Red Bull have built an incredible machine which has dominated the 2023 Formula 1 season and Max Verstappen has really found his stride in the last three events.
Since losing a straight fight against teammate Sergio Perez as the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in April, it’s almost as if Verstappen has been fired up since then.
Even a poorly timed red flag in Q3 of the Miami GP didn’t stop him from fighting back to beat Perez, despite starting down in ninth.
He leads the drivers’ championship by 53 points from Perez going into this weekend’s race in Montreal and there are a couple of milestones in Red Bull‘s sight which will make the 2023 Canadian GP a special event for the team.
Red Bull on verge of 100th F1 win
Fourteen years on from Red Bull‘s maiden win at the 2009 Chinese GP, victory this Sunday will see the Milton Keynes-based team notch up their 100th triumph.
A Verstappen win will also put him level with Ayrton Senna on 41 F1 victories, the first most of all-time. Only Lewis Hamilton (103), Michael Schumacher (91), Sebastian Vettel (53) and Alain Prost (51) would have more wins.
Verstappen is in a purple patch of form, which Christian Horner says no driver would be able to match on the current grid.
No matter what you think of Red Bull, Horner is probably correct and only an on form Lewis Hamilton could maybe do something about Verstappen when he’s in this kind of mood.
At the 2022 Canadian GP, Verstappen topped all three segments of qualifying in wet conditions and held of Carlos Sainz at the end of the race, despite having older tyres.
Wet weather is in the cards again this year and it would be hard not to bet against Verstappen, even in mixed conditions.
“It’s nice sometimes to have good competition,” Verstappen told the media ahead of the Canadian GP. “Honestly, I enjoyed 2021 but I also enjoyed the way 2022 went.
“Of course, we had some reliability issues and the car was a bit heavy but it was also quite dominant towards the end.
“For the sport in general, I understand that some people get a bit bored when one team is dominating. We saw it with Mercedes, we’ve seen it with Ferrari in the past and with Red Bull.
“I hope that more teams can get it together then at least that means that if you have an issue or can’t get the setup fully 100 per cent, there is another team who can win.”
Aston Martin unusually confident about Canada chances
Most sports teams play down their expectations for any event, but Aston Martin seem very confident they will perform well at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Alonso believes Aston Martin will crush Mercedes and chairman Lawrence Stroll is targeting a double podium at his son, Lance Stroll‘s, home event.
Stroll outqualified Alonso for the first time in 2023 at the Spanish GP but needs to get on a run and show some consistency.
Aston Martin are bringing a raft of upgrades to Montreal, including a new floor, and one of its strengths is the car’s change of direction, plus its ability to ride the bumps.
Even without the new parts, the 2.710 miles Circuit Gilles Villeneuve should suit Aston Martin as it’s basically a track made up of chicanes, straights and a hairpin.
“I think it should be a good weekend,” said Alonso. “But you never know until you hit the track. We also had expectations in Barcelona and we didn’t perform in that race. Let’s see.
“We have a couple of new parts in the car as well for this race, so depending on the weather, we will try to test them and validate them. Hopefully we can be a little bit more competitive than Barcelona.”
Ferrari v Mercedes for third best car?
The Spanish GP wasn’t a disaster for Ferrari, but it was certainly underwhelming. Their big upgrades didn’t appear to bring too much performance and Charles Leclerc could not understand the balance differences he felt during the race on his way to 11th place.
Ferrari appear to have a very narrow operating window but should fare better in Montreal due to the track characteristics.
Leclerc, who is seventh in the F1 driver standings, confirmed the team were not able to understand why they struggled so much in Barcelona.
“On this track we don’t have anything new, so I don’t think we’ll have any miracles,” said Leclerc.
“But we need to just try and maximise our package, understand more this package, the way we should set up the car in order to maximise it, as in Spain we were quite easily off the window and then we were losing quite a lot of performance. So we’ve learnt a lot.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll be in a better place for this weekend. But I don’t think it will be a huge step forward.”
Mercedes need to prove their double Spanish GP podium wasn’t a one-off and Leclerc doesn’t know where Hamilton or George Russell will be.
If Aston Martin are as quick as they anticipate, Ferrari and Mercedes will likely be fighting to be in the top five, although rain would change all that.
Hamilton had his maiden F1 win at the 2007 Canadian GP and has won in Montreal seven times.
“We’ve been making progress and the car, last race, we’ve all been buzzing, I think, back at the factory and the whole team has this new energy and kind-of feels like we’ve got a North Star,” said Hamilton, who is not expected to sign a new contract before the end of the weekend.
“We know where we’re going; we know how to get there. So, everyone’s just churning away and working as hard as possible. Excited to come here.
“We generally don’t know whether this track suits our car, and the car’s characteristics, but the weather may change that and we’ll see.”
Williams bringing upgrades to Canada
The battle to not be last has been fierce and the midfield has just become a field as Haas, Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri and Williams have all been capable of scoring points, but also been the slowest team.
Williams have been quieter in recent events, following Albon‘s 10th place at the season-opening Bahrain GP, and team principal James Vowles admitted some of their facilities at the Groves factory are 20 years out of date.
Nevertheless, they have brought an upgrade package to Montreal and are hoping for dry weather on Friday, so the new parts can be tested.
“We’ve been pretty hard at work the last couple of weeks,” said Albon. “Nothing too big actually, balance-wise. It feels quite similar.
“It’s more just a general downforce difference. We’ve done a good job. I do think it’s going to put us more into the fight with the midfield.
“Something which we’ve been falling away a little bit from the last few races, so hopefully you can just get us back into the fighting area for points.”
Canada chaos in the rain?
Rain in Canada immediately brings back memories of Jenson Button‘s famous 2011 victory, when he went through the pit lane six times, fought back through the field and overtook Sebastian Vettel on the last lap of the race.
In the dry, the drivers will be attacking the kerbs but in the rain, touching the pain will be very slippery and the walls will be waiting for any mistakes.
Speaking of walls, the Wall of Champions hasn’t claimed too many victims recently, but should still be given plenty of respect.
In 1999, Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher, and Jacques Villeneuve all crashed at the final corner at the Canadian GP which is when the chicane become famous.
Variables will stop Red Bull from winning in 2023, so a bit of rain and a stunning performance from someone might stop the Verstappen party.