F1 2024 Canadian GP Preview: Leclerc and Ferrari taking fight to Red Bull

With the 2024 season a third of the way through, an enticing battle is emerging at the front between Red Bull and Ferrari ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix

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The Formula 1 circus is heading to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal for the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix on Thursday, with the drivers and teams feeling refreshed after a 10-day rest following an exhausting double-header in Imola and Monaco.

Charles Leclerc will be brimming with confidence after finally ending his long wait for a sixth career race victory at the Monaco GP – his last coming in Austria back in 2022 – and his very first at his home race to bring an end his long-standing ‘curse’ around the streets of Monte Carlo.

But it will be back to business for Ferrari this weekend as they look to close the 24-point gap in the constructors’ championship to leaders Red Bull, who have hit a road block in their development and are finally being caught at the top after two years of utter dominance at the summit of F1.

Max Verstappen remains the drivers’ championship leader for now at least, but the Dutchman has been looking over his shoulder over the past four races, with Leclerc, Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris all winning races this season, while Mercedes are making gradual improvements.

The grid lines up at the start of the 2023 Canadian GP | Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
The grid lines up at the start of the 2023 Canadian GP | Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

With potentially three teams fighting for the win around the tricky and unforgiving bends in the Canadian city of Montreal, it promises to be a thrilling battle for pole on Saturday and the 70-lap main event on Sunday.

Leclerc leads the way

No driver has scored more points in the last three races than Leclerc (55), with only Norris able to match the Monegasque, and no other driver has showed such consistency as he has finished all eight races in 2024 inside the top four.

History would suggest there will be a blip somewhere down the line, with the 26-year-old prone to bad luck or a lapse in concentration – think Baku in 2019 or Le Castellet 2022 when he was leading the race.

“This year, I believe that it could be an opportunity [to win]. As I said earlier, I don’t think it highlights Red Bull’s strength, a track like Montreal, so it might be an opportunity for us,” Leclerc told the press, including Total-Motorsport.com.

“We will be very closely matched with Red Bull and McLaren, and we’ve got to maximise everything. Hopefully then, the final result over the weekend will be better than the ones we’ve seen in the past years.”

But Leclerc looks a different animal this year and more importantly for Ferrari, he seems content with the car given to him. He has found a way to put the tyres into “the right window” – essentially finding optimum grip to punch in the fastest laps – which is something he has found difficult in the past.

One would certainly argue Leclerc has the skill over one lap to rival Verstappen, having secured 24 pole positions in his career so far. The main issue has been converting them into wins. But with the added motivation of winning his first championship before Lewis Hamilton arrives next season, he will be desperate to claim that elusive first title with back-to-back victories.

Charles Leclerc after winning the 2024 Monaco GP | Scuderia Ferrari Press Office
Charles Leclerc after winning the 2024 Monaco GP | Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

However, Leclerc is keen to keep his feet firmly planted to the ground and take it one race at a time, noting that other tracks will be more challenging for their SF-24 car.

“We shouldn’t get carried away. Obviously, Monaco is such a specific track and I think we had a really good car there,” Leclerc said. “It doesn’t mean it will stay that way until the end of the year, but looking back I think we have done a good job maximising the races we have done.

“For now, 31 points is OK, but I don’t think about the championship. It’s too early in the season. We have more to improve and little by little we can get there.”

Will Red Bull find their feet?

One win in three races is almost unheard of for Red Bull and Verstappen may just be asking himself some questions about his future if the Austrian team cannot halt their worrying slide.

Monaco is usually a procession for Red Bull with no threat of overtaking, but qualifying sixth and 18th represented a nightmare for the team. Making up zero positions in the race confirmed it would be their lowest points tally since Hungary 2021 when at least one of their drivers has finished, with Verstappen’s eight-point haul paling in comparison to the 40 points collected by Ferrari.

The departure of chief technical officer Adrian Newey was seen as a huge blow and, despite the positive spin from Red Bull that they are in good shape to cope with his exit, their pace on track has suggested otherwise. With Newey keeping his nose out of their development work, Red Bull have been struggling to find the answer to their bottoming issues, which plagued them in Miami and Imola.

A return to Canada, where the team secured their 100th F1 victory, will be most welcome. Three-time world champion Verstappen has given a more positive verdict ahead of the Canadian GP, although he stressed the importance of nailing their setup before the race to avoid needing adjustments during practice.

“I have been with the team and in the simulator preparing for this race,” Verstappen said to AFP. “It is unique, has old-school kerbs and there are plenty of opportunities for overtaking. It is very important to have a good set-up and find a balance between straight-line speed and stability under braking.”

McLaren and Ferrari have made up significant ground in the development race and may have even surpassed the RB20 in terms of raw pace. And if they are competing with their rivals, it’s likely to be down to Verstappen’s ability behind the wheel.

What we know for certain is that another repeat of the Monaco catastrophe would heap the pressure onto Christian Horner with two-thirds of the season still to go, with Ferrari furiously banging on the door.

Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who has worked for a number of media organisations, including the Daily Express, The Mirror, Evening Standard, The Independent and Bleacher Report. Joe has been following F1 since when he watched Mika Hakkinen clinch the 1999 drivers' championship, and his first taste of real-life racing action was watching David Coulthard spin off into the gravel at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2001.
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