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F1 Preview: 2017 Canadian Grand Prix

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With the opening leg of European rounds on the 2017 calendar now out of the way, this weekend sees Formula 1 venture to North America for the first time this season for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

Sebastian Vettel arrives in Canada with a healthy 25-point advantage at the top of the drivers’ championship following his victory in Monaco two weeks ago, where he led Ferrari to its first one-two finish in almost seven years.

Monaco proved to be a tougher weekend for his title rival, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who suffer a shock knock-out at the second stage of qualifying. Although the Briton was able to recover to seventh in the race, he was powerless to stop Vettel taking the biggest lead yet in their title battle.

The Canadian Grand Prix rarely disappoints. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has a knack for producing the unexpected, and the city of Montreal embraces F1 with a warmth that few other locations on the calendar can match.

2017 Canadian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Vettel out to extend championship lead

Sebastian Vettel’s flying start to the season has seen him take three race wins and three second-place finishes from the opening six rounds, enjoying the kind of form reminiscent of his Red Bull title-winning days.

The German’s march for a fifth world championship – and, more poignantly, first in Ferrari colors – has been impressive thus far. The results have done much to break the hoodoo that has seemed to blight the Scuderia in recent times, with Vettel’s Monaco victory being Ferrari’s first since 2001.

Another drought could end this weekend, with Ferrari having not won in Canada since Michael Schumacher’s victory in 2004. If Vettel can hit the top step once again – particularly given the Mercedes’ line-up’s strength in Montreal – it would be another signal that Ferrari is in charge of this title battle.

Can Mercedes’ Montreal specialists win?

Mercedes’ Monaco showing was pretty miserable. To get neither car on the podium despite both finishing has been a rare occurrence for the Silver Arrows in the V6 hybrid era, making a response in Canada this weekend all the more important.

Luckily for Mercedes, it has two of the strongest drivers around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Valtteri Bottas finished third in each of the last two years for Williams, and famously charged to third on the grid in 2013 in the wet.

The real favorite will be Lewis Hamilton, though. The three-time champion took his maiden F1 win in Montreal back in 2007, and has since taken another four, putting him second only to Schumacher for Canadian Grand Prix victories.

Mercedes may not have the quickest car in Montreal, but you’d be hard-pressed to find two drivers more suited to this circuit.

Back to the grind for Fernando

Fernando Alonso will make his F1 return this weekend following his Indianapolis 500 adventure. It was a story that captured the attention of the racing world, acting as a rare slice of good news for the struggling McLaren-Honda partnership, even if Alonso did end up retiring from the race due to an engine failure.

But the Spaniard will now return to the stark reality of his current F1 standing. With a power unit that lacks both reliability and performance, he will not be dicing for the lead as he was at IMS. Points – hell, not even plural, a point – would be a big breakthrough for McLaren, the team having not scored a single one thus far in 2017.

Alonso will be encouraged by the evident step we saw from McLaren in Monaco (albeit partly down to the circuit), and given his hurculean habit of dragging the car further up the order than in rightfully be, points are not totally out of the question in Canada. That said, the power-hungry nature of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and the absence of the promised Honda updates doesn’t make it a favorable outlook.

Tires to be testing once again

The big debate following last month’s Monaco Grand Prix was tire management, with Pirelli’s softest compound selection once again causing trouble for some teams in Monaco. Mercedes’ woes with the ultra-soft have been particularly clear this year, with Hamilton unable to get to grips – quite literally – with the tires last time out.

The same tire selection is on tap for Montreal, and given last year’s race was won by Hamilton with just one pit stop, one would expect that strategy to be the way to go once again, particularly with the added durability of the 2017-spec tires. Managing them will be the key to victory, and perhaps the decisive factor between Hamilton and Vettel once again.

Hopefully we’ll have more overtaking than we got in Monaco, with the long back straight and DRS zone giving drivers plenty of chances to close up and make a pass.

Will Stroll’s homecoming yield maiden points?

Lance Stroll will end an 11-year drought on Sunday when he becomes the first Canadian driver to start his home F1 race since Jacques Villeneuve last appeared in 2006.

Stroll, 18, stepped up to F1 at the beginning of the season with Williams, but has experienced a baptism of fire. After failing to finish any of his first three races, Stroll managed to get to the finish in Russia, ending up 11th. Further classified finishes have followed, yet he is still without points despite the evident quality of the Williams FW40 car.

At the track named after Canada’s greatest F1 talent, Gilles Villeneuve, Stroll will aim to become just the third Canadian to score points – and the first whose surname is not above the door of the circuit.

2017 Canadian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
Corners: 14
Lap Record: Rubens Barrichello 1:13.622 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:12.812
2016 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:15.599
DRS Zone: T12 to T13, T14 to T1

2017 Canadian Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

Dixon finally breaks through at Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – After a year of near misses and frustration, Scott Dixon has finally captured his first win of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The driver of the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing has won today’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America after leading 24 of 55 laps, and holding off a late charge from Josef Newgarden, best of Team Penske’s quartet.

The win also provides Mike Hull a victory on his 25-year anniversary with the team, a special moment. Dixon is now the eighth winner of the year, and the only active track where Dixon hadn’t led a lap – until today.

