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F1 returns to Canada with a lot on the line

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Formula One returns to Canada this weekend for the first time since 2019 with Red Bull on a roll and Ferrari needing a big response to the reliability problems that have hammered their title hopes.

Max Verstappen
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

No team has won as many times in Montreal as the Italians, the sport’s oldest and most glamorous outfit, but the season that began so brightly is turning sour.

Charles Leclerc has taken six poles in eight races, including the last four, but has retired in two of the last three with engine problems and now lags Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by 34 points after earlier leading by 46.

After finishing one-two last weekend in Azerbaijan, Red Bull lead Ferrari by 80 points and are going for their sixth successive win.

“We come back from Baku disappointed, from not having scored the amount of points we should have,” said Ferrari sporting director Inaki Rueda.

“But we bring some positives. We have a very strong performing car, (and) be it in qualifying or in the race we are capable of fighting in every possible scenario.

“Our reliability is a weak point… and we will address this.”

Ferrari have found a ‘short-term fix’ for the hydraulics issue that forced Carlos Sainz to retire in Baku but the engine remains under considerable scrutiny after customer teams Alfa Romeo and Haas also suffered retirements in Baku.

A turnaround at a circuit named after the team’s late great Gilles Villeneuve will at least provide some respite to all the ‘disaster’ talk.

Red Bull, meanwhile, are ready to build on their advantage in what will be Verstappen’s 150th grand prix since his race debut as a 17-year-old in Australia in 2015.

His team mate Sergio Perez, second in the championship, has now had five top two finishes this season — equalling his tally from the previous 11 years.

“This car is really performing on the street circuits so we are confident we can put together another strong performance this weekend and keep the momentum going at the top,” said the Mexican.

Kimi Raikkonen 2016 Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Canadian Grand Prix
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Canada would normally throw seven times winner Lewis Hamilton into the spotlight but the Mercedes driver has been making headlines recently more for back pains than any track success.

He won in 2019, the last visit before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the next two editions of the race to be cancelled, but the sport has changed the rules since then and once-dominant Mercedes are struggling.

An eighth win for the Briton would be an outright record but that looks like dreamland for a driver whose car is bouncing and bottoming on the straights, even if they are making some headway. “I think we will still have a package that isn’t at the front on merit,” said the team’s head of strategy James Vowles. “Red Bull and Ferrari will still be the benchmark that we have to compare ourselves to.

“I think, though, that the large gap that you saw in qualifying in Baku perhaps won’t be that big in Montreal.”

Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, round nine of the 22-race season.

Lap distance: 4.361km. Total distance: 305.270km (70 laps)

No race in 2020 or 2021

2019 pole position: Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari one minute 10.240 seconds.

2019 race winner: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes

Race lap record: Valtteri Bottas (Finland) 1:13.078, Mercedes, 2019.

Start time: 1800GMT/1400 local time

CANADA

This weekend will be the 51st Canadian Grand Prix, and 41st in Montreal.

Hamilton has won seven times in Montreal (in 2007, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019), including the first of his career. He holds the record jointly with Ferrari great Michael Schumacher.

Fernando Alonso (2006), Daniel Ricciardo (2014) and Vettel (2013, 2018) have also won in Canada. Ricciardo’s first win in F1 was in Montreal.

The circuit is named after late Ferrari great Gilles Villeneuve. Ferrari have won 12 times in Canada (11 in Montreal), with seven poles and nine fastest laps.

The rain-hit Canadian Grand Prix of 2011 was Formula One’s longest race, lasting four hours, four minutes and 39.537 seconds. The safety car was deployed six times, another record.

The circuit is particularly tough on brakes.

Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Williams’ Nicholas Latifi are the current Canadian drivers. Latifi is making a home debut.

RACE WINS

Red Bull have won six of eight races this season. Max Verstappen has won five and team mate Sergio Perez one. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc has won the other two.

Hamilton has a record 103 wins from 296 starts. He has yet to win this year, and his most recent success was in Saudi Arabia last December.

Ferrari have won 240 races since 1950, McLaren 183, Mercedes 124, Williams 115 and Red Bull 81.

POLE POSITION

Leclerc has been on pole six times this year, including the last four in a row, with Perez and Verstappen taking the other two.

Hamilton has a record 103 career poles, most recently qualifying fastest in Saudi Arabia last year.

FASTEST LAP

Leclerc took the fastest lap bonus point in the first three races, Verstappen in Imola and Miami, Perez in Spain and Azerbaijan and McLaren’s Lando Norris in Monaco.

POINTS

Verstappen leads Perez by 21 points and is 34 clear of Leclerc.

Red Bull lead Ferrari by 80 points in the constructors’ standings.

Mercedes’ George Russell is the only driver to have scored points in every race this year and all in the top five.

MILESTONE

Sunday will be a 150th race start for Verstappen, who made his debut with Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) in Australia as a 17-year-old in 2015.

Now 24, he is the youngest F1 driver to rack up 25 wins.

Fernando Alonso set a record in Azerbaijan as the driver to have raced longest in Formula One. The Spaniard, who made his race debut in 2001, broke Michael Schumacher’s record of 21 years and three months.

-Reuters

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