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MONTREAL — Their faces are splashed across billboards in Montreal as the two Canadians to cheer on this week at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
It should be a celebratory week for Canada's two Formula One drivers Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi, as the Montreal Grand Prix makes its triumphant return — finally — after the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of the race in both 2020 and 2021.
"It's incredible," Stroll said on his first chance to race at home in three years. "I definitely feel it every time I come back to Montreal, it's always special to see the Canadian flags in the grandstands and the hometown cheering you on, it's an incredible feeling. It's energetic and it definitely makes it even more special when you get a good result here, it's even more special celebrating it in Montreal."
Latifi said it's nice to have two Canadians in F1, "because it's something great for the sport, in Canada in general, and especially now that we finally returned after a few years."
But both Canadians are having tough seasons. Stroll's best results were back-to-back 10th place finishes in Rome and Miami, but he crashed twice within two laps in a disastrous qualifying session last week in Baku, Azerbaijan, en route to finishing 16th.
Latifi, who is making his Montreal debut, was a season-high 14th in Miami, and there are rumours he won't keep his seat with Williams after this season. He picked up two time penalties last week in Baku and finished 15th.
Part of the inconsistency is around rule changes for this season. And they're certainly not the only two drivers reeling amid the changes.
On Thursday, Formula One's governing body said it's taking steps to reduce the bouncing effect that cars have struggled with this season after several drivers, including seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, complained about the aerodynamic issue that causes their vehicles to hop on the track.
The FIA said in a statement that it has decided to "intervene following consultation with its doctors in the interests of safety of the drivers' after the problem persisted eight races into the season."
Moving to "ground effect," where the floor generates aerodynamic grip, for this season was meant to tighten the competition between the teams. However, several teams and especially Mercedes have struggled with cars that bounce up and down at high speed — known as "porpoising" — or bottom out and bang against the track surface.
The 23-year-old Stroll said the rule changes have made for "a very different (Aston Martin) car this season from previous years.
"We're learning every weekend, how to set up the car," Stroll said, speaking over the torrential downpour that pummeled the Aston Martin paddock tent. "From a driving style side of things, it's definitely been different, they're a lot stiffer the way they behave, they're a lot heavier as well. So, just setting up the car and adjusting the driving style has been our focus point this first part of the season.
"But everyone is in the same boat, it's definitely been a transformation for a lot of drivers and the teams, just how to set up the car and drive the cars, but we definitely are learning every weekend, and we have some good ideas going forward."
Aston Martin's team leader Mike Krack said he supported the FIA's direction.
"Because it's a matter of … drivers safety," Krack said. "And if there are serious issues like that, we have to be supportive of the FIA, in these conditions. It's not about who has an advantage or who has a disadvantage.
"We have never exceeded any level that the driver was not happy with, because at the end of the day, they have to drive two hours," he added.
The FIA said in a sport where competitors are driving at speeds of over 300 kilometres an hour, all of the driver's concentration needs to be focused on driving.
"Excessive fatigue or pain experienced by a driver could have significant consequences should it result in a loss of concentration," the statement said.
Hamilton suffered severe back pains in Azerbaijan, climbing out of his Mercedes gingerly after finishing fourth.
Latifi, a 26-year-old who was born in Montreal but grew up in Toronto, said degenerative spine issues are already common in auto racing, with the G forces drivers face year over year.
Every team, he said, is struggling this season with finding a balance between punishing ride heights and performance.
"So some cars, maybe it's the difference between a few millimetres to get rid of it, and maybe they don't lose a lot of performance. Other cars, maybe they really have to make an aggressive change, and then it's too much of a negative on the performance," he said.
He believes Williams "has found a balanced middle ground."
While Canadian fans will be keeping a keen eye on both Latifi and Stroll this week, Latifi said their passports don't mean there's a rivalry between the two.
"From an advertising perspective, it makes sense, obviously, we're the two Canadian faces," he said. "Maybe to the fan, who is maybe not as much of an avid motorsport Formula One fan, they might say, 'Okay, this Canadian is going to beat the other Canadian.' (But) Lance has been a faster racer in faster cars in my three years of being in Formula One.
"So, I've never really thought about it like that."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press