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Verstappen holds off Norris to win third straight Canadian Grand Prix

MONTREAL — This year’s Canadian Grand Prix looked nothing like it did a year ago, but the result turned out the same.
Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen, of the Netherlands, celebrates after winning the Canadian Grand Prix Formula One car race, in Montreal, Sunday, June 9, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

MONTREAL — This year’s Canadian Grand Prix looked nothing like it did a year ago, but the result turned out the same.

Formula One leader Max Verstappen drove to his third consecutive win in Montreal, joining seven-time world champions Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton as the only drivers to three-peat at the Canadian GP.

In 2023, Verstappen led all 70 laps and won by nearly 10 seconds at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

On Sunday, he started second behind pole-winner George Russell. The race featured three different leaders and tons of overtakes amid tricky conditions on a gloomy day in Montreal.

"It's a lot of fun to drive these kinds of races now and then, you don't want it all the time because that's too stressful,” said the Red Bull driver, who won by 3.879 seconds. “But I had a lot of fun out there today.”

It was the reigning three-time champion’s 60th career victory, and his 50th in the last 75 races.

McLaren’s Lando Norris and Russell of Mercedes finished second and third to round out the podium.

Verstappen was coming off a sixth-place finish at the Monaco GP and faced problems all weekend with his vehicle, which spat smoke in Friday's practice session due to a battery problem. The 26-year-old from the Netherlands and his Red Bull team had the winning drive and strategy.

"As a team, we made the right calls today,” Verstappen said. "It's great to have three wins in a row here. I hope I can add more in the future.”

Norris, meanwhile, lamented his team’s decisions.

"We should have won the race today and we didn't so, frustrating. We had the pace," Norris said. "We should have won today. It's as simple as that."

The race started with a soaking wet track before blue skies emerged 10 minutes in, but rain showers returned periodically throughout the afternoon.

Norris flew from third to first when he breezed past Verstappen and Russell on Laps 20 and 21.

As the fastest car on the track, he'd built a 10-second lead, but a safety car triggered by Logan Sargeant on Lap 26 slowed him down. Norris then pit-stopped later than the other drivers, which he regretted.

"We didn't do a good enough job as a team to (pit stop) where we should have," Norris said. "I don't think it was an unlucky kind of thing ... This was just making a wrong call."

After taking the lead, Verstappen’s next obstacle was a groundhog — which were plentiful around the track.

Verstappen encountered the furry critter on Lap 31 but managed to avoid it.

"He was almost dead,” he said. “I started to get to the last chicane and I thought it was debris initially. So I started to close in and then I'm like, 'Oh my God, that's an animal.'

“Last year, a bird flew into my car, so I didn't want to have a groundhog stuck in my car as well."

On Lap 46, Norris stayed out while Verstappen and Russell pitted to build a significant lead in an attempt to snatch first. Verstappen, however, narrowly regained the lead three laps later when he squeezed past Norris as the McLaren driver came out of the pit lane.

Verstappen hung onto the top spot the rest of the way.

It was the Dutch driver’s sixth win in nine races this season. He increased his lead in the drivers’ standings to 56 points over second-place Charles Leclerc of Ferrari.

Verstappen’s 60 career wins are the third most all-time behind Hamilton (103) and Schumacher (91).

Hamilton, a seven-time Canadian GP winner, finished fourth after a late push when he briefly grabbed third.

Montreal’s Lance Stroll ranked seventh for Aston Martin for his best result on his home track.

“It was a tough track with the condition, so I’m really satisfied to score points,” Stroll said. “Lots of points, the sixth and seventh positions are really good for the team.”

McLaren’s Oscar Piastri placed fifth and Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin was sixth.

Ferrari's weekend was a nightmare. Leclerc, winner of the Monaco GP two weeks ago, retired on Lap 43 after gambling with his tire strategy and falling far behind the pace.

Teammate Carlos Sainz exited later in the race when he spun out of control.

“Just a very weak, disappointing weekend for the whole team,” Sainz said of Ferrari, which ranks second the constructors championship behind Red Bull. “We never seemed to find pace.”

An announced 350,000 spectators made the trip to the track over the event's three days.

The poor weather didn’t stop fans from rolling into Notre Dame Island on Sunday as an array of colours — including Ferrari red, McLaren orange and neon yellow rain ponchos — filled the grandstands.

The Canadian GP returns to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve next year. The racetrack is under contract with F1 until 2031.

The F1 series returns to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix on June 23.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2024.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press