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Dominant Verstappen motivated as the heavy favourite at Canadian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen Max Verstappen - The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Red Bull's Max Verstappen is so far ahead of the pack in the Formula One standings he recently expressed a desire for more competition. But whether that happens or not won’t affect his ambition to win.

The two-time reigning world champion arrives in Montreal with a substantial lead over his opponents ahead of Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Watch the first practice at the Canadian Grand Prix LIVE at 1:20 p.m. ET/10:20 a.m. PT followed by the second practice at 4:50 p.m. ET/1:50 p.m. PT both streaming on the TSN Multiplex. 

“For me, it's probably even more motivation (being the heavy favourite) because you know that you have a winning car ... this is much better than anything else,” Verstappen said Thursday.

Verstappen has five wins this season, including the last three races, and hasn’t finished worse than second in seven outings.

Watch the Canadian Grand Prix LIVE on Sunday June 18 at 1:55 p.m. ET/10:55 a.m. PT streaming on TSN4/5 and up to six simultaneous feeds on the TSN Multiplex. 

The 25-year-old Dutchman leads the Formula One driver standings with 170 points, 53 ahead of teammate Sergio Perez, who’s in second.

The combination of the Red Bull car with a talented driver like Verstappen behind the wheel is drawing comparisons to dynasties of the past — be it Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes car in the late 2010s, or Michael Schumacher and Ferrari in the early 2000s.

“I think it's nice sometimes to have good competition,” said Verstappen. “I understand, of course, people get a bit bored if only one team is dominating. I mean, we've seen it also at Mercedes, we've seen it with Ferrari in the past.”

Perez said Verstappen’s consistency sets him apart.

“He has been able to deliver when it matters in qualifying, he hasn't had a bad weekend at all this year,” said Perez, who missed the podium in the last two races.

“I've had two or three bad weekends this season so I really have to get rid of those and keep the consistency high because it's something that Max has been really good and consistent throughout this period.”

A Red Bull driver has won every Grand Prix so far this season, with Perez winning the two races Verstappen hasn’t. Red Bull leads the constructors' standings with 287 points, miles ahead of second-place Mercedes with 152.

Even with 15 races to go in the 2023 season, first place feels out of reach — but there’s a close battle for second with Mercedes, Aston Martin and Ferrari separated by 52 points.

Some recent upgrades proved fruitful for Mercedes at the Spanish Grand Prix earlier this month, when both Hamilton and George Russell hit the podium and the German outfit leapfrogged Aston Martin in the standings.

"We've been making progress and the car last race was just, we've all been buzzing, I think back at the factory the whole team has this new energy,” said Hamilton, a seven-time world champion. “We've got a North Star, we know where we're going, we know how to get there.”

Aston Martin, which is making some upgrades after missing the podium in Spain, is a tale of two drivers so far.

Fernando Alonso, a 41-year-old veteran and two-time world champion, is pulling his weight with five podiums and 99 points, trailing only the two Red Bull drivers. Montreal-born Lance Stroll, meanwhile, is well behind in eighth place with 35 points.

Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, Lance’s father and owner of the Aston Martin F1 team, said this week his team is aiming for a double podium in Montreal, something Alonso wasn’t ready to guarantee.

“You never know, but it is an aggressive target for the weekend,” he said. “We know Lawrence's ambition is super high always and we will try to make him happy and proud in the home Grand Prix.”

Ferrari is coming off a disappointing Spanish GP where driver Charles Leclerc fell out of the points in 11th. The Italian team has just one podium between Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Something that might give these teams a chance at upsetting Red Bull is the weather, with the forecast calling for a chance of rain throughout the weekend.

“We generally don't know whether this track suits our car and the car's characteristics,” said Hamilton. “But the weather may change that, and we'll see.”

Hamilton won his first-ever race in Montreal back in 2007 and now has a record 103 career wins at 38 years old. Verstappen already has 40 victories.

“He's got a very long career ahead of him, so absolutely (he could catch me). Ultimately records are there to be broken and he's got an amazing team,” said Hamilton. “We've got to work harder to try and continue to extend (my record).”

The drivers take to the track Friday for practice sessions in the afternoon and evening. Another practice is set for Saturday before qualifying, which determines where drivers start for Sunday’s race.

It’s the 52nd Canadian Grand Prix and the 45th anniversary of Gilles Villeneuve’s win when Montreal hosted for the first time in 1978. No Canadian has won the race since.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2023.