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Graham Read
Formula 1 Correspondent
6:43 AM 10th June 2024
sports

Verstappen Battles To Victory In Canada

 
Despite the need to head west across the Atlantic for the second time in just over a month, Montreal is always a highly popular destination on the Formula 1 calendar, and, following this year’s rain-impacted Canadian Grand Prix, it was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who was presented with the hard-earned winner’s trophy on the post-race podium.

Max Verstappen prepares to go to work in Montreal
Max Verstappen prepares to go to work in Montreal
On the news front, two further pieces in the F1 driver market jigsaw have fallen into place. Last Tuesday, Red Bull announced that it had extended the contract of 34-year-old Sergio Pérez for a further two years. The Mexican arrived to partner Max Verstappen back in 2021 and is now set to remain with the Milton Keynes-based outfit until at least the end of the 2026 season. On the plus side, the news represents an element of ongoing stability for the team, but it has surprised many, including yours truly, as Pérez’s form has tended to fluctuate significantly over the last few seasons. The other news arrived on Saturday evening when it was revealed that the Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda would remain with the sister RB outfit in 2025 for a fifth consecutive season. However, his teammate Daniel Ricciardo's future is far less certain, with highly talented reserve driver Liam Lawson from New Zealand patiently waiting in the wings for his chance to shine with a full-time race drive.

2024 Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix

1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1hr45m47.927s
2 Lando Norris (McLaren) +3.879s
3 George Russell (Mercedes) +4.317s
4 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +4.915s
5 Oscar Piastri (McLaren) +10.199s
6 Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +17.510s
7 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +23.625s
8 Daniel Ricciardo (RB) +28.672s
9 Pierre Gasly (Alpine) +30.021s
10 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +30.313s
11 Nico Hülkenberg (Haas) +30.824s
12 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +31.253s
13 Valtteri Bottas (Sauber) +40.497s
14 Yuki Tsunoda (RB) +52.694s
15 Zhou Guanyu (Sauber) Lapped
16 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) Retired
17 Alex Albon (Williams) Retired
18 Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) Retired
19 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) Retired
20 Logan Sargeant (Williams) Retired
Elsewhere, the future of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who is being forced to leave the team at the end of this season to make way for the incoming Sir Lewis Hamilton, still seems to revolve around a move to either Sauber/Audi or Williams. The Spaniard confirmed in the Montreal paddock that a move to Red Bull or Mercedes isn’t going to happen, but he has not signed a contract with anyone else, adding that he’s flattered by both Sauber/Audi and Williams very much wanting him. There's also a real chance that Mercedes' teenage prodigy, Andrea Kimi Antonelli, could replace Williams' Logan Sargeant mid-season, giving the 17-year-old Italian some initial F1 racing experience with Williams before potentially making his debut for Mercedes alongside George Russell from next year.

Last Monday, the Alpine team and Esteban Ocon revealed that they would be parting company at the end of this season after a five-year stint there for the French driver, starting when the outfit used to be known as Renault. Ocon had incensed team principal Bruno Famin a fortnight ago after a clumsy attempt to pass his teammate Pierre Gasly at Portier on the opening lap of the Monaco Grand Prix, but Ocon's departure is the result of an ongoing series of issues, not just the Monaco incident. It seems likely that Pierre Gasly will be retained by Alpine for next season, and the other seat might be filled by its young Australian reserve driver, Jack Doohan, who ran in Friday’s opening free practice session in Canada, replacing Ocon. Another possibility, though, is Alpine’s World Endurance Championship pedaller, Mick Schumacher, who raced in Formula 1 for Haas in 2022/23 and who has been in discussions with the Alpine team principal about a possible F1 return. As for Ocon, Haas could be his new Formula 1 home in 2025, and his teammate there is likely to be the current Ferrari reserve driver, Oliver Bearman. Alternatively, Ocon could be attracted to a move to Sauber/Audi if Sainz decides to turn them down.

