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Leclerc expects little improvement from Ferrari at Canadian Grand Prix

AP – Charles Leclerc spent the Formula One off weekend attending his first 24 Hours of Le Mans, where he tucked into the back of the Ferrari garage and watched the Italian automaker win the iconic endurance race for the first time since 1963.

The celebration was wild and one Leclerc hasn’t been part of in some time.

He doesn’t expect that to change tonight at the Canadian Grand Prix, where Leclerc expects Ferrari’s season-long slump to continue.

Leclerc can accept that Ferrari is off pace from Red Bull, winners of all seven races so far this season.

What isn’t as acceptable is the lack of answers for Ferrari’s ailments.

Leclerc didn’t make it out of the first round of qualifying in Spain two weeks ago because of handling problems on his Ferrari. The entire rear end of his car was changed ahead of the race and Leclerc drove from 19th to 11th – but he doesn’t understand why he struggled so much in Spain. “Qualifying in Barcelona was a very particular one and I think I wasn’t the only one to struggle. We need to understand these things and for now we don’t have the reasons,” Leclerc said.

“This is a little bit more worrying and that’s where we need to push and try to understand the reasons of it because obviously the feeling was really bad.”

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc steers his car through a curve. PHOTO: AP
Max Verstappen. PHOTO: AFP

Trying to gauge how Ferrari might perform in Montreal was difficult on Friday as Leclerc was one of 13 drivers to get on track during the first practice session before it was halted because of technical issues. The cameras stationed around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve malfunctioned and lost connectivity to race control, so the practice was halted.

The FIA added 30 minutes to Friday afternoon’s second practice, but rain disrupted it.

Ferrari has just one podium finish this season, ranks fourth in the constructors’ championship and already trails leader Red Bull by 187 points. Leclerc is seventh in the drivers’ championship. The results are unacceptable for an organisation that hoped this season to dethrone Red Bull and Max Verstappen’s two-year reign as champions.

“Overall I think all the team is not satisfied with the performance we are showing at the moment on track and it is very far off expectations at the beginning of the season,” Leclerc said. “Looking ahead we just need to keep pushing, try and bring upgrades as quickly as possible and regularly which is our aim now to try and close the gap to the guys in front and also close the gap especially in terms of race pace.”

Ferrari had upgrades on its SF23 in Spain with no results, and although Leclerc expects Montreal to be a better fit for the car, he’s not expecting a sudden victory.

“On this track we don’t have anything new so I don’t think we’ll have any miracles,” he said.

“But we need to just try and maximise our package, understand more this package, set-up the car in order to maximise it. We have learned a lot and pretty sure we will be in a better place for this weekend, but I don’t think it will be a huge step forward.”

MORE RED BULL MARKS

Two-time world champion Verstappen can tie the late Ayrton Senna’s record for wins if he scores his 41st career victory this weekend. The Dutchman is the defending winner and a victory today would move him into a tie with Senna for fifth on F1’s all-time list.

But he’s also on a streak of leading 154 consecutive laps, and should Verstappen lead all 70 laps tonight, he would move to fifth on the list of most consecutive laps led in F1 – and the longest streak since Nigel Mansell led 235 laps in 1992.

Red Bull this weekend could also become the third team in F1 history to win all of the first eight races in a season. McLaren in 1988 and Mercedes in 2019 are the only other teams to have won the first eight races of a season.

Sergio Perez, meanwhile, is hoping the Canadian Grand Prix will be a reset for him.

Although Perez has two wins this season to keep Red Bull undefeated, the Mexican has slipped the past two races and has fallen 53 points behind his teammate in the driver standings.

“I basically want a restart, to go again,” said Perez. “I’m looking forward to getting back on the form we had in the early season. I can’t afford to have any bad weekends anymore. I think I’ve had two or three bad weekends in the season, so I really have to get rid of those and keep the consistency high, because I think Max has been really good and consistent throughout this period.”

Perez has never qualified higher than eighth in Montreal and has not had a points-scoring finish since 2017.

ASTON MARTIN EXPECTATIONS

Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll has huge ambition for today’s race and wants his son, Lance, on the podium in his native country.

Fernando Alonso has been on the podium in five of seven races this season and in Canada, Lawrence Stroll wants his son on the steps alongside Alonso. Lance Stroll is the only Canadian driver on the F1 grid.

“Those are exactly the plans. Hopefully get two cars on the podium,” Lawrence Stroll said.

“I’m extremely confident. I believe the car will be very strong around the Montreal circuit, it suits our car well. I’m really looking forward to be going home and really looking forward to a great race.”

The confidence seemed to surprise Alonso, who is third in the driver standings and seeking his elusive 33rd career F1 victory.

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