Fan favourite Canadian GP is the perfect stage to reignite F1 title fight

A 31-point gap is all that stands between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen ahead of the 2024 Canadian GP

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Like a student remembering that there can actually be some merits to starting their weekend before Saturday midday, Formula 1 arrives at the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix realising that just doing the basics that they used to take for granted can still work wonders.

Some would say that a second weekend break across the Atlantic in just over a month is an audacious move for a sport that’s aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030, but if they are going to make the trip then anyway it’s a pretty perfect time and destination to do it for.

Having some uncertainty over who will win the race on Sunday should be a given for F1 but every fan knows that’s not been the case for many weekends in the past two years, so this brave new world is certainly one to be celebrated.

But dare fans dream bigger? Max Verstappen only holds a 31-point lead in the championship over a resurgent Charles Leclerc, fresh from banishing his Monaco curse on a weekend he hailed as the ‘best of my life’ and as dangerous adversary as any especially when in form.

There’s still two-thirds of the season to go and while the bookies still Red Bull as odds-on favourites to win the constructors’ title, their lead has already halved over the last two races.

Leclerc win can fire title challenge

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

At times in Leclerc‘s last title fight two years ago, it felt like he needed convincing more than the fans that he could genuinely beat Verstappen, but it’s the reverse this time around

“I have to believe in it, and I believe in it,” Leclerc told Sky Sports F1 in Canada. “However, let’s say I think the last two races have been not the tracks that favour Red Bull, that show their strengths.

“I don’t think that this is a track that will show their strength either, so it might be an opportunity again for us. From Barcelona onwards, I think we will see back the Red Bull that we have seen at the beginning of the year, which if this is the case, it might be more difficult to beat.

“But my hopes remain high. We still have some things that we want to bring to the car, and if that is enough to close the gap, then that’s great and we’ll put them under more pressure.”

Lando Norris also has Ferrari pegged as favourites in Canada so we’ll at least get an indicator of whether Leclerc has developed his mental fortitude under pressure, but he could hardly be approaching this weekend in a better mood.

Norris believes Ferrari have the edge in a straight line and the best all-round package on a track dominated by low and medium-speed corners.

Meanwhile Carlos Sainz is an exponentially better asset to Leclerc than Sergio Perez is to Verstappen based on their 2024 form, potentially giving Ferrari two cards to play at the front while just making Q3 would be a huge win for the Mexican.

Verstappen is one of the calmest operators in world sport right now and no one is expecting him to fall apart now he has a genuine challenger, but the Red Bull environment he’s operating in is poles apart from the all-conquering machine of 2021, 2022 and 2023 too.

He may not get flustered but that doesn’t mean the rest of the team is impervious, already attempting to paper over the growing cracks of Adrian Newey leaving and a civil war between Helmut Marko, who was set to be suspended earlier this season, and Christian Horner whose own off-track issues are still ongoing.

A margin of 31 points is nothing across 16 races and while Red Bull will surely have more of their own upgrades to come, the tide appears to be turning in the bigger picture – don’t forget they’ve also had an aerodynamic testing deficit for most of the current era of regulations.

“Once they will be under a bit more pressure, it’s like everybody,” Leclerc added. “When it’s a walk in the park, it’s easier to not to do any mistakes and even if you do one it probably is not seen as much.

“When you are under a bit more pressure, hopefully we can push them into more mistakes and take our chances. I don’t feel like we are quite there yet but looking at this weekend, I feel like it can be an opportunity. The weather as well is looking quite bad, so we’ll see how it goes.

The stage is set, and what a stage it is

McLaren’s Lando Norris battles Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc at the 2023 Canadian GP | McLaren F1 Team

Time and again, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve serves up exciting and unpredictable action with lots of overtaking opportunities and little room for error plus ample chance of a stoppage or shower throwing the afternoon into chaos.

The 2022 Canadian GP saw a delightful 41 overtakes as the nailbiting battle between Verstappen and Sainz went down to the wire, with the Dutchman eventually taking victory by less than a second.

