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F1 storylines heading into Canadian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen Max Verstappen - The Canadian Press

F1 makes its annual stop in Canada this weekend with the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Ile Notre-Dame in Montreal.

It’s been a wild 2024 season so far. And while Red Bull still holds the crown as the team to beat, a few cracks have started to appear in their armour – at least through the first eight races.

Watch the Canadian Grand Prix LIVE Sunday afternoon at 1:55 p.m. on TSN4, TSN5 and the TSN App, or see multiple streams at once on the TSN+ Multiplex.

Ahead of what figures to be an intriguing Canadian GP, here are a handful of storylines that have grabbed headlines in F1 this season.

Do we finally have parity?

Max Verstappen has won five of eight races this year and if the season ended today, he would win his fourth straight driver championship. Red Bull is also atop the team standings and have the inside track on a third straight constructor championship. So why does it feel that things are a lot more wide-open in 2024?

Compared to last year, Verstappen and Red Bull hold a much looser grip over the sport they’ve dominated the past few seasons. The difference in the standings compared to this point last season tells the whole story.

Verstappen arrived at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve last summer with 170 points through seven races and held a 71-point lead over Fernando Alonso. Red Bull’s constructor lead was an even larger 135 points, leading second-place Mercedes 287-152.


Top of F1 Standings headed into Canadian GP (2023)

Rank Driver  Driver Points Team Team Points
1 Max Verstappen 170 Red Bull 287
2 Fernando Alonso 99 Mercedes 152
3 Sergio Perez 97 Aston Martin 134
4 Lewis Hamilton 87 Ferrari 100
5 George Russell 68 Alpine 40
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. 58 McLaren 17

The Canadian GP is the ninth race on the F1 calendar this year. Verstappen has one fewer point having run one more race, and his 31-point lead over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc is significantly smaller than his advantage from a year ago. The constructor race is even more concentrated, with Red Bull leading Ferrari 276-252 with McLaren also in striking distance at 184.


Top of F1 Standings headed into Canadian GP (2024)

Rank Driver Driver Points Team Team Points
1 Max Verstappen 169 Red Bull 276
2 Charles Leclerc 131 Ferrari 252
3 Lando Norris 113 McLaren 184
4 Carlos Sainz Jr. 108 Mercedes 96
5 Sergio Perez 107 Aston Martin 44
6 Oscar Piastri 71 RB 24

Red Bull had won every race through the first seven in 2023. Three other drivers have broken through this year, including in two of the past three races. Verstappen is coming off a sixth place result in Monaco after not having finished worse than fifth all of last season, while teammate Sergio Perez retired after an opening-lap wreck.

“It has not been a good weekend for the team in general,” Verstappen said two weeks ago. “Nothing has helped optimize the performance of the car.”

There’s no question Red Bull is still the team to beat. But there’s also no question the gap isn’t as wide as it once was.


Trouble at Red Bull?

F1 is well known for its drama off the track. And Red Bull has had more than its fair share this season.

Before the start of the season on Feb. 5, Red Bull announced team principal Christian Horner was under investigation over an allegation of misconduct toward a team employee. Horner remained with the team as preseason testing began and the complaint was eventually dismissed ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Verstappen said at the time he believed he and the team were able to put the distraction aside.

“Because it’s not our business, we are not particularly involved in that. We are paid to do our job, that’s what we are doing and that’s also what we love doing, so that’s what we focus on,” he said.

On May 1, Red Bull announced chief technical officer Adrian Newey would step down at the end of the season. Widely regarded as one of the best technical minds in F1 and a pivotal figure in the team’s rise to the top, Newey’s departure sent shockwaves throughout the sport.

“All of our greatest moments from the past 20 years have come with Adrian’s hand on the technical tiller," Horner said.

The 65-year-old did not announce where he’d go next – if anywhere – which has fuelled rumours about his future. Would he join one of Red Bull’s rivals, and what would that mean for the rest of Red Bull’s personnel, namely Verstappen?

“My future is within Red Bull at the moment,” Verstappen, who is under contract through 2028, said in Miami just after news broke of Newey leaving.

“I think people in the press, they are making up a lot of things at the moment because they don’t understand how the roles were in the team,” he said. "I cannot deny that I would have preferred him to stay, just for how he is as person, his knowledge and of course what he would bring to potentially another team if he wants to join.

“Besides that, I trust that the people that we have, they are incredibly good at what they do.”


Driver carousel in full effect

While Verstappen appears committed to Red Bull going forward, there’s plenty of change around the rest of the grid. Unlike most other sports, driver movement tends to happen ahead of time with seats for the following season announced in the midst of the current one.

Only seven drivers had contracts in place for 2025, leaving change as a distinct possibility. And there’s been plenty of it.

On Feb. 1, news broke that Lewis Hamilton would leave Mercedes for Ferrari at the end of the season, unseating Carlos Sainz Jr. and ending one of the most dominant driver-team pairings in the sport’s history. Hamilton won six world titles with Mercedes from 2014 to 2020 and also won in 2008 while driving for McLaren with a Mercedes engine.

Hamilton kept his move so secret that not even his parents knew.

“I didn’t speak to anybody. I didn’t tell my parents till the day of it being announced. So, no one knew," Hamilton told a BBC podcast. “I really wanted to do it for myself. Ultimately, I had to find out what would be the best for me.”

That means a Mercedes seat is up for grabs. Earlier this week, an Alpine vacancy came up as well, with the announcement that Esteban Ocon would not return to the team for 2025. The news came just days after Ocon crashed into teammate Pierre Gasly in Monaco.

Speculation surrounded the future of Sergio Perez at Red Bull, but he re-upped on a two-year deal on Tuesday. Sainz is looking for a seat. Fernando Alonso could have been a potential target for Mercedes or Red Bull, but he signed a multi-year deal in April to remain at Aston Martin. Teams Williams, Alpine, Haas, Stake and RB have also yet to officially announce their plans for 2025.

There is plenty left to be decided on the driver and team front for next year, and how the next few races play out could go a long way to determining next year’s grid.


What about Stroll?

Lance Stroll took a major step forward last season, finishing a career-best 10th in driver standings with 74 points. While the Canadian heads into this year’s hometown race in 11th, he hasn’t been quite as consistent in 2024.

Stroll scored points in 12 of 23 races last season but has just three points finishes in eight races this year. His best outing of the season came at the Austrian Grand Prix in March where he finished sixth, scoring eight of his 11 points in one start.

The 25-year-old has gone nearly four years since his last podium and trails Aston Martin running mate Alonso by 22 points in driver standings.

According to former F1 driver and current Aston Martin ambassador Pedro de la Rosa, Stroll is still brimming with talent and it’s only a “matter of time” until he breaks out.

“He’s just unreal how much potential he has,” De la Rosa told RacingNews 365 earlier this week. “When you compare him against Fernando, there are corner where Lance is quicker.”

Stroll has excelled at his hometown race throughout the years. The Montreal native picked up points in four of his five starts north of the border and made up significant ground from his starting position in all of them, outside of an early retirement in 2018.


Stroll at the Canadian Grand Prix

Year Starting Position Finish Position
2017 17 9
2018 17 DNF
2019 17 9
2022 17 10
2023 16 9

Stroll picked up his first career F1 points finish at the 2017 Canadian Grand Prix and said last year his hometown race is a special day of the year for him.

"It's a race that I have a lot of memories of, I have a lot of memories of when I came here when I was a kid watching [Michael] Schumacher and even Fernando," said Stroll.

"It would be very special [to reach the podium]. A dream come true."