Strong rumours suggest that Renault CEO Luca De Meo may offer the 74-year-old Italian Flavia Briatore a special advisor role with the Alpine team. Of course, Briatore has a chequered history within the sport. An illegal traction control system was found on his Benetton cars back in the 1990s, but the team was not penalised because it could not be legally proven that it had been used. Then there was the fixing of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix race result involving his Renault team, with Nelson Piquet Jr. being instructed to deliberately crash on lap 14, causing a Safety Car period, which helped teammate Fernando Alonso to win. Briatore was subsequently found guilty and banned from world motorsport before being overturned in 2013. Since then, he’s been a regular visitor to the F1 paddock, including in Monaco two weeks ago, and has long been and still is Alonso’s manager.

McLaren’s Lando Norris had to settle for second place
McLaren’s Lando Norris had to settle for second place
At the start of the Montreal weekend, the FIA governing body revealed its thoughts about the new 2026 F1 cars, which will feature an increased element of electrical power and decreased drag and downforce, but crucially higher top speeds. The aim is to increase the ability for close racing and overtaking, which everyone naturally wants, but the by-product of higher mph figures on the straights has led current driver Russell, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, to raise his own concerns and those of others about the related safety implications. In short, the proposed new cars, as currently planned, may be too slow through corners and too fast in a straight line. Still, there’s time for such concerns to be resolved after meaningful discussions well before the start of the 2026 season.

In the end, it was Hamilton who went fastest ahead of Verstappen and Russell, but the following qualifying hour was where it would all start to really matter
Turning to the ontrack action, it had been due to begin at 13.30 local time on Friday with the opening free practice hour, but hail and heavy rain made the track unsafe for any running, and so, although the timing clock for the session started ticking down on time, the pit lane exit remained firmly closed as circuit staff sought to clear the standing water. The cars were allowed onto the circuit 21 minutes late, and there was then a red flag stoppage after China’s Zhou Guanyu had lost control of his Sauber at Turn 5 and crashed into the barriers. Ultimately, at the end of the curtailed session, it was McLaren’s Lando Norris who topped the timing screens ahead of the Ferraris of Sainz and Charles Leclerc.

It was raining again as Friday’s subsequent second practice period began, and the intermittent precipitation continued to make its presence felt as the drivers battled on, using both intermediate wet weather tyres and the slick dry condition alternatives. An ERS (Energy Recovery System) fault forced Verstappen to retire his smoking Red Bull from the session for repairs after just four laps, while more wind and rain led Aston Martin's Alonso and Lance Stroll to post the fastest and third quickest times, respectively, sandwiching Russell. The good news was that the drivers had the opportunity to experience the newly resurfaced circuit in variable conditions due to the highly variable weather forecast for the rest of the weekend.

Two weeks ago, Leclerc and Sainz had finished first and third in the Monaco Grand Prix, but surprisingly and somewhat embarrassingly, here in Canada, both Ferrari drivers were eliminated in Q2.
Yesterday, the action began with the third and final practice session, and everyone enjoyed the first fully dry running of the weekend, although Zhou caused further red flags. In the end, it was Hamilton who went fastest ahead of Verstappen and Russell, but the following qualifying hour was where it would all start to really matter. The latter was set to follow its usual two-stage elimination process, followed by the top ten shootouts, and, as its start neared, dark clouds formed overhead and the wind speed picked up, with rain expected at some stage.

What a contrast we had within the Red Bull team following the first part of qualifying, with Verstappen fastest but his teammate Pérez knocked out at the first hurdle, prompting an X-rated response from the Mexican over team radio and leaving many again questioning his new two-year contract extension. Two weeks ago, Leclerc and Sainz had finished first and third in the Monaco Grand Prix, but surprisingly and somewhat embarrassingly, here in Canada, both Ferrari drivers were eliminated in Q2. Fortunately, the threatened rain stayed away, and, following the top ten shootout, both Russell and Verstappen went fastest, incredibly setting exactly the same lap time to one thousandth of a second. The highly likeable British driver took pole position, though, after setting his time first. McLaren’s Norris and Oscar Piastri claimed the second row on the grid for the Grand Prix, while Russell’s teammate Hamilton was only seventh quickest, meaning Russell has outqualified the 39-year-old multiple champion on eight out of nine occasions this year. Such a pattern has understandably raised questions about Ferrari's decision to make Hamilton their big money signing for next season rather than targeting a younger charger like Verstappen or Russell or even retaining Sainz.

