A sixth win in a row for Red Bull, a sixth victory of the season for Max Verstappen, it’s all too easy for the defending champion? Far from it. He had to earn his position on the top step of the podium at the Canadian Grand Prix with one of the best weekends in his impressive Formula 1 career.
Carlos Sainz came very close to a maiden F1 win, but had to settle for second for Ferrari. He’ll get there soon, especially if Verstappen has some bad luck or a significantly slower car.
Elsewhere, Sergio Perez‘s retirement was a big hit to his title hopes, Fernando Alonso lost out to teammate Esteban Ocon after starting on the front row and Haas painfully scored no points despite a strong qualifying.
Verstappen is the driver to beat
Topping each segment in qualifying is no mean feat in F1, but doing it in wet conditions is a statement, something Verstappen managed to do as he blitzed the field on Saturday.
On the wet and intermediate tyres, Verstappen fired up his Pirelli rubber and had the bravery to go for it straight away without making going over the limit.
We have to give huge praise to nearly every driver, particularly in Q1 when the conditions were borderline dangerous, for not sticking the car in the wall as they hoovered up the water and puddles in treacherous weather.
As several drivers enjoyed a spell at the top of the timesheets, Verstappen responded and took a brilliant pole position.
The 75 minute-qualifying as a whole was arguably Verstappen‘s finest Saturday in his F1 career, going under the radar thanks to Alonso‘s equally impressive second place.
Holding off Sainz
In the race, it wasn’t clear whether Red Bull got it right or wrong to pit Verstappen during the first virtual safety car on Lap 10.
Without the late-race safety car, Verstappen was left with a gap of 11 seconds to Sainz on fresher rubber and he had already reduced the deficit to 7.5 seconds by the time Yuki Tsunoda crashed at Turn 2, which was crucial because it meant he remained ahead of the Ferrari driver when he made his second pit stop.
Verstappen pushed very hard on his outlaps whereas Sainz had brand-new hard tyres for the restart so we were all set for a grandstand finish.
Both drivers were pushing very hard, showing great skill in one of the most dramatic finishes so far this season.
On the penultimate lap, Sainz was very close to Verstappen but went deep at the hairpin, potentially costing him his best chance to overtake the Dutchman. Sainz was looking for a mistake like that from Verstappen, but he made one himself.
Other than that, Sainz couldn’t quite get close enough to launch an overtake as Verstappen resisted the pressure, demonstrating why he is a champion and on course for a second title.
“The safety car didn’t help,” said Verstappen post-race. “It was really exciting at the end.
“I was giving it everything, but so was Carlos. He was pushing, charging, pushing, charging, naturally when you’re on the DRS it’s easier to charge. The last few laps were a lot of fun.
“I think I would have preferred attacking instead of defending but luckily it worked out.”
Verstappen had no team radio during the latter stages of the Grand Prix too, and the level he can perform at on a consistent basis is going to give Ferrari a massive headache.
Hamilton finally beats Russell
Lewis Hamilton has had plenty of misfortune with the timing of safety cars this season, but it didn’t stop him from taking his second podium of 2022 with an excellent performance at the weekend.
Hamilton opted for a low downforce rear wing, which explains why he struggled a little more than Russell in the wet conditions on Saturday, and it paid off as he had great race pace.
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a happy hunting ground for Hamilton and he turned an “undriveable” car on Friday into a podium 48 hours later.
“We have had such an awesome crowd here this weekend,” said Hamilton. “It’s quite overwhelming honestly to get this third place and it has been such a battle this year with the car and as a team.
“We have continued to stay vigilant and focused and never giving up. That’s something I am so proud about and I’m inspired by my crew. So thank you to everyone that is here and back in the factory.
“They [Ferrari and Red Bull] are a little bit too quick for us at the moment but we are getting closer. We have got to keep pushing and hopefully we will be in a fight with these guys.”
Leclerc and Perez lose further ground in F1 title race
The Canadian GP could have been a lot worse for Leclerc after a slow pit stop dropped him outside of the points with 25 laps to go.
