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STINSON: Dominant Verstappen has a relentless run of error-free driving

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When the checkered flag flew at the Canadian Grand Prix in June, it was as if the Formula 1 season had entered a new phase. The back and forth battle between Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had given way to a dominance from the defending Dutch champion.

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After holding off Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in the final laps of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for his fifth win in six races, Verstappen had opened up a comfortable 46-point lead. A summer later, that gap is now a chasm. After winning last weekend in the Netherlands for his fifth consecutive victory and 10th in 15 rounds for the season, Verstappen is 109 points ahead of Leclerc. While last season ended in a thrilling and contentious last-lap duel between Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in the final race of the season to decide the championship, the only title question this year is how long the Dutch will be able to conclude. He won’t make it this weekend at the Italian Grand Prix, but if he extends his lead further, the two-race Asian swing that begins at the end of the month could decide things. But as the season heads down the backstretch, some compelling questions remain.

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Can anyone catch Verstappen?

No. (Not all questions are compelling.) The 24-year-old has pulled a Hamilton this season, with a dominant car and a relentless streak of error-free driving. With seven rounds to go, he has more than a four-race lead, meaning it would take a series of calamitous failures for that gap to disappear. More likely is a run for the record 13 wins in a season, held by Michael Schumacher and Sebastien Vettel.

Is there a mole at Ferrari?

This question is in jest, most of the time. Where the Scuderi looked like Red Bull’s equal at the start of the season, and Leclerc took pole position seven times to Verstappen’s four, Ferrari managed to shake things up quite dramatically in real-life racing. Bad strategy calls, bad pit stops, mechanical breakdowns, every week a new disaster seems to befall one of Leclerc or Sainz or both. At last week’s Dutch Grand Prix the pit crew used the new technique of bringing just three of the good tires to one of Sainz’s stops, which went as well provided that. The sonic language of Ferrari drivers on team radio has become a reliable part of Sunday race coverage.

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Did Mercedes fix things?

If Ferrari’s struggles have been odd given their initial strength, Mercedes’ performance in 2022 has been even stranger. The team that won seven consecutive championships through 2020, including six for Hamilton, has been miles away this season, in which rule changes have meant every team has to debut totally revamped cars. A poor start for Mercedes was not shocking in itself, but the months-long struggle to resolve the car’s problems – or even identify them – has bewildered a team that has been at the top of the sport for so long. But even though Hamilton basically said he would be happy to drive this particular car straight into the sea and never talk about it again, Mercedes might have clinched a double podium last week if a late safety car didn’t had not neutralized the advantage that its pilots had acquired. . It is an indication of the strength of the team that even in the midst of their season-long gong show, they are still a solid third in the constructors’ standings.

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Who’s driving where next year?

One of the peculiarities of F1 is that drivers whose contracts are about to expire can negotiate new deals, even with rival teams, during the season. This time of year has arrived and there has been a lot of movement. Former champion Sebastien Vettel has announced his imminent retirement at the end of the season, when his Aston Martin team poached Fernando Alonso from Alpine to replace him. Alpine announced that great prospect Oscar Piastri would take Alonso’s free seat, before, oops, Piastri said he hadn’t agreed to such a thing. He had his eyes on McLaren, who first had to awkwardly knock sub-contractor Daniel Ricciardo off the board, then the Alpine/McLaren fight over Piastri had to be settled by a referee. McLaren won which means Piastri will drive for them in 2023. That leaves Ricciardo open for business, but with few options unless he returns to the Alpine team he rejected for McLaren or he doesn’t settle for a seat in one of the cars. t particularly competitive. He said this week he would be open to being a reserve driver for a big team like Mercedes or Red Bull, at which point Hamilton was quick to say he was too good to be a back-up. Maybe because he was sitting right next to him at the press conference.

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And the Canadians?

Uh, yeah, about that. Difficult year for the local guys. Lance Stroll sits 18th out of 21 drivers to have raced this season, with five 10ths to his name. That’s even better than his compatriot Nicholas Latifi, who has zero points and hasn’t finished in the top half of the pack once. He is expected to lose his seat with Williams for next season, but nothing official has been announced. Stroll’s place with Aston Martin is secure, and in possibly related news, his father owns the team.

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