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Canadian GP: Pole-sitter George Russell set to fight Max Verstappen and Lando Norris for victory in Montreal

George Russell will start Sunday's race from pole for Mercedes, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen and McLaren's Lando Norris behind him at the front of the grid; watch the Canadian Grand Prix at 7pm on Sunday - live on Sky Sports F1 and Main Event, build-up from 5.30pm

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After setting identical times, Mercedes' George Russell pipped Max Verstappen to pole position in Canada having completed his lap first

A surprise pole-sitter, new track surface and unpredictable weather make it almost impossible to predict who will come out on top in what promises to be a thrilling Canadian Grand Prix.

George Russell will start Sunday's race, live on Sky Sports at 7pm, from the front of the grid after Mercedes put their dismal start to the season behind them by claiming a first pole position of 2024.

World championship leader Max Verstappen, battling Red Bull's handling issues in the slower corners, is also on the front row after setting an identical time to Russell but losing out by virtue of the Brit's effort having come first.

The most consistent car in Formula 1 over recent weeks, the McLaren, fills both slots on the second row with Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri having the opportunity to work together to leapfrog the duo in front of them.

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Highlights of qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix

That front four would provide an exciting prospect at any venue, but the fact that adverse weather limited practice running on the re-laid asphalt at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve means there is very little data to provide a picture of what is likely to happen after lights out.

That dry running data may prove irrelevant in any case, with more wet weather forecast to hit the track during Sunday's race.

Russell: We're going for the win

In the event that the contest comes down to pure pace in dry conditions, Mercedes have plenty of reason to be confident after appearing strong throughout the weekend.

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Russell and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said after qualifying that they are convinced the team have finally turned a corner with their latest upgrade package.

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Russell was delighted with the progress Mercedes have made after securing pole at the Canadian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton had looked to be Russell's biggest rival for pole before the other Mercedes inexplicably fell away in the final stages of qualifying.

Asked if he can keep Verstappen behind him, Russell said: "Why not? Of course. Let's go for it. I think the car has been feeling amazing.

"Since we brought some upgrades to Monaco, we've sort of really been in that fight now. So, we're going for it."

Limited long running in practice means there is great uncertainty around how the tyres will cope with the new surface, with most expecting graining to be an issue.

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Russell joined Karun Chandhok at the SkyPad to look back on his pole lap

"I think it's going to be a tough race for everybody, to be honest," Russell added.

"Graining seems to be an issue. And this new track surface, nobody really knows how it's going to pan out. But we've got to go for victory.

"The car is genuinely really, really fast at the moment. But it's going to be a long race, I think. As soon as you fall off that cliff of the tyres, it's going to be really difficult to recover.

"So it could be a bit of a strategic game. Maybe not as extreme as we saw in Monaco last week, but maybe something similar."

Verstappen to defy expectations?

Having struggled in Monaco last time out, Red Bull and Verstappen arrived in Canada with relatively low expectations due to the Montreal circuit sharing some of the track characteristics that trouble them.

As has so often been the case with the Dutchman, he found major improvement at the end of Q3 when others struggled, but came up the smallest possible margin short of dislodging Russell.

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Verstappen says Red Bull need to improve the car after finishing second in qualifying

In the past Verstappen has sounded completely confident of sealing victory even when not starting from pole, but on this occasion it is clear he has some major doubts.

"We have a bit of work to do," he told Sky Sports F1. "We knew this track was not going to be our easiest but that's not an excuse, we should be targeting to be good everywhere.

"There might be a bit more rain around which will make it a bit more hectic. The tyres are not really holding up nicely for everyone, so whoever is best on that will probably win the race if there's nothing crazy weather wise.

"A lot of question marks and you just need to get going and see what happens."

Win or not, Verstappen appears likely to extend his 31-point lead at the top of the drivers' standings, with nearest challenger Charles Leclerc starting from 11th after both Ferraris made shock Q2 exits.

'We're in the fight' - Norris quietly confident

McLaren never quite appeared to be in the battle for pole position on Saturday, but could have snatched it as Norris finished just two hundredths of a second off the leading duo, with Piastri only a tenth back.

While they are not on the front row, the fact they share the second could prove to be a significant advantage in terms of strategy.

With multiple pit stops possible due to the expected tyre graining - and with a relatively low loss of time for stopping - McLaren will have the option of splitting strategies to force the hands of Russell and Mercedes.

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Karun is at the SkyPad to analyse where Russell gained time on his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton as he sealed pole in Canada

Hamilton is unlikely to be able to impact the race at the front from seventh of the grid, while Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez starts from P16.

Not only do McLaren have a strategic advantage, but they have had the most consistent race pace over the last month.

They are the only team to have had a car finish on the front row at each of the last four races, while Norris very nearly made it successive wins as he chased down Verstappen in the closing stages of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix two weeks after claiming his maiden F1 victory in Miami.

Asked if he is confident of challenging for victory, Norris said: "We've had great race pace the last few races. So I'm going to have to say yes. I think we're in the fight. It's so close.

"But George has been the favourite all weekend. So they've been very quick. Mercedes has been very quick. And George has done a great job coming into qualifying. So you would say on paper they're a bit more comfortable with where they are.

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McLaren's Lando Norris was slightly disappointed not to have got pole but is nonetheless optimistic for Sunday's race

"From the first run that they've been pretty much at the top of the timesheets and we necessarily haven't. And we've kind of progressed through the weekend a little bit more.

"But Sunday is always a day we've performed very well, like I said, over the last couple of months. So if we can do the same again, then I'm excited to see what race we can put on."

All eyes will be on the trio in front of Piastri, but if McLaren opt to split their strategies that could play into the hands of the Australian, who is in search of his first grand prix victory.

"I think having both McLarens at the front, it's a really good thing," Piastri told Sky Sports F1. "In a session like that where it's so easy to have a bit of a shocker, it's really good for the team to both be there.

"Even for Red Bull, they've got one car right at the front and one right at the back."

Sky Sports F1's live Canadian GP schedule

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A look back at some of the most dramatic moments from the Canadian Grand Prix

Sunday June 9
5.30pm: Grand Prix Sunday - Canadian GP build-up
9pm: Chequered Flag - Canadian GP reaction
10pm: Ted's Notebook

Formula 1 is on Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix and you can watch every session at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve this weekend live on Sky Sports F1, with Sunday's race at 7pm. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - No contract, cancel anytime

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