F1 Canadian GP takeaways: Mercedes’ hopes, Ferrari forgets, Alpine strikes

MONTREAL — Chaos? Chaos. Or, as the French would say, le chaos.

That’s the only way to describe how the Canadian Grand Prix unfolded. It became a battle of slick tires versus intermediates as the rain came and went. Kevin Magnussen surged initially, while Charles Leclerc faced an engine issue early on and a botched strategy call. Incidents unfolded across the grid, including Williams and Ferrari ending their days with double DNFs and Sergio Pérez limping back to the pits with a wrecked rear wing after a costly error of his own.

Ultimately, Max Verstappen took home the victory despite George Russell starting on pole and Lando Norris threatening his lead at different points. He’s now won 50 of the last 75 Formula One races, dating back through 2021. But the reigning world champion noted that this latest triumph wasn’t easy by any means.

“I love it, that was a lot of fun,” Verstappen said during his on-track interview after the race. “Those kind of races, you need those once in a while.”

Before Formula One heads into a non-race week ahead of a European tripleheader, here are the big takeaways that stuck with us from Montreal.

Verstappen survives the Montreal mayhem

With 20 laps to go, Verstappen’s victory looked like it could have been in trouble.

The Red Bull driver reported over the radio that he couldn’t touch the curbs, saying, “It almost knocks me out.” It’s worth remembering that Monaco highlighted a weakness in the RB20’s design — how it rides curbs. And behind him, Norris and Russell battled for second while taking around 0.4 seconds out of Verstappen’s lead.

It seemed like the latest rug-pull in a Canadian GP that offered quite a few for the race leaders. Russell’s early lead was snatched by Norris on Lap 22, only for Norris to lose it to Verstappen during the first safety car period a few laps later. Verstappen had narrowly survived Norris’ attempt to build a gap and beat the Red Bull out of the pits on Lap 48. Now, with a troublesome ride height and locking suspension, it finally seemed like Verstappen’s turn to give up the lead.

But fate favored the reigning champion on Sunday. A second safety car on Lap 52 bunched up the field, and Verstappen did what he does best as the action resumed: He drove off into the sunset, building up a two-second lead on Norris within a few seconds of going green. He was helped by the fact that Russell and Lewis Hamilton had pitted for fresh tires, leading to a brawl behind Verstappen for the remaining podium spots.

Verstappen’s victory was a testament to his resilience and skill. Montreal threw everything it could at Verstappen this weekend, from washed-out Friday practices to a dangerous electrical issue on Saturday. Yet he almost secured pole and emerged victorious from the grand prix. His 60th career F1 win sent a clear message to his rivals: Even though Red Bull’s rivals have caught up, winning the championship this season won’t be easy for anyone.

“It’s definitely more challenging,” Verstappen said. “And I think also with how the race was today, it was very exciting. And in general, that definitely keeps us on our toes. We cannot afford to make mistakes or tiny mistakes anymore. Every little detail matters now.” — Patrick Iversen

Norris experiences the unlucky side of safety cars

A month ago, Norris secured his maiden F1 win at the Miami GP after benefiting from a safety car period. However, the first safety car period did not go in his favor in Montreal.

Norris experienced a roller coaster race, leading, losing and leading again before ultimately losing the Canadian GP. The McLaren driver took the lead within the first quarter of the race and floored it, setting rapid laps while trying to outrun the reigning world champion. But then Logan Sargeant spun and hit the wall, triggering a safety car period when Norris had a 10-second lead over Verstappen. When the McLaren driver dove into the pits, Verstappen took the lead and Norris slipped in behind Russell.

It wasn’t just bad luck. Norris felt the team got the call wrong on when to pit during this safety car period. “I had enough time to box, and we didn’t box,” he said. “So this was a mistake on us as a team. And yeah, just something we didn’t do a good enough job with.”

He felt the decision to stay out longer on the intermediate tires later in the race, though, helped him “have a chance against George.” It nearly looked like Norris would take the lead when exiting the pits, but he marginally lost out to Verstappen, who had already warmed up his tires after pitting earlier. He did have a little slip; however, Norris said he didn’t lose any time because of it.

Norris didn’t hide his frustration. “We should have won today. I think we’re at a level now where we’re not satisfied with second. The target is to win, and we didn’t do that.” — Madeline Coleman

“I think for me, it was just one too many mistakes at key moments that cost us,” Russell said. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

What could have been for Mercedes

It was a dream scenario of sorts for the Silver Arrows.

The pace was evident throughout the weekend. Mercedes looked competitive for the first time in a bit, and both cars were fitted with upgrades. Russell secured his first pole position since 2022, and the question looming Sunday was whether the Briton could end Mercedes’ win drought.

Russell had a clean getaway, and it became clear that Mercedes’ pace was comparable to that of Verstappen and the McLaren duo. But the Canadian GP ended up being a tricky race. As Russell said, “You put a millimeter wide, and you’re off. I think for me, it was just one too many mistakes at key moments that cost us a shot of fighting with (Verstappen and Norris) towards the end of the race.”

One glaring moment came on Lap 51, when the Mercedes driver made a mistake, sending him to the damp out of Turn 9. Norris capitalized, slipping past and into P2. A few laps later, a safety car was deployed after a collision between Alex Albon and Carlos Sainz, and Mercedes decided to pit both Russell and Hamilton to offset the McLaren’s tire life. It meant sacrificing a position for Russell.

Both drivers showed competitive pace after that but needed to get around Oscar Piastri, which proved challenging. Russell failed on a second attempt and had to move into the run-off area and fall behind Hamilton. On Lap 65, Hamilton was able to navigate around the McLaren (Russell did the same two laps later). The Mercedes duo were allowed to race each other, and a battle began for the final podium spot. On Lap 68, Russell used DRS to zip past and the positions held.