George Russell started on pole before finishing third
George Russell started on pole before finishing third
Heavy rain fell as the start of the race neared, and, after those famous red lights had been extinguished, the top four on the grid maintained station before the rain intensified. This played into the hands of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg, who, unlike all the other drivers on intermediate tyres, had started on full wet rubber, and the related performance advantage enabled them to scythe through the field from their relatively low grid positions. However, as the rain stopped, their advantage became a disadvantage, and, as a dry racing line started to emerge, intermediates were the tyres to be on.

Then Pérez’s difficult weekend went from bad to worse as he backed his Red Bull into the Turn 6 barriers, and retirement beckoned.
On lap 20, Norris swept past Verstappen into second place after executing a DRS-assisted pass approaching the final chicane, and just one tour later, he repeated the process to take the lead from Russell at the same place. The latter then had an off-track excursion and dropped to third behind Verstappen. After Norris had pulled four seconds clear of Verstappen and Russell, his impressive progress was halted by a Safety Car intervention after Sargeant had spun his Williams into the Turn 4 wall on lap 25. All the leading drivers bar Norris quickly took advantage of a “cheap” pitstop for more intermediate rubber, and, after Norris had subsequently done likewise, he rejoined the action in third place behind Verstappen and Russell.

More heavy rain was to follow before it eased and a dry line started to re-emerge. Leclerc’s race was about to end, though, as Ferrari told him to retire the car following engine woes. Second stops followed for Verstappen and Russell before Norris again followed suit, and, as the order out front settled, Verstappen led from Russell and Norris. However, a mistake by Russell at Turn 8 allowed Norris back into second place. Then Pérez’s difficult weekend went from bad to worse as he backed his Red Bull into the Turn 6 barriers, and retirement beckoned. Sainz spun his Ferrari at Turn 7, and Williams' Alex Albon failed to avoid making contact, leading to the retirement of both cars and a second Safety Car period, during which Russell's further stop dropped him to fourth behind Piastri.

The action wasn’t over though, as a recovering Russell swept past Piastri to fourth and claimed the final podium position from Hamilton with two laps remaining.
After racing had resumed, Russell and Piastri made contact at the final chicane, and Hamilton passed his teammate into fourth position before usurping Piastri for third, setting the fastest lap. The action wasn’t over though, as a recovering Russell swept past Piastri to fourth and claimed the final podium position from Hamilton with two laps remaining. So, at the chequered flag, the top trio were Verstappen, Norris and Russell, with Hamilton, Piastri and Alonso completing the leading sextet. Verstappen’s victory celebrations are often fairly muted affairs, but not on this occasion, as the delighted reigning champion celebrated his hard-fought win with his team.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was forced into retirement, and his teammate crashed out
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was forced into retirement, and his teammate crashed out
Formula 1 is a truly global sport, and now it’s time to return east across the Atlantic to its European heartland. This year's Spanish Grand Prix, which will take place just north of Barcelona just a fortnight after the Canadian round, will be the first of three race weekends in a two-week period. This will present a logistical challenge for all the teams, officials, and media, as they must swiftly relocate everything that makes up the Formula 1 paddock and the running of a Grand Prix from Spain to Austria's Red Bull Ring and then onwards to Silverstone in the UK. Throw in the third Sprint race of the year in Austria too, and an exciting, if busy, time lies ahead.



2024 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship

1 Max Verstappen 194
2 Charles Leclerc 138
3 Lando Norris 131


2024 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship

1 Red Bull 301
2 Ferrari 252
3 McLaren 212