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IT'S RACE WEEK: 5 storylines we're excited about ahead of the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix

Special Contributor

Chris Medland
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Three different winners in the past three races, and a real challenge starting to mount in both championships, has certainly increased the intrigue around each race weekend. And it’s time for the now-traditional interruption to the European season with a trip to Montreal, where picking a winner remains tricky.

Will Red Bull’s struggles continue?

I know, “struggles” is a relative term when we’re talking about the team that are currently top of the constructors’ championship and leading the drivers’ standings too, but in recent context it’s been a tough run of form for Red Bull.

READ MORE: Verstappen responds to more questions about his F1 future as he insists change of teams ‘not on my mind’

Lando Norris’ win in Miami was helped by a Safety Car but came with McLaren quickest on that day, while Norris was arguably also the quickest across a race distance in Imola too, but a brilliant job by Max Verstappen ensured pole and the all-important track position that helped him hold on to win.

Then came Monaco, and a true Red Bull weakness was finally exposed as the car really struggled with the kerb riding and uneven surface, leaving Verstappen limited to sixth place and Sergio Perez eliminated in Q1.

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull

Max Verstappen finished sixth last time out in Monaco

After that race, Verstappen suggested the need to attack the kerbs in Canada could also prove problematic, although Red Bull will have the data and information from Monaco to try and find ways of addressing the issue.

The Dutchman insists it is an inherent trait of the car, though, and not a quick or easy fix, so there will be a lot of focus on how they perform in Friday practice, and the drivers’ comments after those first two sessions.

READ MORE: Horner calls on Red Bull to ‘understand weaknesses’ after challenging Monaco GP weekend

True title fights opening up

After the opening few rounds of the season it was tough to see there being much of a threat to Verstappen and Red Bull’s championships again this year, even if it was clear that the field had made progress in closing the gap.

Verstappen of course had a DNF in Australia that has hurt his points total, but such incidents are central to a championship situation and Charles Leclerc’s victory in Monaco has made a big dent in his advantage, with the gap between the two now 31 points.

That’s still more than a race win, but with Ferrari expected to be competitive again on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and McLaren also in the mix, if Red Bull’s issues (above) do limit their ability to score, another big chunk could be taken out of that margin. The potential was there and came to pass in Monaco, so it’s not unrealistic for it to be the case again this weekend, and Norris will also hope to close the gap a little more.

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Race winner Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari celebrates by

Charles Leclerc’s victory in Monaco closed the gap between him and Verstappen to 31 points in the drivers' standings

Where things are even tighter are in the constructors’ standings, where Red Bull only leads Ferrari by 24 points after Monaco. Perez’s retirement was his first of the season and Red Bull’s second, while Ferrari have finished every race with two cars in the points but also had to deal with the need to replace Carlos Sainz at late notice in Saudi Arabia, so haven’t had it all their own way.

The drivers’ championship might need more than one weekend to threaten a change of leader, but in the constructors’ there’s an outside chance of Ferrari leaving Montreal on top.

READ MORE: Ferrari facing ‘unavoidable’ title race consideration after Leclerc’s Monaco win, says team ambassador Gene

Tension between the Alpine drivers

A lot of the focus on the opening lap in Monaco was on the crash between Perez and the Haas drivers, but the collision involving Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly also brought its own spotlight.

Ocon tried to pass his team mate down the inside of Portier despite clear instructions from Alpine to work together, and the fact it ultimately took Ocon out of the race and risked both cars did not go down well.

2024 Monaco Grand Prix: Gasly furious after Ocon sent airborne in clash between the two Alpines

There was plenty of focus on what action might have been taken by team principal Bruno Famin, after he promised there would be consequences, but the story has already moved on quickly.

After Ocon released a statement on social media on Friday hitting out at abuse he had recieved, Alpine announced on Monday that he would be parting ways with the team at the end of the 2024 season.

Sources say that the decision to part ways with Ocon was not a response to the Monaco clash as his future has been under discussion for a while, but such an incident did not help.

Along similar lines, there appeared to be the initial signs of a situation developing that might need managing at Mercedes in Monaco, where Lewis Hamilton referenced not expecting to outqualify George Russell this season.

Team principal Toto Wolff admitted he understands why a driver can start to question treatment in either a high-pressure title battle or when one is leaving a team, but insists the pair will receive equal treatment until the end of the year.

READ MORE: 'We are not robots' – Ocon confirms he will race in Canada and hits out at ‘abuse’ following Monaco crash

Aston Martin’s form

One of the feel good stories of 2023, Aston Martin’s year-to-date has been a little less exciting. That’s not necessarily through the team’s fault, as they pointed to the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes returning to the positions they should have been last year, while their own development has been solid.

But in Monaco, Fernando Alonso admitted he is worried the team is sliding back into the midfield pack and not staying in the fight with Mercedes trying to catch the top three teams.

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 24: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) Aston Martin AMR24 Mercedes

Fernando Alonso has admitted he is worried Aston Martin are sliding back into the midfield

We’ve seen fluctuating form from Aston, and Canada was a happy hunting ground for the team last year when Alonso finished a very competitive second and Lance Stroll fought his way through from 16th to ninth in front of his home crowd.

The car has shown good pace at times this year with three top-six finishes secured so far, but whether home fans will have a competitive Aston Martin to get behind feels like a bit of a mystery.

READ MORE: Alonso concerned Aston Martin are ‘back in the midfield’ after team fail to score in Monaco

A great track for racing with a crowd to match

Regardless of whether Stroll has a quick car to fight with in Montreal, the fans are regularly one of the highlights of a big event on the calendar.

All of the drivers tend to gain strong support from the enthusiastic crowd, who are often lining the bridges onto the Île Notre-Dame – home of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – from early in the morning until late at night trying to catch a glimpse of their heroes.

And the circuit itself is also a great one, with the long straights and big braking zones offering overtaking opportunities, but close walls on many corner exits also punishing mistakes.

Last year Alex Albon showed how having a car with good traction and top speed can help defend a position despite the potential for slipstreaming and DRS help, making a good all-round venue that makes passes rewarding. Throw in the potential for some rain, and Montreal’s got all of the ingredients for a thrilling weekend of on-track action.

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