Like Russell, Hamilton told Sky F1 that he felt he made mistakes throughout the day, labeling it “one of the worst races that I’ve driven.”

“I think this weekend the car was capable of winning,” Hamilton told Sky F1. “That’s why it is not such a great feeling, but we’ll take the points and keep moving, keep trying.” — Madeline Coleman

For Ferrari, a weekend to forget

Ferrari entered the Canadian GP in second place in the constructors’ championship, just 24 points behind Red Bull. That gap doubled to 49 points after Leclerc and Sainz retired from the race in Montreal.

Ferrari never looked fast enough to challenge for the win this weekend — neither car made it to Q3 — but it couldn’t have expected such a dire result when it arrived to the track on Sunday. Leclerc suffered power unit issues as soon as the lights went out, which he later said “cost us everything.” He finally retired on Lap 43. Ferrari couldn’t salvage any points with Sainz, who slid across the track and took out Alex Albon with 15 laps remaining.

Ferrari has been either the second-fastest team all year (McLaren has something to say about that lately) or the most consistent, so Leclerc managed to keep his head high after a miserable day in Montreal.

“I think we shouldn’t overreact with the pace of the car. I mean, you’ve got good weekends, you’ve got bad weekends,” Leclerc said on F1TV. “Today, I wouldn’t say the pace was bad. If you look at the first stint with a second-and-a-half slower engine, I think we weren’t that bad in corners. And we were strong. The engine was so big an issue that we couldn’t do anything. So, as much as we didn’t overreact after (winning in) Monaco, we shouldn’t overreact after this one.

“But this one hurts. It’s big points for the team with a two-car DNF that we are going to lose against our competitors.” — Patrick Iversen

Alpine’s double points finish impacts the constructor standings

Alpine hasn’t had the best start to the season. But in Montreal, the Enstone-based team achieved its first double points finish since Brazil last season, bringing home a combined three points.

At the start, it was unclear whether Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon could have gotten into the top 10, lining up P15 and P18 on the starting grid. Ocon had a solid start, but Gasly made contact with Pérez, suffering no damage. The game-changer came when Alpine made a bold call, pitting Gasly after the safety car and switching to dry tires. They were the first team to do so, and it was a risk.

Gasly felt the call came a lap or so too early, but the gamble paid off. He began overtaking cars, setting rather fast laps as he built up the tire temperature. On Lap 68, Alpine asked Ocon to let Gasly by so he could try to attack Daniel Ricciardo for P8. At the time, Ocon was suffering from a suspected power unit issue. By the time the Alpine cars switched spots, though, it was too late, as Ricciardo built a bigger lead.

“I got the instructions to let Pierre past with two laps to go to catch Daniel [Ricciardo] who was two-and-a-half seconds in front and too fast for us,” Ocon told Sky Sports. “So the call was nonsense.”

F1 is a sport where small details matter, and with five teams consistently performing, points finishes are rare for the back half of the grid. But with Gasly and Ocon securing the final two top-10 spots, Alpine leapfrogged Williams in the constructor standings and now sits eighth with five points (just two behind Haas). Alpine needed some positivity after how Monaco unfolded with the collision between Gasly and Ocon.

“At the end of the day, it was good teamwork, and that’s what we need until the end of the year because we know Williams seems to have a competitive car,” Gasly said. “Looking at the qualifying yesterday, it was quite impressive. Haas seems to have some good pace at times. And we know on days like today we’ve got to make the best out of what we have, and we can’t afford to do any mistakes, and we can’t afford to take any unnecessary risks, so it was well managed.”  — Madeline Coleman

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 09: Esteban Ocon of France driving the (31) Alpine F1 A524 Renault arrives on the grid prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 09, 2024 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Alpine’s double-points finish puts it ahead of Williams in the constructors’ championship. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Notebook haul

  • For those who may have missed it, Verstappen nearly hit a groundhog mid-race. “He was almost dead. Yeah, I started to get to the last chicane, and I thought it was debris initially, so I started to close in, and then I’m like, ‘Oh my God, it’s an animal.’ I swerved right at the last moment. I don’t know what happened after that.” Russell confirmed the groundhog safely exited the track.
  • Pérez, despite his best efforts, had a qualifying session that he described as a “total disaster.” Starting 16th, he fought hard, scrapping along in the back of the pack. However, on Lap 55, he lost control of his car and clobbered his rear wing, forcing him to retire for the second race in a row – a feat he hasn’t experienced since his rookie season in 2011. Worst yet, because he didn’t leave the track right away with that damage, the stewards fined Red Bull €25,000 ($26,943) and served Pérez a three-place grid drop for the next race in which he participates.
  • Daniel Ricciardo set out to prove Jacques Villeneuve and the doubters wrong on Sunday after a terrific P5 qualifying finish. Maybe he was a little too eager, though – the stewards gave him a five-second penalty for a false start as the race began. It was the slightest of crawls forward, but the rules are the rules! Ricciardo did well to save face, finish P8 and secure points for RB as teammate Yuki Tsunoda finished P14 after a spin.
  • This one might hurt the most in a year full of unfortunate weekends for Williams. Sargeant had shown great improvement in pace through practice and qualifying but struggled to keep the car out of the dangerous wet spots on the track, spinning out and retiring early. And Albon was a victim of the wrong place, wrong time on Sainz’s crash.
  • Magnussen gained ten positions in the first three laps on those full wets. It sure was fun to watch while it lasted.
  • Special shout-out to the groundhogs for escaping this weekend unscathed after plenty of near-misses. Until we meet again, courageux rongeurs!

(Lead photos of Max Verstappen and George Russell with Lando Norris: Chris Graythen, Clive Rose via Getty Images)

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