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McLaren's Lando Norris pegs Ferrari as favourites at Canadian Grand Prix

MONTREAL — Lando Norris is putting the pressure on Ferrari.
McLaren driver Lando Norris of Britain arrives to the paddock before the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix race at the Monaco racetrack, in Monaco, Sunday, May 26, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Luca Bruno

MONTREAL — Lando Norris is putting the pressure on Ferrari.

The McLaren driver believes Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix could be anyone’s race with the Formula One title chase recently ignited, but he’s giving the edge to the Italian outfit after Charles Leclerc’s win in Monaco two weeks ago.

"I think they're favourites,” Norris said without hesitation before acknowledging it would be a tight race.

"It's impossible for me to say if it's going to be us, Ferrari or Red Bull on top," he added. "That's why it's exciting, because none of us really know."

Led by three-time defending world champion Max Verstappen, Red Bull won 21 of 22 races to run away with the title last season. Verstappen alone earned a record-breaking 19 victories.

Red Bull still tops the constructors’ championship this season, but Leclerc’s win helped Ferrari move within 24 points of the lead heading into Montreal. The Canadian Grand Prix is the ninth stop of the 24-race championship.

Norris thinks Ferrari could have the upper hand again this weekend partially because curb-riding is such a factor at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Leclerc, however, downplayed his team's status as the favourite.

"Everybody doesn't want to be going into a weekend hearing that they are favourites,” he said. “You're never going to hear me (say) we are 100 per cent the favourite this weekend and the same for them, so you've got to throw the ball to your closest opponents.

“It might not be the true picture once we hit the track, the reality is we are so closely matched between those three teams.”

Verstappen holds a solid 31-point lead over Leclerc in the drivers’ championship. Norris trails Leclerc by 25 points, equal to one race win.

But three drivers from three teams — Norris, Leclerc and Verstappen — have won the last three races for the first time since 2021.

Last season, Verstappen won his second consecutive Canadian Grand Prix amid a run of a record 10-straight victories.

The 26-year-old Dutchman said he isn’t affected by his opponents putting up more of a fight this year.

“I'm not focused on what the others are doing because that's just a waste of time and energy,” he said. “We know that from our side, there are things that we can do better and that's what we'll focus on.”

While Ferrari appears to thrive on courses where curb-riding is a big factor, the opposite has been true for Red Bull.

Verstappen called Monaco’s race, where he finished sixth and Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez did not finish, a reminder of that.

"This is something that we know, and we haven't been able to fix it yet. I do think that after Monaco, it gave us another wake-up call,” he said. "With everyone catching up, naturally, you can't rely on your advantage anymore even though your curb-riding is bad."

Ferrari was fourth and McLaren was sixth in the constructors’ championship entering last year’s Canadian Grand Prix, but have bridged the gap this season.

Carlos Sainz, Leclerc’s teammate, attributes that to the cars instead of the drivers.

“The biggest differentiator is the car,” Sainz said. “Having a better car on Sunday helps a lot. A better car for tire degradation, having a better car for overtaking.”

The vehicles could be put to the test with rain a possible factor this weekend, adding to the unpredictability of the race.

Norris said it’s exciting for drivers and F1 fans alike that Verstappen isn’t a slam-dunk winner before the race begins.

"For any driver on the grid, or at least the guys in the top six cars, we're all coming into it like 'Maybe this is our weekend if we can make an extra little bit of difference, if we can find that last 100th (of a second),'" he said. “It's exciting for me, it's exciting for the team and it's exciting more so for everyone watching.

“That's really the best part of all of it, is that people are watching, like, ‘Who could win this weekend?’ rather than ‘He's going to win again.’”

Although Leclerc doesn't like the favourite label, he likes his chances on Sunday.

"I believe that it could be an opportunity," he said. "I don't think it highlights Red Bull's strength, a track like Montreal."

Elsewhere in the grid, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton ranks eighth with Mercedes. Hamilton is set to take Sainz’s seat at Ferrari next season.

Montreal’s Lance Stroll is the lone Canadian among the 20 drivers. Stroll is 11th with 11 points this season for Aston Martin, which arrived in his hometown third in the constructors’ standings but dropped to fifth this year.

It’s the 53rd Canadian Grand Prix, and the 43rd in Montreal. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, which was resurfaced this year, is a 4.361-kilometre track.

The drivers take to the track Friday afternoon and evening for practice sessions. Another practice is set for Saturday before qualifying, which determines where drivers start for Sunday’s 70-lap race.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2024.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press

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