Verstappen holds off Norris to win dramatic wet/dry Canadian GP

Max Verstappen and Red Bull bounced back from their Monaco struggles as they returned to winning ways in an action-packed Canadian Grand Prix, overcoming rain showers, multiple Safety Car periods, restarts and a stern challenge from behind to lead home Lando Norris.

Verstappen followed pole-sitting Mercedes driver George Russell in the wet early stages of the race until a charging Norris overhauled them both in improving conditions, only for an ill-timed Safety Car – brought out when Logan Sargeant crashed – to drop the McLaren man to third.

Verstappen mastered that restart and further showers to maintain his lead, which he also protected when the track dried up and the field switched from intermediate tyres to slicks, and again following a second Safety Car period triggered by Carlos Sainz and Alex Albon colliding.

While the reigning world champion ultimately surged towards the chequered flag, Norris took second via a fierce mid-race battle with Russell, and the latter made do with third after some late scrapping with team mate Lewis Hamilton and the other McLaren of Oscar Piastri.

Russell and Hamilton, who had both pitted for fresh slick tyres under the second Safety Car period, raised heart rates on the Mercedes pit wall when they went wheel-to-wheel on several occasions – the younger Briton making the decisive move for P3 on the penultimate lap.

Behind the top five finishers, Fernando Alonso and home favourite Lance Stroll collected a double points finish for Aston Martin, while Daniel Ricciardo followed up a strong qualifying performance to log his first Grand Prix points of the season in eighth.

Ricciardo’s team mate, Yuki Tsunoda, had been in contention for points as well, but a mistake in the closing stages saw him slide across the grass and tumble down the order, promoting Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, who also gave Alpine a double top-10 result.

Haas duo Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen initially flew up the order as the only drivers to start the race on wet tyres, rather than intermediates, but just missed out on a reward as they crossed the line in 11th and 12th respectively.

Tsunoda wound up 14th after his costly error, between Kick Sauber pair Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, with only 15 of the 20 cars reaching the finish in what turned out to be one of the most dramatic races of the 2024 season so far.

Russell leads the pack off the sodden grid.

Sainz and Albon, who were in the hunt for points, both retired after their coming together, while persistent power unit issues also forced Charles Leclerc into retirement and meant Ferrari failed to score a single point after their Monaco triumph.

In addition to the aforementioned Sargeant, Sergio Perez was the fifth and final retiree after he spun off the track and damaged his rear wing, forcing the Mexican back to the pits and adding to the misery of that Q1 exit in qualifying.

When the podium finishers arrived in parc ferme, Perez’s race-winning team mate Verstappen punched the air in delight as he boosted his championship lead from 31 points to 56 – taking full advantage of Leclerc and Ferrari’s woes.

A weekend of mixed weather conditions made for an unpredictable and dramatic qualifying session at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, with Perez dropping out in Q1, Ferrari losing both of their cars in Q2 and Russell brilliantly beating Verstappen to pole via identical lap times.

As the paddock reassembled on Sunday morning another round of heavy rain soaked the venue and, although that eased and conditions showed signs of improving just over an hour before the 1400 local scheduled start time, the resurfaced track was still covered in water.

Further drizzle ensured that intermediates and wets were used on the laps to the grid, which featured plenty of drifting, with Ocon lining up at the very back thanks to his penalty from Monaco and Bottas and Zhou moving to the pit lane after Kick Sauber changed their rear wings.

When the tyre blankets came off, with more dark clouds looming and spits of rain falling, it was revealed that most drivers had the intermediate tyres fitted for the start, with Haas the only team to play it differently by giving Magnussen and Hulkenberg the wets.

As the action got under way, pole-sitter Russell made a clean enough start to retain his lead over Verstappen into the first corner, followed closely by McLaren pair Norris and Piastri, while Alonso and Hamilton got the jump on fifth-placed qualifier Ricciardo.

The wet-tyre call appeared to be paying off at Haas, with Magnussen working his way up to eighth position, ahead of home favourite Stroll, who was almost collected by Leclerc at the final chicane when the Monegasque misjudged his braking point and took to the run-off.

Then, as forecast, another band of rain arrived, giving the Haas drivers even more of an advantage as Magnussen dispatched Ricciardo, Hamilton and Alonso in quick succession to run a high-flying fifth, and Hulkenberg worked his way into the points – just behind Stroll.

Leclerc suffered a power unit issue before retiring.

“This level of rain is the worst we expect,” was the message to leader Russell at this point, with the Mercedes man leading Verstappen by a couple of seconds, while Magnussen’s charge continued and he stormed up to the rear of Norris and Piastri’s McLarens.

