Clearly fastest in the rain-affected qualifying session on Saturday and with both Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc far out of position down the grid, Verstappen appeared to be sitting pretty for a comfortable victory on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. But it turned out much tighter than that thanks to a combination of strategy choices and a strong effort from Sainz, who really needed a decent showing in the wake of recent difficulties.
The trigger for what was a much better race for the win than expected was Verstappen’s early pitstop on lap nine under the Virtual Safety Car, as Perez’s miserable weekend came to an early finish thanks to a suspected transmission problem (he’d crashed out of qualifying in Q2 and only started in 13th). Lewis Hamilton was the only other frontrunner to pit for hard-compound Pirellis, a move that effectively committed both Verstappen and the Mercedes to two-stop strategies when it was thought at this stage only one might be needed.
Sainz pitted for his own set of hard tyres on lap 20 as a second VSC was triggered when Mick Schumacher was forced to stop his Haas, lifting Verstappen back into the lead. But when the Dutchman made his inevitable second stop, bolting on another set of hards on lap 43, the race was set for an intriguing final third. Verstappen had to attack on tyres that were 24 laps younger than Sainz’s, with 27 laps to close a gap of just over nine seconds and pull off a pass to win. Would he have managed it? Probably – but Verstappen admitted it was far from a foregone conclusion. Then again, on this circuit there was always a chance of another race-interrupting incident, and sure enough the game was reset a few laps later.