Canadian GP illusion: F1 rivals closed gap to Red Bull but are no nearer


Max Verstappen did what was expected and delivered Red Bull's 100th F1 win at the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix. But the winning margin was smaller than usual for this season. That doesn't mean opponents are getting closer, writes Mark Hughes

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen on podium at 2023 Canadian GP

Hamilton and Verstappen on the podium: the pair finished less than 15sec apart

Red Bull

In equalling Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41 grand prix victories, Max Verstappen delivered Red Bull its 100th.

There’s nothing at all surprising in Verstappen running imperious from pole to the chequered flag in 2023. What was a little unusual about this Montreal race was the relatively small winning margin. Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin was only 9sec behind after 70 laps, and some of those laps had been spent behind Lewis Hamilton’s slightly slower Mercedes — and even that was only 14sec adrift of the Red Bull at the end. Typically, this season Red Bull has been winning races by between 20sec and half-a-minute.

It gave hope that Verstappen may get some competition before the season is out. But probably the smaller winning margin is nothing more than the cool conditions not suiting the Red Bull’s gentle tyre usage.

“It was not a very straightforward race because the tyres were not really getting in their window,” he said. “It was very cold today compared to Friday and we were sliding around quite a bit. But yeah, we made it work.

“Normally it’s all about tyre management, right? But today was definitely more about pushing. But sometimes it was just going up and down a lot in lap-time. So then sometimes you couldn’t actually push to the limit, because you didn’t know what you were going to get. So, for me, on the hard tyre, it was quite a bit of a struggle, and then on the medium, I wanted to open up that gap a little bit more. So then, of course, at one point, you’re seeing, like 10-15 laps to go and you have a good gap, you don’t want to take too many risks. It’s probably not flat-out pushing, but you cannot relax too much because then you lose the temperature in your tyres.”

Lewis Hamilton behind Fernando Alonso in 20233 Canadian Grand Prix

Alonso and Hamilton fight for second: they had Verstappen in sight for much of the race

Aston Martin

The relative lack of dive and pitch is a key part of the RB19’s armoury, giving it an extremely stable aero platform around which to exploit that sophisticated, very three-dimensional underbody. The small penalty which must be paid is its slight reluctance to bring its front tyres quickly up to temperature. That’s why its qualifying advantage has tended to be smaller than that of race day. It’s also why Max was having difficulty here getting the tyres into their temperature window on a cool day around a track of short, slow corners, with plenty of tyre-cooling straights in between.

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But even with that handicap, Alonso was only ever a distant threat. The Aston might have got closer if a) Alonso hadn’t been beaten off the startline by Hamilton’s slower Mercedes and got stuck there for 20-odd laps and b) if a false data read-out had not obliged Alonso to drive for several laps of lift-and-coast to save fuel which didn’t need saving.

That also flattered how close the Merc was to the Aston. Hamilton had initiated the second stops from around 5sec behind the Aston, triggering Alonso and Verstappen into responding. Hamilton made a late charge, forcing Alonso to respond, but Fernando always had it well in hand.

Hamilton’s assessment was realistic. “We didn’t have the pace today,” he said.  “We knew that this wouldn’t be our strongest circuit, as we struggle in the lower-speed corners particularly. And that’s really where I was losing to Fernando and to Max, just on traction out of Turn 2, out of pretty much every corner. We’ve got a lot of work to do just to add rear downforce to the car and a little bit more efficiency, but we’re chipping away and I do believe we will get there at some stage.”

Alex Albon in 2023 Canadian Grand Prix

Albon held on to qualifying gains by keeping rivals behind him


George Russell crashed the other Merc when running behind the Hamilton-Alonso train in the first stint, hitting the Turn 8 barriers on lap 12. As he limped to the pits for repairs the safety car came out and the front half of the field took the opportunity of pitting. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz – running in a midfield DRS train, trapped behind slower cars on account of their poor grid positions – stayed out so as to use their performance to leapfrog past the midfield and up to fourth and fifth, where they would finish, ahead of the also one-stopping Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who hadn’t made it out of Q2 in wet qualifying. With enough of a gap behind not to lose position, he was brought near the end for a new set of soft tyres on which he set the race’s fastest lap.

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Alex Albon, one of the stars of qualifying in a heavily-updated Williams (he went fastest in Q2 by getting straight out on slicks and putting in the fast laps in the brief window before the rain returned), was similarly great on race day in finishing seventh. He used a one-stop strategy and good traction out of the hairpin to keep himself ahead of the faster Alpine of Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin and the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

So the Verstappen victory train keeps on running, even when conditions slow it down. “It’s likely that they will win every race,” says Hamilton. “Unless the Astons and us put a lot more performance on the cars, or their car doesn’t finish. It’s not easy with the regulations to find the amount of performance that they have. They’ve got to be 30 [aero] points up on us at certain points through the lap. We’ve got some work to do.”