Lapping more than a second faster than the cars ahead, Magnussen soon cleared Piastri for P4, while team mate Hulkenberg passed Stroll and Ricciardo to work his way up to eighth, giving those that made the alternate call in the Haas camp plenty to smile about.

Further back, Ferrari drivers Leclerc and Sainz remained in the midfield and out of the points, with matters getting worse for the Monaco Grand Prix winner when his engineer reported “we are seeing something strange engine side” and that the team were “looking into it”.

Just as Magnussen looked set to challenge Norris, the rain eased again and blue sky broke through the clouds, soon shifting the track conditions back towards intermediates and prompting the Dane to pit for the green-marked rubber on Lap 8 – albeit the mechanics not ready for him.

As the grip level continuously changed, Sargeant had a moment at Turn 6 and slid towards the barriers on the outside of the track, while Alonso had a couple of moments at the final chicane and exiting Turn 1, and Hamilton ran too deep at Turn 1 and went over the grass.

When replays from the opening lap came in, contact in the rear-of-the-field bottleneck between Perez and Gasly was confirmed through Turn 2, leaving both drivers with some damaged bodywork, while the stewards also noted a potential false start from Ricciardo.

“Impossible to overtake with this issue, to be honest,” reported Leclerc in a series of frustrated radio messages to the Ferrari pit wall, as his engine woes seemingly refused to budge, though he had at least climbed to 10th and the final points-paying position at this stage.

At the front, Russell was still leading the way as conditions steadily improved, but Verstappen has brought his lead down to 1.2 seconds as the lap chart hit double figures, with Norris some six seconds back in third and Piastri a similar margin adrift of his team mate.

With Hulkenberg still on the wet tyres and a dry line starting to appear, Ricciardo stormed past the Haas into the final chicane to take P7, only to be given a five-second time penalty moments later for that false start. Hulkenberg then decided that enough was enough and pitted to take on some intermediates.

“Expecting another rain shower 20 minutes from now,” came the next message to race leader Russell, as he dealt with more and more pressure from Verstappen. “Tell me what you’d like me to do then… These tyres are going to wear very quickly,” he replied.

Verstappen follows the safety car.

On Lap 15, Verstappen was all over the back of Russell’s car as both drivers hunted for wet patches to nurse their intermediate tyres, with Norris also lighting up the timesheets and slashing the gap to the leaders. But would the track dry up enough for slicks before any further rain?

A couple of laps later, Verstappen took to the grass at Turn 1 and clattered over the kerbs as he rejoined the track, only just staying ahead of Norris, who hounded the Red Bull over the next few tours – benefitting from the introduction of the DRS overtaking aid being enabled.

By the end of Lap 20, Verstappen had his mirrors full and could do nothing to stop Norris from completing a DRS-assisted move down the back straight. A lap later, having charged up to the back of Russell’s car, Norris expertly completed the same move for the lead.

Russell went straight on at the final chicane following Norris’ pass and, when he rejoined the track, Verstappen darted to the left to avoid the Mercedes driver and pass him for second – an incident that the stewards promptly noted they would be looking into.

Norris pumped in a series of fastest laps in clean air to surge clear of Verstappen, while Russell soon fell into the clutches of Piastri. But then came a potentially race-changing moment of drama when Sargeant spun exiting the Turn 3/4 chicane to trigger double yellow flags and then a Safety Car.

Verstappen, Russell, Piastri, Alonso and Hamilton were the front-runners who immediately pitted, all putting on more intermediates, but Norris – having phenomenally built up a 10-second advantage – appeared to miss the opportunity and had to complete another lap.

As drivers filtered back out on track after their stops, with only Tsunoda, Ocon and Bottas opting against a change of tyres, Verstappen and Russell benefitted to reclaim P1 and P2 over Norris. “What goes around, comes around. That’s Miami back,” was the radio message to Verstappen.

Just before the Safety Car peeled in at the end of Lap 29, Leclerc pitted again to take a gamble and put on a set of slick tyres, feeling he had nothing to lose amid his power unit complaints – even though another band of rain was ominously showing on the radar.

Verstappen mastered the restart to keep his lead over Russell into Turn 1, with Norris holding third from Piastri, Hamilton, Alonso, Tsunoda and Stroll, while Albon completed a sneaky double move on Ricciardo and Ocon into the final chicane to get himself up to ninth.

“Just keep the car on track,” Leclerc was told, before that downpour arrived and forced him back to the pits for intermediates. It was not going much better for team mate Sainz, who picked up some front wing damage in the midfield scrapping, leaving Ferrari with a lot of work to do to salvage even a point.

