Verstappen wins Canadian GP as Red Bull claim 100th victory

Max Verstappen made it six victories from eight races in 2023 with a dominant display during Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix, leading home the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, as Red Bull maintained their 100% winning record for the season so far.

Verstappen’s lights-to-flag triumph also gave Red Bull their 100th victory in the sport, 18 years on from the team’s debut, while the Dutchman made more history by drawing level with the legendary Ayrton Senna on 41 wins – extending his championship lead in the process.

Alonso and Hamilton traded places on multiple occasions throughout the race, Hamilton getting the jump at the start but falling back behind when the strategies unfolded, meaning it was the Spaniard who finished runner-up to the record-setting Verstappen.

George Russell missed out on a potential podium fight in the other Mercedes after an early crash caused major damage to his car and dropped him to the foot of the order, with the resulting Safety Car leading to different strategic approaches.

Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were two of only five drivers – along with Red Bull’s Perez, Haas man Kevin Magnussen and Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas – to stay out under the Safety Car, giving them track position that they converted into P4 and P5 respectively.

Perez took a lonely sixth, and the fastest lap bonus point, as he did his best to limit the damage after a third successive compromised qualifying session, while Albon made the most of his top 10 starting spot – and a well-timed single stop under the Safety Car – to give Williams a much-welcomed haul of points in seventh.

Albon had to fend off a train of cars in the closing stages of the race that included Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, McLaren’s Lando Norris, the aforementioned Bottas and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, benefitting from the upgraded FW45’s strong straight-line speed.

Norris would lose his points finish after the chequered flag, though, having been given a five-second penalty for “unsportsmanlike conduct” behind the Safety Car, the McLaren man accused of backing up the pack to clear the way for a McLaren ‘double-stack’ in the pits.

That meant Norris dropped to P13, behind team mate Oscar Piastri and the other Alpine of Pierre Gasly, with the final points of the day going to Stroll and Bottas – the Canadian managing to pass the Finn late on to gain an extra place.

Verstappen leads into turn one as Hamilton jumps Alonso.

Having dropped from second to fifth on the grid due to his red flag breach in qualifying, Nico Hulkenberg experienced an anonymous afternoon en route to 15th, behind the lead AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda, with Haas again losing competitiveness on race day.

Zhou Guanyu was 16th in the second of the Alfa Romeo machines, while Magnussen and AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries wound up 17th and 18th respectively after two collisions midway through the race that led to them both running off the track.

Having initially continued after his crash and worked his way back into the points, Russell was later told to retire amid brake worries, with Logan Sargeant the other non-finisher when the Williams rookie was asked to park his car in the early stages.

After Saturday’s wet and wild qualifying session, weather conditions improved significantly overnight and drivers were greeted by an almost completely dry Circuit Gilles Villeneuve when they turned up for the race – slicks very much the order of the day when it came to lights out.

However, there were several changes to the starting order post-qualifying, with Hulkenberg dropping from the front row to P5 for a red flag violation, as Sainz (demoted to 11th), Stroll (16th) and Tsunoda (19th) also lost three places for separate instances of impeding across Q1 and Q2.

According to F1 tyre supplier Pirelli, the best strategic route for the race would be finely poised between a two-stop (medium-hard-hard) and a one-stop (hard-medium) – but Hamilton, Russell, Leclerc and Sainz were four drivers who only had one set of hards available.

When the tyre blankets came off the cars, with Leclerc’s featuring a repaired plank due to damage sustained on his lap to the grid, it was revealed that the majority had selected medium starting rubber, while Perez, Magnussen and Bottas chose hards and only Gasly went for softs.

A few moments later, it was time for the eagerly anticipated race start, pole-sitter Verstappen making a clean getaway to hold the lead into Turn 1, while Hamilton charged his way past Alonso and Russell almost followed him through, only to back out and remain fourth.