It was a triumphant return after the pandemic kept F1 away from a track that’s a firm favourite of both drivers and fans in 2020 and 2021, with the 2019 race providing one of the most iconic moments of the season.

Three of F1’s last five visits to Montreal have featured a safety car while wild weather is always a possibility, as we also enjoyed in 2022 when a rain-affected qualifying session saw Fernando Alonso clinch second for Alpine, and Haas pair Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher lock out the third row.

“I think it’s probably just kind of a street circuit and a bit like a go-kart track, long straights. So it’s a track that bodes well for late brakers and someone that’s aggressive, I guess, aggressive driving style,” Hamilton said.

And that’s not to mention the fans. Come rain, shine or electrical issues causing free practice to last a few minutes they show out in their droves to give the event a European feel – though home favourite Lance Stroll certainly still feels the love having grown up 20 minutes from the circuit.

“It’s a fun track,” Stroll added. “It’s got, like, some big kerbs and technical aspects of it. Not much margin on exits with the walls being close. So I’ve always enjoyed the challenge here. And the weather can always be interesting. It can always be a fun factor too, which it looks like it might be this weekend, so we’ll see.”

Right now, there’s at least a 30% chance of rain on all three track days with the potential for no dry running on Friday, but it’s unclear who a wet weekend would favour given Red Bull‘s strategical strength balanced against their heavy reliance on practice to improve the car setup at Imola and Monaco compared to their rivals.

Red Bull on the backfoot again?

Max Verstappen and Lando Norris of McLaren after the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Max Verstappen and Lando Norris of McLaren after the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

It’s become clear that Red Bull have somewhat of an Achilles heel – kerb riding. Monaco provided more evidence that their car just doesn’t absorb relatively high kerbs well, as the car bounces and the drivers can’t get back on the throttle quickly.

There are effectively four chicanes at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and the quickest way through them is by taking the least acute angle and straight lining the corner as much as possible, which means taking a lot of kerb.

“This is something that we know is not our favourite thing in the world, but it is something that we are working on to try and make better,” said Verstappen.

“It takes time, this is not something that is solved from one week to the next, but we will try and optimise things. It has been a problem since day one of the new regulations – and it is not something that we have been able to fix yet.

Monaco gave us another wake-up call and we’ve had lots of good meetings at the factory and I feel like there is a bit more focus now to try and improve that. Because you can’t rely on your advantage, even if the kerb-riding is bad, so it definitely needs to be fixed, but it just takes time to make big changes on the car.”

If Ferrari are slightly ahead, it could be a McLaren vs Red Bull fight for a podium spot. McLaren’s biggest weakness is slow-speed corners, another feature on the newly resurfaced track in Montreal this weekend.

McLaren didn’t even score points at the 2023 Canadian GP, underlining their remarkable turnaround and Norris expects a close fight for pole position on Saturday and the race on Sunday.

“At the minute, every track has been better than last year, until we get to Austria which is when we had the upgrade last year,” said Norris.

“It’s our biggest weakness. Yes, we were good in Monaco but you could just focus on slow speed. When you have to focus on medium and slow speed at the same time, that’s when we struggle to get a better balance of both. We still need to improve more to be on par with Ferrari.

Red Bull are not bad in slow speed, it’s just a combination of ride, driver feeling and confidence. But we have clearly improved. That’s one of the areas we have improved the most and why we have been more consistent this year.”

Adam Dickinson
Adam Dickinson
An international multi-award-winning journalist, Adam Dickinson has written for Total-Motorsport.com since June 2022 and also contributes to TNT Sports, Eurosport and the Rugby Paper. He's also had articles published in the Daily Telegraph and several local newspapers, previously worked for Last-Lap.co.uk and FeederSeries.net in motorsport, and graduated with a First-Class Journalism Degree from the University of Sheffield having also studied in Oklahoma. Adam started watching F1 by accident in 2007, catching the last race in Indianapolis, and attended his first race as a journalist at the 2023 British Grand Prix.
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