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MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 18: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 18, 2023 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Can Verstappen break the M curse in Montreal?

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 18: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 18, 2023 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Max Verstappen was dominant in Montreal a year ago, leading every lap from pole, but he faces a fight for a third successive Canadian Grand Prix victory this weekend.

There have been three different winners in the last three races and, after winning 19 of 22 in the most one-sided Formula 1 season last year, Red Bull’s triple World Champion has now failed to win three of the last six.

Curiously, street circuits in cities starting with the letter M are the ones to have brought no joy – Melbourne, Miami and Monaco – and Verstappen needs to end that sequence.

Ferrari, winners in Australia with Carlos Sainz and Monaco with Charles Leclerc, will fancy their chances in Montreal at a circuit named after their late great Gilles Villeneuve.

Verstappen has not been beaten in two successive races since July 2022, winning in Japan after Australia and at Imola after Miami, but he identified running over kerbs as a weakness in Monaco.

Race nine of the season in Montreal, where riding over the kerbs is a fast track to gaining lap time, could see more of the same.

“We’ve had this problem since 2022, but of course for the last two years we had a car advantage and it gets masked a little bit as we gain a bit in the corners where the kerbs and the bumps are not the limitation,” Verstappen said in Monaco.

“But with everyone catching up, naturally when you’re not improving your weakest point you get found out,” he admitted.

Teammate Sergio Perez, who crashed out of the Monaco race, has something to celebrate already with Red Bull announcing his two-year contract extension earlier in the week.

What of Red Bull’s rivals?

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 04: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20 leads the field into turn one at the start during the Sprint ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Miami at Miami International Autodrome on May 04, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202405040340 // Usage for editorial use only // crypto

Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur predicted another close battle in Canada between the Red Bulls and the red cars, as well as McLaren. Ferrari are now only 24 points behind Red Bull, and have scored with both cars in every race unlike their rivals, while Leclerc is 31 behind Verstappen.

“It’s probably almost the opposite to Monaco in terms of speed but you also have the characteristics of the kerbs, with a lot of low speed corners and chicanes,” Vasseur told reporters in Monaco.

“Some corners (are) similar to Monaco but overall we were performing in Melbourne, we did well in Imola, in Miami with different type of compounds and Tarmac, different layout. It will be tight,” he insisted.

McLaren will also hope to continue in the mix after a run of four successive podium places, including Lando Norris’s Miami victory and Oscar Piastri’s second place in Monaco.

“Our car has performed well at a few different types of circuits, but we know we might have our work cut out in Canada,” said Norris. “Our competitors are likely to be strong here.”

Canada marks a return for Mercedes’ seven-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton to the circuit where, in 2007 as a McLaren driver, he took his first of 103 wins.

“Both drivers will have the updated front wing in Canada, plus some other development items for this event,” said team boss Toto Wolff.

“It offered a small lap time gain around the tight streets of the principality and should offer greater benefit on upcoming circuits.”

Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll is the only Canadian in the race but has yet to finish higher than ninth at his home town circuit. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)