
The Briton promptly set fastest laps in both practice sessions and said it felt good, even if not yet operating at full power.
“The new engine feels clean and fresh, but we won’t really know its full potential until tomorrow when everyone gets to turn their engines up,” he said of qualifying for France’s first grand prix in a decade.
“I’m grateful for the hard work that everyone put into it back in Brixworth. They’ve been pushing so hard to get this engine and do it in the right way, so a big thank you to everyone back at the factory.
“I hope that we can do something great with it.”
The latest specification engine was postponed due to concerns about an unspecified “quality issue” but Mercedes said Hamilton’s new one now had some “added goodness” as a result of the delay.
“Since Canada, they (the engine side) have reworked six race units plus spares,” a spokesman said. “We plan to continue running these power units for the rest of the weekend.”
Four times world champion Hamilton is a point behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel after seven races, with other engine manufacturers bringing their upgrades in Canada.
Drivers are allowed only three engines a season before penalties are applied, and Hamilton and Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas were always going to get fresh ones in France having completed the lifespan of the ones they started the season with.
The only question was whether it would be the planned upgrade or the same specification as the previous one, which would mean being locked into that for the next seven races.
The other Mercedes-powered cars are those of Force India’s Mexican Sergio Perez and Frenchman Esteban Ocon as well as Williams’ Russian Sergey Sirotkin and Canadian Lance Stroll. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, Editing by William Maclean and Mark Potter)