GRR

2024 Canadian Grand Prix | 8 talking points

09th June 2024
Damien Smith

A three-team battle for victory in a classic wet-dry race that featured a ton of incidents, plenty of errors, and moments of brilliance? Yes, after the monotony of Monaco, the Canadian Grand Prix was just what Formula 1 needed.

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Verstappen’s cool head

That Max Verstappen took his sixth victory from nine races is a testament to the high level he operates at rather than the usual story of a Red Bull performance advantage. In Montréal, the RB20 found itself pegged back by McLaren and on this occasion a revived Mercedes, both of which appeared quicker during spells of the race. But Verstappen kept a cool head and made fewer mistakes than his rivals, and that won him his 60th career victory. Charles Leclerc’s Montréal nightmare and failure to score any points opens the gap to Verstappen from a tantalising 31 points to a substantial 56. The opposition is closing on Red Bull, no doubt. But Verstappen is making the difference.

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Narrow margins for Norris

Lando Norris finished a fine second for McLaren, but knew a second F1 victory had slipped through his fingers. He drove brilliantly, make no mistake – but there were key errors, too that contributed to the final outcome.

Norris ran third from the wet start, but once the track began to dry and DRS was enabled, he closed in and passed Verstappen down the back straight. Then, he repeated the move a lap later on leader George Russell. Four laps subsequently, Logan Sargeant crashed his Williams, triggering the first of the race’s two safety car interruptions. As most piled into the pits for fresh intermediate tyres, Norris stayed out an extra lap. That dropped him back to third, with Verstappen now leading for the first time having capitalised on Russell’s first mistake of the day, when he’d cut the chicane after Norris had passed. Payback for the safety car playing against Max and for Lando in Miami? That’s how Verstappen’s engineer Gianpiero Lambiase described it.

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The expected rain briefly returned, before the track began to dry once more (it was one of those days – perfect for unpredictable motor racing). Norris blotted his copybook with a brief off at Turn 1, but returned to the track still third and just ahead of team-mate Oscar Piastri. He then inherited the lead when both Verstappen and Russell pitted for slicks, hammering out an advantage to create an overcut. That ploy only just failed. When Norris pitted two laps later than his rivals he returned to the circuit alongside Verstappen. But, on the wet side of the track and with the world champion’s medium Pirellis in full working order the lead – and perhaps the win – slipped away.

Russell came through after Norris ran a little wide at the hairpin, but his old friend gifted back second place with his own mistake at the Turn 4 chicane. The second safety car, after Carlos Sainz spun and Alex Albon’s Williams couldn’t avoid clipping the Ferrari, set up a five-way chase to the flag, Verstappen leading Norris, Piastri, Russell, and Lewis Hamilton. But Verstappen cooly took control when racing resumed and if anything, Norris had to be more concerned about those chasing him than challenging for the lead. Still a strong second, but there was a wince mixed with that familiar Norris smile.

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Russell’s “missed opportunity”

The look on his face and body language after stepping from the car said it all. Russell was kicking himself for what he viewed as a “missed opportunity” in Montréal. Although, the bigger picture was much more positive. He’d sensationally taken his second F1 pole position even though Verstappen had equalled his time on Saturday, then contended for the win in what marked a huge turnaround in Mercedes form.

Still, you could understand Russell’s frustration. The chicane cut when Norris passed him early on and allowed Verstappen to demote him too, the mistake that allowed the McLaren back past on lap 51 after he’d just taken back second place, and finally a clumsy attempt on Piastri at the final chicane that led to contact and briefly pushed him down behind Hamilton - it all contributed to Russell ‘only’ finishing third, for what was still Mercedes’ first grand prix podium of the season. A good recovery that took him past both Piastri and Hamilton deserves credit, but in a difficult, hard-fought race in tough conditions, Russell had probably made at least one too many errors. But is Mercedes really back, or was this just a one-off? That’s perhaps the biggest question left lingering ahead of the return to Europe for the Spanish GP.

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Hamilton also unhappy

He’d come from seventh to beat Piastri to fourth, but Hamilton was still unhappy with his race performance. The seven-time champion engaged in a spirited chase of Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin in the early stages, then left the green car for dead after jumping the Spaniard in the pitstops. Later on, he found himself ahead of Russell after his team-mate’s mistake trying to pass Piastri, then passed the Aussie’s McLaren to rise to third. But he had no answer to Russell when he challenged three laps from the flag, the pair coming mighty close to contact down at the final chicane. In the past, this was the sort of race where Hamilton would have put himself bang in the mix for victory. But this time the 39-year-old just lacked that crucial edge to pull himself into contention.

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Aston Martin a clear fourth best

Behind Piastri, Alonso and home race team-mate Lance Stroll had a relatively quiet run to a six-seven finish, on a day that marked an upturn in Aston Martin form. Neither had a hope of mixing it with Verstappen’s Red Bull or the McLarens and Mercedes. But they were also well clear of the rest, and with Ferrari suffering its strange slump, that made the Silverstone team a clear fourth best. Nothing to get too excited about, but respectable in the midst of what has been a difficult period for the team.

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Ricciardo answers his critics

Yes, the Haas drivers put on an enjoyable cameo starting on wet tyres to briefly rise up the order. But the biggest winner from the second half of the field in Canada had to be Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian had been on the receiving end of stinging criticism from 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve, who in his TV punditry role over the weekend questioned why Ricciardo was still on the grid. But having qualified a fine fifth, the RB driver then survived the midfield cut and thrust to bring his car home eighth, ahead of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, who scored a useful double points haul for troubled Alpine. But this was just what Ricciardo needed in the circumstances, on a day when his impressive team-mate Yuki Tsunoda dropped his car at the chicane.

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One to forget for Ferrari

The double DNF for Leclerc and Sainz ended a miserable weekend for Ferrari. After Leclerc’s Monaco victory, the team just couldn’t hook up the red cars in Montréal and neither made the cut for Q3 on Saturday. Leclerc was troubled by an engine problem and eventually retired to the pits, while Sainz lost his Ferrari and ended the race of possibly his future team-mate, Albon. Just a one-off aberration? Ferrari will hope so.

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And where was Pérez?

Final word this week to Sergio Pérez – who was awful in Montréal. A sorry 16th on the grid, he got caught up in a Turn 2 clash, drove anonymously out of the points, then broke his rear wing after spinning into a barrier. A great way to mark his new deal that on paper might will keep him at Red Bull until 2026. It’s something of an understatement to say he’s a lucky man to have landed such a contract.

 

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images. 

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