Ocon got the jump on Hulkenberg to run fifth, followed by McLaren pair Piastri and Norris, as Leclerc and Albon occupied the final top 10 positions from a squabbling Sainz and Perez, who almost clashed at the Turn 8/9 chicane when the Ferrari ran deep and clattered over the kerbs.

Charles Leclerc produced a fine recovery drive to finish P4.

There was further drama just a few corners later when Sainz fought back against Perez down the back straight and into the final chicane, with a fast-approaching Magnussen almost running into the Red Bull when the braking zone all but disappeared in front of him.

As the race approached the five-lap mark, race leader Verstappen sat just over a second clear of Hamilton, crucially keeping him out of the DRS window that would otherwise leave him exposed along the circuit’s long straights.

At the same time, replays showed third-place Alonso thumping the wall at the exit of Turn 4, but there was seemingly no damage to report as the two-time world champion held on to P3 between the Mercedes machines – and began to reel in Hamilton.

“I think the tyres are more vulnerable than FP2,” Verstappen then reported over the radio, given the much ‘greener’ track conditions after the rainfall. With the long-game in mind, Tsunoda had already pitted to swap his medium tyres for hards.

As Verstappen expressed those initial tyre concerns, Sargeant had more to worry about when the Williams pit wall told him to stop his car with a “critical message” – briefly bringing out a Virtual Safety Car while marshals got to work.

When the VSC ended, Verstappen’s advantage over Hamilton stood at a slightly increased three seconds, with Alonso another second adrift in third, Russell hanging on in fourth, Ocon still holding fifth and Hulkenberg losing a position at Turn 1 to Piastri. Hulkenberg then pitted just before Norris could repeat his team mate’s move.

Just after Verstappen reported that he had hit a bird, Russell experienced significant contact of his own after hopping over the kerbs at Turn 8/9 and slamming into the wall at the exit, bringing out the Safety Car and leading to a sweary radio message from the Briton.

Front-runners Verstappen, Hamilton and Alonso all opted to pit under caution on Lap 12 of 70, swapping mediums for hards, with the stewards noting a possible unsafe release when replays showed the Mercedes emerging just in front of the Aston Martin, while also looking into potential overtaking from Ocon, Bottas and Magnussen under the Safety Car.

While most of the field pitted, with the top three remaining unchanged, Leclerc, Sainz, Perez, Magnussen and Bottas all stayed out to occupy positions four to eight, as Ocon and Piastri rounded out the points-paying places for the time being.

Alonso got back ahead of Hamilton as the strategies played out.

“It’s a bit bent, but it’s OK,” Russell reported over the radio after lengthy repairs in the pit lane that kept him in the race but all the way down in 19th, giving him plenty to do when the action resumed on Lap 17 – Verstappen mastering the restart and bolting away up front.

With the front-running positions unchanged, it was left to Norris to provide the action as he pulled a move on team mate Piastri into the hairpin, moments before the stewards issued another note to confirm that former was being investigated for an unsafe release of his own.

A few minutes on, it was communicated that none of the aforementioned stewards’ reviews would lead to any further action, meaning Hamilton, Alonso, Norris, Ocon, Bottas and Magnussen could race on without a penalty hanging over them.

Back up front, Verstappen had stretched his lead to around three seconds – getting close to his pre-Safety Car advantage – while Alonso closed on Hamilton for P2, got a run down the back straight and completed the move at the final chicane.

The yet-to-stop Leclerc and Sainz followed in fourth and fifth, from Ocon, Bottas, Norris and Piastri – Magnussen dropping to 11th after being told by his Haas team to give a position back to Ocon and losing further ground to Bottas and Norris when he did so.

Struggling to make an impression in his home race, Stroll pitted for a second time as the race neared its halfway mark, putting him at the back of the pack, behind the recovering Russell, but crucially moving into some clear air – Hulkenberg doing the same soon afterward.

“I have no grip on this tyre,” Verstappen commented as the leader’s second stint developed, before reporting that the “grip is getting better” a few laps later, while Sainz resisted Ferrari’s calls to pit and asked to continue on his original set of mediums.

