Race Weekend Central

F1 Review: Max Verstappen Writing the 2023 Storybook Season – Same Story, Different Track

Max Verstappen drew level with Ayrton Senna by earned his 41st win of his career at the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday (June 18). The weekend weather had provided the biggest challenge to Verstappen’s supremacy but even Montreal’s atmospheric conditions could not thwart Verstappen winning his sixth race of the year and the Red Bull’s eighth consecutive. He now holds a gap of 69 points over teammate Sergio Perez (195–126). 

Fernando Alonso finished second and kept his vow that he would not finish off the podium for the rest of the year, a comment he made during the weekend. Lewis Hamilton took third, indicating that the Mercedes upgrades are helping but are not enough to keep pace with Red Bull and Aston Martin.

Ferrari finally used smart strategy and bounced its drivers from midfield to the fourth and fifth positions. Perez never could drive his way through the field as may have been anticipated and crossed the finish in sixth.

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Alex Albon deserves praise for grabbing seventh, earning his first points since the season-opener in Bahrain. Esteban Ocon hounded Albon for much of the second half of the race but could never make the pass and settled for eighth. 

Lance Stroll made a last-lap pass at the line on Valtteri Bottas at his home track to move into ninth at the finish, with Bottas earning the last points on the day. Norris had held the ninth spot, but a five-second penalty pushed him down to 13th. 

With the win and the sixth-place finish by their drivers, Red Bull now holds a massive gap over Mercedes of 154 points (321–167). Red Bull may have the constructors championship won by the summer break if the season trends continue. 

The Race

Hamilton made the best of his start and slid into the second spot at lights out, following Max Verstappen into the first turn. Alonso slotted into third, with George Russell and Ocon following suit. Nico Hulkenberg, who suffered a three-spot grid penalty for impeding during qualifying, managed to keep sixth with the two McLarens trailing. 

The fascinating early battle came between Albon in 10th, Carlos Sainz in 11th, and Perez in 12th. While Charles Leclerc made short work of Albon on the start, Sainz struggled to pass the Williams driver, and had to deal with Perez hounding him. 

By lap 5, Verstappen had moved out to a 1.5-second lead, and the race began to fall into the pattern of the 2023 season, as once a Red Bull has gotten out in front, it has won the race. 

On lap 8, Logan Sargeant bowed out when his Williams opted for a short race. The short virtual car period did little to affect the field as the car was removed from the track. Soon after, Oscar Piastri slid his McLaren past the over-performing Haas of Hulkenberg. 

Russell found the track confines not to his liking, smacking the wall on lap 12, and brought out a safety car as he and his Mercedes puttered around the track.  Russell fell from fourth to 19th after the incident. 

Hamilton and Alonso faced a close call during the pit stops under the safety car, with Lando Norris and Albon nearly replicating the near collision.  Ferrari pulled off a sagacious decision by deciding not to pit either car and moved from the early challenge into the fourth and fifth positions. 

On lap 23, Alonso made his way past Hamilton after hounding him for a number of laps. While Hamilton looked like he might give Alonso a bit of fight after, he fell behind by a second within a lap and settled into third. 

At midpoint, Verstappen sat in the lead with over five seconds in hand. Ferrari ran a contrarian strategy and had yet to pit but enjoyed running in the fourth and fifth spots. A chance for a safety car fell by the wayside when Kevin Magnussen and Nyck de Vries did their best impression of bumper cars for a third of a lap and wound up in a run-off but managed to get going and resume the race.

A rash of pit stops after the midpoint brought the Ferraris in but came in a long string of others pitting with Hamilton being one of the last to do so, and forced Alonso to follow suit to cover. But the running order barely changed over the course of the second half of the race. 

Norris’ challenge to get into the top ten and hold onto points highlighted any drama that seemed to unfold that did not have to do with the prospect of rain, but otherwise, Verstappen and the next seven trailing drivers held station. 

The Good

In what is increasingly looking like a runaway year for Red Bull and Verstappen, the lack of competition at the front appears discouraging and may be a turn-off for many fans. While Verstappen is almost assured of clinching the title, possibly next week (kidding?), the midfield competition has become scintillating.

Often mentioned as a DRS train, where a bunch of drivers sit close together and cannot pass owing to them all having DRS advantage, the reality is that the spots seven through eleven tend to be where the most difficult racing is happening. Rather than seeing them as clumped together out of an inability to pass, the situation shows that they have all developed similar cars that are unable to find the necessary advantage to moving forward. This grouping then offers the closest and most entertaining racing in the field. If Red Bull hadn’t created a moonshot of a car, perhaps the racing at the front would be similar. 

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The Bad

McLaren appeared to be in a solid position to score double points on the day yet could not cover this expectation. With both drivers in the top 10 after lap 10, the performance and strategy of the two cars drifted outside of the points and, even though Norris offered a speck of hope by cracking the top 10, his penalty (see below) meant that McLaren drifted further back into the midfield wasteland. 

In a similar fashion, the fortunate starting position for Haas and Nico Hulkenberg came to close as a mirage. He may have started sixth but by the conclusion of the race he finished 15th. With teammate Kevin Magnussen sliding into the 17th spot, the day was even more lamentable for Haas and its need to perform better.   

The Questionable

Lando Norris somehow earned an unsportsmanlike behavior. The stewards waited during the race to clarify what may have earned the rather gentlemanly Brit the penalty, and the team questioned how such a judgment could have been made. The ultimate explanation came with the stewards stating that Norris held up the cars behind him during the safety car period, which was something that did not seem to encourage scrutiny at the time of the safety car. The decision pushed Norris from the points and gave McLaren a zero-points day. 

The Driver

Jettisoned from the Red Bull family after driving for them from 2019 to 2021, Albon settled in with Williams Racing in what looked to be a career-ending move. Instead, Albon’s performance with the team continues to look good (though any comments should be tempered by acknowledging how Williams has struggled). As Williams continues to enjoy better financial support with new ownership, the upgrades that the team brought to Canada proved to be a salve for what had been a disappointing season for Albon. Finishing seventh is a little bit of tonic, especially after holding off Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas and Lando Norris for such an extended period in the second half of the race. 

The Results – Canadian Grand Prix

11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT701:33:58.34825
214Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES70+9.570s18
344Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES70+14.168s15
416Charles LeclercFERRARI70+18.648s12
555Carlos SainzFERRARI70+21.540s10
611Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT70+51.028s9
723Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES70+60.813s6
831Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT70+61.692s4
918Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES70+64.402s2
1077Valtteri BottasALFA ROMEO FERRARI70+64.432s1
1181Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES70+65.101s0
1210Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT70+65.249s0
134Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES70+68.363s0
1422Yuki TsunodaALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT70+73.423s0
1527Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI69+1 lap0
1624Zhou GuanyuALFA ROMEO FERRARI69+1 lap0
1720Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI69+1 lap0
1821Nyck De VriesALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT69+1 lap0
NC63George RussellMERCEDES53DNF0

Note – Perez scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race. Norris received a five-second time penalty for unsportsmanlike behavior.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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