Max Verstappen: Red Bull driver produces brilliant Canadian Grand Prix display to remind closing rivals of challenge ahead | F1 News

Amid the chaos of a thrilling weekend of action at the Canadian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen provided a timely reminder of why he remains Formula 1’s best driver.

The Dutchman produced a near-faultless display to see off the challenges of Lando Norris and George Russell in Montreal, tightening his grip on the Drivers’ Championship in the process.

While it would be an exaggeration to suggest that Verstappen had arrived in Canada with his back against the wall, a disappointing weekend in Monaco had seen his world championship lead reduced to 31 points.

Monaco winner, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, was seen as the early favourite to win in Canada, with Verstappen’s Red Bull expected to struggle once more over the kerbs of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

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Max Verstappen talks through his near miss with a groundhog at the Canadian Grand Prix

While there has been a quiet confidence at Red Bull that upcoming races in Spain, Austria and Britain will better suit the RB20, there seemed to be a consensus around the paddock that victory in Canada was there for the taking for Ferrari or McLaren.

Those predictions weren’t necessarily inaccurate, aside from Mercedes – rather than Ferrari – joining McLaren as Verstappen’s challenger, with both teams ultimately probably having stronger pace than Red Bull throughout the weekend.

However, with a little bit of good fortune but also a lot of skill, Verstappen claimed the 60th win of his career, which should go down as one of his best to date.

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Max Verstappen insists victory at the Canadian Grand Prix was especially satisfying as his car was not the fastest on the grid

Weather, engine issue put Verstappen on back foot

Red Bull had struggled badly through the slow corners and kerbs of Monaco two weeks earlier as Verstappen had to settle for sixth behind the Ferraris, McLarens and Mercedes’ George Russell.

The fact that Circuit Gilles Villeneuve possesses some similar traits meant that Verstappen came into the weekend expecting a tough time once more.

His best hope of overcoming that would be getting plenty of running done in practice in an attempt to find a setup that could best limit the RB20’s shortcomings.

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Max Verstappen’s FP2 session finished early after his car started smoking at the Canadian GP

That opportunity didn’t materialise for Verstappen, or the rest of the field, as rain interrupted both of Friday’s sessions to severely limit running.

The Dutchman suffered an additional blow as an issue with his engine further limited his track time in second practice, which he would describe as “not ideal” after the session.

A more regular final practice followed first thing on Saturday, but at that point it was Mercedes, after their dismal start to 2024, who surprisingly appeared to have the edge on the rest of the field.

Late qualifying surge keeps Verstappen in the mix

The fact that Mercedes have often looked good in practice before falling away in qualifying meant there was real mystery remained heading into the session, which was only increased by the threat of more rain as it began.

There was chaos during Q1 on the rapidly evolving surface, with every single driver at risk of elimination. Verstappen was at greater risk than some of his rivals after finding himself in the bottom five as he begun his final flying lap.

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Having only just signed a new contract with Red Bull, Sergio Perez failed to make it out of Q1 at the Canadian Grand Prix

Where his struggling team-mate Sergio Perez failed, Verstappen succeeded, acing his effort to ease through as the Mexican was eliminated.

After a similarly exciting Q2, Mercedes had confirmed the pace was real and looked set for an intra-team battle for pole between Russell and Lewis Hamilton. That still appeared to be the case after the first runs in Q3, which saw Russell lead Hamilton and Verstappen in third, more than 0.3s back from the lead Mercedes.

The McLarens, running out of sync as they went out earlier on fresh tyres, then went second and third to push Verstappen down to fifth as he began his final run.

With track conditions appearing to have become more challenging with wind and moisture in the air, neither Mercedes driver was able to improve on their first efforts.

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Highlights of qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix

Verstappen, as so often has been the case in qualifying in recent times, produced a brilliant lap under the circumstances to find 0.358s worth of improvement and create a dead heat with Russell, who would retain pole by virtue of having set the time first.

Having failed to improve on his final lap, Hamilton ended up seventh, which is where Verstappen would have been had the same fate befallen him.

“Going into qualifying I would have definitely taken that,” Verstappen said. He had got everything out of the RB20 to keep himself in contention going into Sunday.