Following their initial rush of activity, the stewards were soon called into action again, with Norris’ actions in the cockpit coming under the microscope again, this time for potentially driving “unnecessarily slowly” under the Safety Car – duly landing a five-second penalty.

Already making steady progress in his recovery drive, Russell benefitted from a clash between De Vries and Magnussen at Turn 2 on Lap 36, with the pair banging wheels again when the AlphaTauri lunged up the inside of the Haas under braking for Turn 4, both drivers taking to the run-off and the stewards noting that incident as well.

Albon put on an impressive defensive display to give Williams their second points finish of the season.

While the top six drivers pounded around – Leclerc, Sainz and Perez still yet to pit – there were plenty of stops up down the order as the various post-Safety Car strategies played out, meaning a constant shuffling of the timing screens.

Perez would pit on Lap 38, though, with Sainz and Leclerc following him in over the next couple of tours, the trio coming back out in the same order and ahead of the chasing pack led by Albon, as attention turned to what the front-runners would do.

Hamilton offered the first answer by moving back to mediums on Lap 41, before Alonso took on another set of hards one tour later, and leader Verstappen responding to that by taking on a set of yellow-marked rubber, keeping positions as they were at the head of the field.

Down at Ferrari, Leclerc was given the message “Sainz will not attack you”, the pair both running hards and sitting a few seconds clear of medium-shod Perez, with Albon, Russell, Ocon (all hards) and Bottas (mediums) holding the final top 10 places.

“Tell me when lift and coast is OK, I want to stop doing it… I want to win the race mate!” Alonso shouted over the radio as the race headed into its final 20 laps, Hamilton – who had eyed a “good battle” with his old rival pre-race – beginning to close on softer tyres.

Meanwhile, behind the top six runners, the apparently one-stopping Albon was doing a very solid job of keeping his Williams in front of Russell’s Mercedes, albeit the W14 nursing damage, allowing Ocon, Bottas and Norris to close in and setting up the prospect of a thrilling multi-car scrap.

On Lap 55, Russell was removed from that fight when Mercedes told him to pit and retire due to brake concerns, briefly taking some of the pressure off Albon before the aforementioned train of Ocon, Bottas, Norris and now Stroll filled the gap.

As the laps ticked by, Hamilton embarked on another push to temporarily get within a second-and-a-half of Alonso, who appeared to be nursing his own brake problems. But the Aston Martin man found some more pace in response and told the pit wall “leave it to me”.

At this point, there was a scare for leader Verstappen. “I almost knocked myself out on that kerb,” he laughed over the radio with five laps to go, having come perilously close to repeating Russell’s earlier off.

That was the only problem he would face on his way to another crushing win, though, crossing the line almost 10 seconds clear of Alonso, while Hamilton’s attack faded and he dropped almost five seconds away from his former team mate.

Leclerc and Sainz maintained fourth and fifth to give Ferrari a solid haul of points after their qualifying troubles, with Perez taking sixth and the fastest lap bonus thanks to a late stop for a set of soft tyres.

Albon maintained his fine defence to the finish to keep seventh on his one-stop strategy, just in front of Ocon and Norris, who had passed Bottas – another one-stopper – six laps from the end, but the McLaren driver dropped all the way back to P13 when his time penalty was applied.

Stroll was another to pass Bottas in the closing laps as they rounded out the points, with Piastri and Gasly narrowly missing out on a reward for their efforts and slotting in front of the demoted Norris.

Tsunoda and Hulkenberg were next up in respective P14 and P15 positions, the latter’s post-qualifying grid drop only the start of a downfall that replicated several other race-day slumps from the Haas team this season.

The final drivers to finish were Zhou, Magnussen and De Vries, the latter two surviving their wheel banging, as Russell and Sargeant propped up the rear due after retiring from proceedings.

The next stop on the 2023 F1 calendar will be Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring for the Austrian Grand Prix weekend, which takes place from June 30 to July 2.

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