Leclerc, who started from 19th due to grid penalties for excessive use of power unit elements, was stuck in DRS trains for the majority of the race and had poor traction, meaning he lost time on the exits of corners so found it difficult to make overtakes.
Tsunoda‘s accident and subsequent safety car saved Leclerc’s day as it put him right on the back of the Alpines who he got by on the restart and took fifth place. However, Leclerc is now 49 points behind Verstappen in the F1 driver standings.
“I enjoyed the last part of the race,” Leclerc told Sky Sports. “The middle and first part was extremely frustrating.
“I was just stuck in a DRS train, then stuck behind Esteban who was on new tyres and out of Turn 10, he had a very good traction and I just could not get passed.”
“Then we had the problem with the pit stop that put me behind another DRS train. The end was fun. I had a lot of overtakes. Fifth was the best we could have done and 10 points which are valuable at the end of the day.”
Perez was the big loser from Montreal as a suspected gearbox problem put him out of the Canadian GP after just nine laps.
It marked a terrible weekend for Perez after he crashed in qualifying and was off the pace of teammate Verstappen throughout practice. He’s 46 points adrift of Verstappen and will need to drive at his very best, with a little bit of luck along the way, to get back into title contention.
Could Alonso have been on the podium?
He certainly thinks so. An engine problem from around Lap 20 caused Alonso to lose pace which is why he was a sitting duck on the straights.
It’s frustrating because many people wanted to see Alonso and Hamilton fight in a similar fashion to the 2021 Hungarian GP.
Instead, Alonso was very unlucky as he couldn’t pit behind the virtual safety car, as it was ending the second time round when approaching the pit lane, and the timing of the full safety car played against him too.
“The biggest problem was in lap 20 when I had engine problems with the battery system,” Alonso told Sky Sports. “I was clipping in the middle of the straights and losing eight tenths of a second.
“I had to overdrive in the corners to try and get DRS because without it, we were very vuleranable on the straights.
“It was a very difficult race and the engine problems on my car is very frustrating. The positive is the car was very fast. Without engine problems we would be P3 in front of Lewis.”
Alonso‘s day got worse after the race when he was awarded a five-second time penalty for weaving on the final lap when Valtteri Bottas was attempting to get by him on the back straight.
Looking back at the footage, the penalty was fair so Alonso dropped to ninth, behind the Alfa Romeos of Bottas and Zhou Guanyu.
Bad days for McLaren and Haas
Lando Norris will be just as annoyed as Alonso after a sensor problem on his engine meant he couldn’t do a proper lap in Q2 during qualifying, so started in 14th.
A poor strategy and an awful pit stop, when McLaren chose to double stack during a virtual safety car, only to not have Norris‘ tyres ready, ruined the British driver’s day.
The car was towards the bottom of the speed traps too so Norris and Daniel Ricciardo barely made an overtake all race, underling McLaren‘s straight line speed deficit to the rest of the field.
“It was very difficult to overtake in general and that hurt our pace,” said Norris. “We simply couldn’t get into the positions we wanted to be in.
“I think the pace wasn’t too bad, still not good enough, but not too bad, just the fact we couldn’t overtake, hurt us badly today. We’ve got work to do.
“There were mistakes from my side, mistakes from the team’s behalf and we’ll just need to step back, refresh, go again and do a much better job in the next one.”
Meanwhile Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen positioned themselves perfectly for a great Sunday, only for it to all fall apart early on.
Magnussen had the tiniest of touches with Hamilton on the opening lap which broke his front wing, so the stewards ordered him to change it for safety reasons.
The virtual safety car killed Magnussen‘s hopes because most of his rivals pitted under it, therefore getting a cheaper pit stop and jumping the Dane.
Schumacher was running well until another Ferrari power unit issue brought him to a halt. Haas are ninth in the F1 constructors’ championship, which shouldn’t be the case given the pace of their 2022 car.