Max Verstappen holds off Carlos Sainz to win Canadian Grand Prix
Max Verstappen had long promised that given the tools he was more than capable of delivering a world championship. He duly took the title last year but his victory at the Canadian Grand Prix for Red Bull was an object demonstration that he appears in every position to now go on to seal multiple championships.
He had never won at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve before but he owned the race with a dominant and composed drive redolent of the great champions, including seeing off a late charge from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz who was second. The victory has further extended Verstappen’s lead over title-rival Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who is third in the championship, to 49 points.
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell secured third and fourth for Mercedes with a performance that will be a real fillip for the team. Third place equalled Hamilton’s best result this season. The seven-time champion’s broad smile and pleasure in having a decent ride beneath him was palpable, clearly reinvigorated by genuinely feeling he was part of the fight. “It feels great today to be in amongst the battle,” he said. “For a second I was just about keeping up with these guys in front. It’s given me and the team a lot of hope that there is more to come from this car.”
There will be cause for optimism at Mercedes in that they demonstrated superb race pace, staying well in touch with the times of Ferrari and Red Bull. They may yet dare dream of a fighting for a win at the next round at Silverstone.
Yet it was Verstappen who had shown the field how hard it will be to catch him this season. After a remarkable lap in wet conditions to claim pole, he followed it with another masterclass of control at times under fierce pressure. The 24-year-old’s title-winning victory in Abu Dhabi last year may have been mired in controversy but there is simply no arguing with his credentials to be world champion, then and more importantly, now. This is his sixth win from nine races this season and afterwards he bore the relaxed demeanour of a man who is exactly where he wants to be.
“I was flat-out, pushing to the limit. I knew I could make a mistake, the pressure was always on,” he said. “It was proper racing, proper pushing. It was really on the edge and that was good to see.”
Verstappen has been aided by Ferrari’s reliability problems that have recently plagued Leclerc. Here it was a case of Leclerc doing his best to minimise the damage of starting from 19th after grid penalties for an engine change. This was always going to be a difficult afternoon and he made it back to take fifth. Not quite what he would have hoped for as Ferrari left him out too long bottled up behind Esteban Ocon. The Scuderia now badly need to give him a reliable car with which to challenge and hone their decision making if they are to begin clawing back Verstappen’s lead.
From the very off the world champion had shown his intent. Verstappen made a great start from pole, seeing off the threat from Fernando Alonso who was alongside him on the front row, while Hamilton held onto his fourth place. Sainz then cleared Alonso to take second place on lap three.
Verstappen swiftly opened a gap, three seconds clear of Sainz by lap eight. Pit stops ensued after an early virtual safety car when Sergio Pérez pulled off track after a gearbox problem on lap nine, with Verstappen and Hamilton stopping but Ferrari leaving Sainz out to inherit the lead. Racing resumed with Verstappen now behind Sainz and Alonso, but he swiftly passed the latter on lap 16 to claim second, showing his commitment on fresh rubber with a series of fastest laps.
In a race dictated by his control, the flawless execution lap after lap was vital and he showed no chinks in the armour. Sainz pitted under a second VSC and Verstappen reassumed the lead, the Dutchman having already pounded out an advantage, nine seconds clear of Sainz by lap 20. Verstappen was serene in front, reacting with pace every time the Spaniard edged closer. He took his second stop on lap 44 and Sainz now led with Ferrari looking to pull off a one-stop, with a nine-second lead to Verstappen.
However a safety car was called on lap 49 and Ferrari jumped on the chance for a free stop for Sainz, who came out in second. It left a sprint to the finish between the two on similar rubber.
Verstappen nailed the restart with 15 laps remaining and attempted to reimpose his authority. Sainz refused to be bowed and stayed within DRS range. He closed repeatedly but Verstappen held his nerve and the perfect line. Sainz hounded him hard but the Dutchman was imperious in seeing out the pressure to take the flag.
The season still has a long way to run but in Montreal Verstappen showed form that sees him more than ready to disappear over the horizon. Catching him now will be some feat.
Alpine’s Ocon was in sixth and his teammate Alonso in ninth. Valtteri Bottas and his teammate Guanyu Zhou were in seventh and eighth for Alfa Romeo and Lance Stroll 10th for Aston Martin.