Hull made an excellent strategic decision to go with Firestone’s red alternate tires on the second-to-last stint. Following a restart after Takuma Sato spun at the Kink, Dixon then made a spectacular move to Newgarden’s outside going into Turn 1, and completing the move on exit. Newgarden had no counter as he was on Firestone’s blacks at that point.

Newgarden led home teammates Helio Castroneves, who fell to third from the pole, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, as Penske ended second, third, fourth and fifth after sweeping the top four spots on the grid.

Charlie Kimball parlayed an off-sequence strategy to jump up to sixth, with Ed Jones, Graham Rahal, Max Chilton and Mikhail Aleshin completing the top 10.

Tony Kanaan had a heavy accident at the Kink but got out of his car, in the race’s one major incident.

More to follow…

Stroll rewarded with shoey after first F1 podium in Baku (VIDEO)

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Lance Stroll was “lost for words” after becoming the second-youngest Formula 1 podium finisher in Sunday’s chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix, crossing the line third for Williams.

Stroll qualified eighth in Baku before managing to rise up the order as a race of attrition set in at the front, with title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both dropping back after coming to blows.

Stroll was left running second behind Daniel Ricciardo once Hamilton had pitted for repairs and Vettel had served his penalty, but had Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas bearing down through the closing stages.

In a drag race at the line, Bottas nosed ahead of Stroll by just 0.1 seconds to deny the Williams driver P2, but he was nevertheless able to hang on to third place.

Coming just two weeks after his maiden F1 points finish and following a barrage of criticism in the early part of the year, Stroll was overjoyed with the result.

“I’m just lost for words right now. I don’t even know what to say,” Stroll said.

“I can’t quite realize what just happened. It was a hectic race, people crashing and we stayed out of trouble, I kept my head cool and took it to the end.

“I lost out to Valtteri in the end. I reckon that was probably one of the closest finishes of all time! We were side-by-side across the finish line.

“What a race. I couldn’t believe coming into the weekend that I would be standing on the podium, it’s so amazing.”

Joining race winner and shoey extraordinaire Ricciardo on the podium, Stroll became the latest driver to take part in F1’s strangest tradition – albeit only after Ricciardo checked he was old enough.

Stroll completed the shoey like a champ, and was also informed that he had won the online Driver of the Day vote.

The result also saw Stroll became Canada’s first podium finisher since Jacques Villeneuve in 2001, as well as being the youngest ever rookie to finish in the top three.

Stroll missed out on the overall youngest podium record by 11 days to Max Verstappen, who won last year’s Spanish Grand Prix during his second season of racing in F1.

Ricciardo doubted Baku F1 win was possible, left ‘speechless’ on podium

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A stunned Daniel Ricciardo was left speechless on the podium after claiming his fifth Formula 1 victory in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, navigating a crazy race that he started from 10th on the grid.

Ricciardo survived three safety car periods, two early pit stops and a red flag stoppage to rise through the order and capitalize on trouble for title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, with both dropping back down the order after dominating early on.

Ricciardo moved into the lead when Vettel was forced to serve a penalty for dangerous driving, and went unchallenged en route to victory in Baku from there, finishing 3.9 seconds clear of the pack.

Struggling to form his words initially, Ricciardo said he only thought a podium was within reach after the restart, only for the issues for the leaders to hand him the race win.

“We know there was a chance of the podium after the restart, but then we heard what happened with Lewis and Seb. It was just a crazy race,” Ricciardo said.

“I made an unplanned stop at the beginning. After a few laps we had some debris in the brakes, so we had to stop and clean it. We dropped to 17th place.

“So did I think then that we could win? Absolutely not. I would have put all my money on it that this was very unlikely.

“A crazy race. This is the race we expected last year, with all the safety cars and all the chaos, and we got it this year.”

Ricciardo’s victory came after he crashed out of qualifying on Saturday evening in Baku, resigning him to a P10 start, but was pleased to make up for it in style.

“Yesterday I was disappointed with the mistake. I knew today would be a different outcome,” Ricciardo said.

“I said it yesterday that we had to stay out of trouble and it certainly paid off today. A big thanks to the team, it was nice to get one car home and on the podium.

“I’m honestly speechless. After the race on the cool down lap, I was kind of just giggling like a school boy.”

WATCH LIVE: KOHLER Grand Prix at 12 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Road America this weekend, with the now 55-lap KOHLER Grand Prix this afternoon.

You can watch it LIVE on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app starting at 11 a.m. CT and local time, noon ET.

Coverage has moved up half an hour from a planned 12:30 p.m. ET start time with the Formula 1 race from Azerbaijan running long.

This moves the Indy Lights second race of the weekend, which was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET, with Jake Query and Anders Krohn in the booth and Hargitt in pit lane.

Coverage will run through to 3:30 p.m. ET. INDYCAR: NEXT at the 101st Indianapolis 500 is scheduled from 3:30 to 4 p.m. ET.

Kevin Lee is on the call along with analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, with Marty Snider, Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller in the pits.

Helio Castroneves secured the pole position for the race. The full qualifying report is linked here.