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F1 season storylines heading into Canadian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton Max Verstappen Lewis Hamilton Max Verstappen - The Canadian Press

The Canadian Prix was back on the F1 calendar last season, and it signified a return to normal in two ways.

The first being the fact that it happened, as Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was quiet the previous two summers due to COVID-19.

The second reason? Max Verstappen taking the checkered flag.

Verstappen winning has been as normal as anything lately in Formula 1. He started from pole position and held off Carlos Sainz for his first career Canadian GP win.

Sainz was right behind Verstappen for the latter part of the race and finished less than one second behind the Red Bull star.

"It was super close all the time. [Sainz] was constantly in my DRS. I think not once he dropped out of it, so the pressure is always on,” Verstappen said.

It was quite the return for F1 north of the border and we’re just about set to do it again as the Canadian Grand Prix returns this weekend.

Watch coverage LIVE Friday through Sunday on TSN, the TSN App, or see multiple feeds at once on the Multiplex.

With race week upon us, here is a look at some of this year’s storylines from around the F1 circuit.


Red Bull’s dominance

Sergio Perez Max Verstappen

Seven races, seven wins.

That’s been Red Bull’s 2023 so far. And they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.

Verstappen started on pole and breezed to his 40th career win two weekends ago in Spain. The two-time defending F1 champion has five wins this season and finished second in the two races won by teammate Sergio Perez.

At the moment, neither the constructor, nor the driver standings are particularly close. Red Bull leads second-place Mercedes 287 to 152 in the constructors and has dual podiums in four of this season’s seven races. Verstappen leads all drivers with 170 points and Perez in second at 117. No other driver has reached the 100-point mark yet and only two – Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton – are over 65.

Hamilton admitted that keeping pace with Red Bull is a challenge.

“I think they are still a bit too quick at the moment. If we can close on them by the end of the year, then that will be great. If not, then next year,” he said.

Given their early-season dominance, it’s fair to ask: Can Christian Horner’s team win every race in 2023?

“How it looks at the moment, I think we can,” Verstappen said prior to Spain. “But that is very unlikely to happen, there are always things that can go wrong or a retirement or whatever but purely on pace at the moment it looks like [it’s a possibility].”

He also said that not getting complacent is key for him and his team if they want to keep winning.

“We just have to focus on ourselves and try to keep on improving our car," he said. "Of course, right now it all looks great, but you can’t stand still in this world."


The resurgence of Alonso

The Spanish Grand Prix would have been the perfect place for Fernando Alonso to win his first F1 race in a decade.

His last victory came at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for Ferrari in 2013. What better place to see the former two-time champion get career win No. 33 than in front of his home fans?

But it wasn’t to be. Alonso damaged the floor of his car in Saturday’s qualifying and lined up eighth, his lowest starting grid position all season. While he did move past Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg and could have challenged his teammate for sixth, Alonso ended the race in seventh for his lowest finish of the season.

If that was his lowest point so far in 2023, it’s safe to say Alonso has had a pretty good year.

Alonso won the F1 title with Renault in 2005 and 2006 and finished in the top 10 for 12 straight seasons from 2003 to 2014. He moved to McLaren in 2015 and had mixed results before leaving the sport as a driver after the 2018 season. After restarting his career with Alpine in 2021, Alonso moved to Aston Martin this past off-season and appears to finally be back in a car that fits his skillset.

Now 41, Alonso has reached the podium in all but two races this season and has Aston Martin all the way up to third in constructor standings behind Red Bull (287 points) and Mercedes (154). It’s a huge step as Mike Krack’s team is coming off back-to-back seventh-place finishes the last two seasons.

Catching Red Bull may be next to impossible, but Alonso said before Spain he and his team will continue to push and look for chances to break through.

“We have a good car that will give us chances this year. Red Bull is dominating with an iron fist, but we have seen in previous seasons that even when there is a dominant car ... there will be opportunities at some point.”

With car upgrades scheduled to come in prior to Montreal, all eyes will be on Alonso and Aston Martin to see if they can continue their strong season.


Stroll rounding into form?

Lance Stroll

It’s been an up and down few years for Lance Stroll.

The Montreal native began his F1 career in 2017 as a 19-year-old for Williams – one of the sport’s most storied teams – where his father, Lawrence, was a heavy investor.

He tallied 40 points as a rookie to finish 12th in driver standings and recorded his first career podium in Azerbaijan. But he wasn’t able to sustain his momentum as Stroll was held off the podium and finished near the bottom in each of the next two seasons.

After 2020 saw him score a career-best 75 points and finish 11th, Stroll again went without a podium while being outscored by his teammate in each of the previous two seasons. Stroll’s 2023 campaign is off to a nice start, but it didn’t start that way.

The 24-year-old missed pre-season testing because of a wrist injury suffered while riding his bike.

“It was an unfortunate accident. I fell from my bike when my tire caught a hole in the ground," Stroll said. “But thankfully the damage was not significant and a successful minor surgery on my right wrist fixed the problem very quickly.

The Canadian opened the year with a sixth-place finish in Bahrain – tied for his highest finish since 2020 – and after a power unit failure forced him out in Saudi Arabia, Stroll recorded back-to-back top-10s in Australia (fourth) and Azerbaijan (seventh).

Stroll started fifth on the grid two weekends ago in Spain and got as high as P3 after a solid start but sank back three places to finish sixth. He admitted after the race he was a bit disappointed considering how he got off the line, but the higher expectations are an indication of progress.

Stroll has made up ground from his starting position in four of seven grand prix races this season and currently sits eighth in driver standings heading into his home race this weekend.

“I mean, it’s home. I feel like from the second I enter the paddock, the support from all the fans and the energy, excitement around the weekend,” Stroll told TSN’s Tim Hauraney last year.

“Montreal, I think, is one of the most exciting and fun races in the season because the city gets buzzing on Grand Prix weekend.”


Mercedes on the upswing?

After winning the constructor championship eight straight years from 2014 to 2021, Red Bull finally dethroned Mercedes as F1’s king last year and seems well on its way to winning a second consecutive title.

And so begins the battle for second.

At the moment, Mercedes is 18 points clear of Aston Martin for second and 52 points up on Ferrari in fourth.

Mercedes is coming off its first dual podium finish of the season as Lewis Hamilton finished second and George Russell crossed in third. It was the first time this season a team other than Red Bull sent two drivers to the top three. And it came after some much anticipated technical upgrades, including new bodywork, front suspension, and car floor.

The team debuted its changes at the end of May in Monaco, but the narrow street circuit made it difficult for the car to reach its full potential. Spain’s result gave the team confidence the upgrades were working.

“This result is definitely what we were working towards,” Hamilton said. “This is amazing and it’s down to all the great, great work that is going on with the people back at the factory, keeping their heads down. I hope everyone is feeling really proud back at the factory.”

Mercedes chief Toto Wolff was impressed with his team’s showing in Spain but cautioned there was still plenty of work to be done.

“We are a good team at grinding away,” he said. “Once there is a clear direction, we just go for it. Let’s keep our expectations real though. We’ve got a long way to go to catch Red Bull but it’s good to see we are moving in the right direction.”

Hamilton enters Montreal having won seven Canadian Grand Prix titles, tied with Michael Schumacher for the most all-time. His first career F1 victory came at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2007.



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