Esteban Ocon rose from last to finish P10.

As the race settled back down, and the stewards checked an incident between Sainz, Bottas and Ricciardo at the restart that seemingly caused the Spaniard’s damage, Verstappen led Russell by just over a second, with drivers already taking to damper patches of the track to keep their intermediates in check.

Norris again lit up the timesheets in the tricky, mixed conditions, lapping more than a second faster than Russell and Verstappen ahead, setting up the prospect of another thrilling, three-way scrap for the lead – Piastri and Hamilton doing their best to join it in P4 and P5.

On Lap 40, Russell radioed his team to comment that every corner bar Turns 1 and 2 had now dried up, and while the leaders bided their time, Gasly decided it was the time to move back to slicks – rival teams no doubt watching his sector time intently.

Undoing some of his rapid lap times, Norris locked up and ran wide at Turn 1, allowing Piastri to close up on his team mate and have a sniff at third place. “I lost a lot of time from Norris, avoiding action. One-and-a-half seconds,” reported Russell afterwards.

Gasly’s move to hard tyres triggered a wave of stops over the next few laps, with Hamilton, Ricciardo, Sainz, Perez, Bottas and Magnussen all responding and putting on mediums. Leclerc also pitted, but only to join Sargeant in retirement as his issues persisted.

Piastri (mediums), Alonso (hards), Tsunoda (mediums), Stroll (hards), Ocon (mediums), Albon (mediums), Hulkenberg (mediums) and Zhou (mediums) were next up, with top-three runners Verstappen, Russell and Norris all staying out for another lap.

The next time around, Verstappen and Russell joined the majority of the field on slicks as they switched to medium and hard rubber respectively, but Norris ploughed on up front for a couple more tours – continuing to set competitive times on his intermediates.

Norris finally pitted at the end of Lap 47, taking on mediums and coming back out side-by-side with Verstappen, who pounced with his warmer tyres. Russell and Piastri then piled on the pressure, with the former capitalising on a mistake from Norris at the hairpin a tour later to breeze past with DRS along the back straight.

Russell then made a mistake of his own through the Turn 3/4 chicane to allow Norris back through for second, repeating his “holy moly” moment from qualifying and prompting a sweary radio message. “Focus George, focus,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff in response.

While Verstappen brought his lead over the five-second mark as Norris and Russell squabbled, team mate Perez lost control of his car under braking for Turn 6 and slid rearwards into the barriers, forcing him back to the pits to join Leclerc and Sargeant in retirement.

Verstappen celebrates a hard earned win.

There was even more drama to follow when Sainz and Albon – who had been pushing for points – came together at Turn 7 in unusual circumstances. Replays showed Sainz spinning at the exit of the corner and, despite his best efforts, Albon’s Williams collected the Ferrari.

With the Safety Car deployed again, Russell and Hamilton both opted to pit for medium tyres, meaning they slotted behind Verstappen, Norris and Piastri at the restart, as Alonso, Stroll, Tsunoda, Ocon and Ricciardo occupied the final points places.

While Verstappen and Norris edged clear, there was a frenetic run to the finish for Piastri, Russell and Hamilton, who fought hard over the final podium spot and came close to taking each other out of proceedings.

Firstly, Russell and Piastri banged wheels into the last chicane on Lap 64, an incident the stewards are looking into and one that dropped the Mercedes driver behind team mate Hamilton. Then, the seven-time world champion cleared Piastri at the same spot two laps later to put himself third.

It did not stop there, though, with Russell managing to find a way past Piastri on Lap 67, before storming up to the rear of Hamilton’s car and, amid “keep it clean” radio messages from the Mercedes pit wall, snatching third away on the penultimate tour.

In the meantime, Tsunoda lost control of his car at the Turn 8/9 chicane and slid over the grass, with rival cars somehow avoiding him. While he got the car pointing in the right direction again, the recently re-signed RB racer was well out of points contention.

Verstappen kept it clean across his final lap to record victory number six from nine races so far this season, followed by Norris in second and Russell in third. Hamilton was fourth, ahead of Piastri and the Aston Martins, with Ricciardo and the Alpines completing the points.

Haas just missed out on points in P11 and P12, as Tsunoda rued the consequences of his mistake in P13 between Kick Sauber pair Bottas and Zhou. Following their incidents, Sainz, Albon, Perez, Leclerc and Sargeant all watched the finish from the sidelines.

The next stop on the 2024 F1 calendar will be the Spanish Grand Prix, with the paddock heading back to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya over the weekend of June 21-23.

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