► Verstappen wins as Perez makes more mistakes
► Mercedes and Aston Martin benefit from upgrades
► Hamilton and Alonso put on a show
F1 returned to Canada yesterday for the eighth race of the season, and while we didn’t get anything as spectacular as the 2011 race – we did get an intriguing competition. Of course, that all happened seconds behind the winner Max Verstappen, who successfully navigated a changeable qualifying session to put it on pole and never look back.
Completing the podium (and creating much of the interest in the race) was Fernando Alonso in a newly upgraded Aston Martin, and Lewis Hamilton in his heavily-revised Mercedes W14. However, there were some other interesting stories across the field. Here’s everything we learnt from the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix.
1. The title fight must be over
Sergio Perez can no longer be seen as a credible championship threat. After a strong start to the season a run of unforced errors and a general lack of pace has the Mexican trailing his teammate’s 195 points by 69 points – that’s nearly three race wins. Worse still, with 126 points Perez is just just nine points ahead of Alonso’s 117 points and 24 ahead of Hamilton’s 102 point tally. Both have inferior cars, but better consistency.
Part of the problem stems from Saturday: Perez has come unstuck three weekends in a row, qualifying his supreme RB19 12th in Canada, 11th in Spain and 20th in Monaco. And despite being a solid overtaker, Perez has also lacked the overall pace and tyre perseveration skills to fight toe-to-toe with his teammate. Just look at how the Miami GP unfolded.
Changeable weather undid any chances of Perez having a clean weekend, and he ended up bringing it home in 6th. It’s hard to pass in Canada, but you can’t help but feel Max Verstappen would’ve made it to the podium in the same scenario.
2. Ferrari turns a corner
Ferrari may have tasted success at Le Mans the week before, but Canada brought no such satisfaction for the Ferrari team. Maranello thought it may be the second fastest team on Friday, but a disasterous Saturday proved otherwise with both red cars quliafying 8th and 11th.
A penalty for impedeing dropped Sainz further back, and the Scuderia ended up finishing 4th and 5th – behind the sole Mercedes. A solid result for a team that is still getting to grips with its new upgrade package, but hardly where the team though it’d be on Friday night.
3. George Russell makes an error
Mercedes’ struggles have overshadowed how consistent and fast George Russell has been since he joined the Brackley team, but this weekend he made a rare mistake: Just 13 laps into the race, Russell too much kerb before Turn 9, and slammed into the wall after skipping across the track. Although he was able to muster a strong recovery drive thereafter, a possible brake issue forced the Englishman to retire.
In 2023, George is key to Mercedes’ hopes of bagging second place in the constructors’ championship: Hamilton and Alonso will almost cancel each other out in terms of points, but the team from Brackley can make real gains when looking Russell’s points haul against with that of Stroll’s.
Simply put, a handful races into the season, Aston Martin feels like a one-car team, whereas Mercedes feels like a two-car team. Stroll only finished 9th in Canada, for example.
4. Albon leads Williams to more points
Williams introduced biggest update so far this season in Canada, and Alex Albon was able to immediately get the most out of it. After qualifying a solid tenth position, the ex-Red Bull driver drove a defensive masterclass to pick up a strong 7th place. That put him ahead of the both Alpines, one Aston Martin and both McLarens.
With James Vowles in charge and Alex Albon maturing into a solid team leader, Williams is now able to consistently challenge the midfield teams. Would Albon be doing a better job in the second Red Bull this year? It’s very possible.
5. Alonso and Hamilton give us a show
One of the most interesting parts of the 2023 Canadian GP was the titanic battle between old rivals Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. Starting P3 and P2 on the grid, they were always racing each other – Max was out of reach – and what followed was a cold war between the two.
There weren’t many passes as such – Hamilton got the jump on the Spaniard at the start and was soon overcome by the newly-upgraded Aston’s pace – but both cars were close to each other throughout. There was drama off-track too, after a possible unsafe release by Mercedes and some theatrical ‘avoidance’ by Alonso.
But the best bit? Alonso and Hamilton might not have the fastest overall cars right now, but they both have machines they’re happy to take to the limit – and that’s exactly what they did lap after lap. Towards the end of the race we got to see two drivers still at the top of their game, wringing every inch out of their respective packages. It’s now up to the engineering teams at Brackley and Silverstone to ensure it’s a three-way fight – and not five seconds down the road from a Red Bull.