Defying the odds on race day

Even after his strong qualifying effort, the odds going into the race were somewhat stacked against Verstappen. While Mercedes had been fast in practice, there was a suspicion that McLaren’s race pace, as has been the case in recent weeks, would be even stronger than their Saturday speed.

Furthermore, Norris had team-mate Oscar Piastri alongside him on the second row, allowing McLaren the potential to split their strategies, while Russell had Hamilton in seventh, who would ultimately become a strategic factor too.

Verstappen’s only major error of the race came in the early stages as he ran off at the first corner in the hugely challenging wet conditions. That cost him second to Norris, who was flying at that stage of the race.

He almost immediately regained second as Russell made an error after also being passed by Norris, who then rapidly begin to build a lead.

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Max Verstappen claimed victory at the Canadian Grand Prix win as Mercedes battled it out on last lap

It was at this point that good fortune intervened for Verstappen, with a Safety Car caused by Logan Sargeant’s crash leading to a strategic error from McLaren, which saw Norris drop to third and the Red Bull taking the lead.

Verstappen has led a lot of race restarts over the last few years and as he so often seems to do, effortlessly pulled away from Russell, before continuing to build an advantage that was crucial with an inevitable switch to slick tyres beckoning on the drying surface.

Hamilton, with an outside chance of victory as he ran in fifth after the first Safety Car, triggered the switch to slicks, while Piastri followed a lap later. That meant Mercedes and McLaren had split their strategies, with one driver each still on intermediates and the other on slicks.

The Red Bull pit wall kept calm, choosing to stay out for an additional lap before bringing Verstappen in, with Russell following into the pits from second. Norris stayed out for a further couple of laps and emerged from the pits just ahead of Verstappen, but with the slick tyres on the Red Bull up to temperature, the Dutchman was able to ease clear.

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Max Verstappen and Lando Norris hilariously react to their battle out of the pits at the Canadian Grand Prix

There has been chatter from rivals that Red Bull will make mistakes if they are put under pressure, but on this occasion Verstappen and the engineers supporting him were impeccable.

With the track drying, the Mercedes was clearly the quickest car out there, but Russell and Norris would exchange errors in their battle for second to allow Verstappen to pull further clear.

They were given a reprieve when another Safety Car eradicated the lead, but Verstappen’s rolling restart prowess was on show once more and he pulled out of the one-second DRS range by the end of the lap to edge closer to victory.

Russell was flying on new tyres he had been able to put on under the second Safety Car but collided with Piastri as he attempted to take third to lose ground, potentially costing him the chance of mounting a late challenge to Verstappen.

‘Very good for F1’

That left Verstappen to take the chequered flag with relative calm, on a weekend where he really had no business in doing so.

“It was a well earned victory,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “Just look at the restarts, how he made use of the conditions, he was on top of his game, working well with the pit wall.”

One of the best things about Red Bull’s once huge advantage over the field having been reduced, or even removed in some cases, is seeing Verstappen force to produce his best.

“I think it’s just very good for F1 that you have a lot of different teams fighting for the win,” Verstappen said. “It makes it really exciting up front.

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Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz reflects on the Canadian Grand Prix

“It is very enjoyable even though I would like a bit more comfort in the car, because it’s definitely very tricky to drive at the moment.”

Perez’s poor performance in Canada only emphasised why many are surprised Red Bull have just renewed his contract for two more years, but Verstappen’s display explains why that the team took that decision.

Verstappen is happy driving alongside Perez, and keeping the Dutchman content, amid continued interest from elsewhere, is more important than upgrading the number two driver. On this evidence, who can argue with that logic?

A far more competitive and entertaining picture for F1, with Mercedes having potentially made it four teams battling for victories, looks set to remain, at least until new regulations are introduced in 2026.

With F1’s landscape changing for the better, Verstappen in Canada reminded his rivals that it’s one thing having more pace than Red Bull, but another challenge entirely beating the current world champion.

Formula 1 heads back to Europe as the championship moves on to Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix. Watch every session at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya from June 21-23 live on Sky Sports F1. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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