Motor racing-Verstappen back in a happy place for F1 triple header

Formula One F1 - Canadian Grand Prix - Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada - June 9, 2024 Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates after winning the Canadian Grand Prix REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger/File Photo

(Reuters) - Max Verstappen should be back in a happy place as Formula One kicks off a triple header of familiar European races starting with the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya this weekend.

Red Bull's triple world champion took the first win of his F1 career at the track outside Barcelona in 2016, when he was only 18 years old, and has triumphed on his last two visits.

Austria follows on the weekend after and then the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, all tracks Verstappen won at last year as he romped to the most dominant championship on record.

This year's race comes after the Dutch driver won a wet Canadian Grand Prix, after three races with different drivers on top of the podium, and the track will suit his car better with fewer worries about bumps and kerbs.

"It has a good mix of high and low-speed corners and we have historically driven well there so hopefully we can maximise the performance of the car this weekend," said Verstappen, who leads Ferrari's Charles Leclerc by 56 points after nine races.

"We are aiming to keep the momentum going from Canada, so we are looking forward to racing this weekend and hopefully have some good weather."

Verstappen has led the championship for more than two years, taking over at the top in Spain in May 2022 and staying ahead ever since.

Team mate Sergio Perez needs a strong race after two successive retirements but the Mexican carries a three place grid penalty from Montreal, a weekend he called a disaster.

"Sometimes you are forced to reset a little and we have done that since the last race," said Perez.

Red Bull are 49 points clear of Ferrari in the constructors' standings, with the Italian team seeking to bounce back from the shock of a double retirement in Canada after winning with Leclerc in Monaco.

The race will be Carlos Sainz's last at home with Ferrari, the Spaniard moving on at the end of the season to make way for seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton, and he may have a real chance to win.

"The Spanish Grand Prix should see us return to being competitive, with the same level of performance we have demonstrated throughout the season prior to the Canadian Grand Prix," said team boss Fred Vasseur.

Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso, preparing for his 21st home race, will also have plenty of fans.

Mercedes and McLaren should be in the mix, with the former more positive after George Russell's pole position and third place in Canada -- the team's first podium of the campaign.

"We have new parts coming in Barcelona. That should help us, so I would very much hope that we can continue this positive trajectory," said team boss Toto Wolff, whose drivers were second and third at the circuit last year.

McLaren have been on the podium in the last five races, Lando Norris taking a win and three second places while Oscar Piastri was second in Monaco.

"The track has its challenges...but I think we’re in a good position to maximise our performance and get the most out of the car," said Norris.

Britain's Oliver Bearman, tipped for a race seat next year, will take over Nico Hulkenberg's car at Haas in Friday's first practice.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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