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10 things we learned at the 2023 F1 Canadian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen cruised to another victory at Formula 1's Canadian Grand Prix, marking Red Bull's 100th win, as team-mate Sergio Perez struggled once again. Further back, George Russell found out just how the Montreal track can bite, while Ferrari suffered another qualifying strategy blunder. Here's more on all that and the other big topics from last weekend

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A523, the rest of the field at the start

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

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Max Verstappen stormed to another this season with his fine performance in the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix, but this one had a special impact for Red Bull. It now joins Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Mercedes in securing 100 Formula 1 race victories. 

Behind Verstappen came a scrap between multiple world champions Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, which appeared to delight both. But much further back Sergio Perez had another bruising weekend in terms of his faint 2023 title aspirations, while Ferrari got in its own way once again. Plus, there was plenty more pack action to delve into, rules debates to be had and odd confusion over a touching helmet livery tribute.

Here we present the pick of what we learned from F1's latest visit to Montreal.

1. Unlucky bird can’t stop Verstappen’s latest masterclass

A bird remained lodged in Verstappen's front-right brake duct to the flag

A bird remained lodged in Verstappen's front-right brake duct to the flag

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

With his sixth win of the 2023 season, Max Verstappen is now level with the legendary Ayrton Senna in the victory tally section of F1’s history books. It was yet another controlled, clinical display from the world champion – who marches ever onwards towards his third successive crown.

Verstappen negotiated the headache of a rain-impacted qualifying as well as should be expected with the season’s fastest car, although was perhaps fortunate the timing of the Q3 red flag didn’t allow Fernando Alonso to sneak ahead for an unlikely Aston Martin pole.

At both the race start and safety car restart Verstappen was under little pressure, and in fact, it was misfortune that most imperilled his race – the Dutchman striking an even unluckier bird exiting the first chicane on lap 10. This remained lodged in his front-right brake duct to the flag but didn’t prove to be more costly for Verstappen.

"It was still stuck on my car when I came in, it didn't look great!" he said afterwards. "I also feel sorry for the mechanic having to remove it."

2. Perez still hasn’t recovered early-season form

Perez felt he “just didn't have the pace” in the race

Perez felt he “just didn't have the pace” in the race

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Sergio Perez arrived in Canada set to face questions about Christian Horner’s comments post-Barcelona that he should “not put pressure on himself” regarding title aspirations against Verstappen. The Mexican driver quickly dismissed this theory, but then didn’t find the "reset" he was targeting, as another Q2 exit meant he was again absent from the lead fight despite driving an RB19.

Perez backed Red Bull’s call to put in a banker lap on intermediates, but then couldn’t gain tyre temperature quickly enough to progress in the brief slicks window last Saturday. That left him starting 12th, where he stayed after being repassed, twice, by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz on the opening lap – Perez having nipped ahead off the line.

Perez then felt he “just didn't have the pace” in the race, around being unfortunate the early safety car somewhat negated the advantage of the hard-starting contra strategy. But he failed to pass the slower Ferraris and poorly fell over 10s behind them late on, struggling with his car’s braking requirements at this venue, before being stopped to chase the fastest lap.

That Perez was successful and it was the highlight of his weekend demonstrates how badly and quickly his season’s story has changed.

3. One classic Canada incident can trigger another

Russell found out just how hard the track can bite the unwary

Russell found out just how hard the track can bite the unwary

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve being 44 years old presents a logistical challenge given the gargantuan scope of F1’s event requirements on this narrow island setting. But its old-school layout and threatening walls provide a great driving challenge.

George Russell, having done well to qualify just behind noted Montreal master Lewis Hamilton in his sister Mercedes, found out just how hard the track can bite the unwary. When Russell climbed over the Turn 8 sausage kerb while chasing Alonso following the Virtual Safety Car triggered by Logan Sargeant’s retirement, he “wasn’t expecting” it to have “such a violent response”. So, When Russell came bumping back down lost his W14’s rear and smashed its right side.

Having learned from stopping with a car that could’ve continued at Silverstone in 2022, Russell got back to the pits and eventually the points thanks to his one-stop strategy and pace with a “bit bent” machine.

But he was forced to retire due to excessively wearing brakes – another familiar Canada challenge –caused by running in a bigger pack than expected given his high qualifying result. And so, a DNF followed, indirectly caused by his crash.

4. Qualifying calls the latest Ferrari strategy focus

Ferrari’s strategy was in back in the headlines over its qualifying calls in Montreal

Ferrari’s strategy was in back in the headlines over its qualifying calls in Montreal

Photo by: Ferrari

Ahead of the action getting underway in Montreal, Charles Leclerc had quietly admitted that Ferrari hadn’t found any mechanical reason to explain his baffling lack of pace in Barcelona qualifying. Two days later, he failed to make Q3 for the second successive race.

This time, Ferrari’s strategy was back in the headlines over its qualifying calls – as Leclerc’s early Q2 request to switch to slicks, a la Alex Albon, was overruled and he ended up dumped out in 11th. He then criticised his squad, saying “we cannot afford to do those mistakes again”.

This follows Ferrari botching a similar inters/slicks qualifying tyre call late in Q3 in Brazil last year, but team boss Fred Vasseur was adamant Leclerc didn’t appreciate the “global picture of the situation” – in that if he’d gone off on the slicks without an inters banker time he’d have started even lower. Nevertheless, Vasseur has vowed to “have a meeting to discuss about it on Tuesday to fix it” back at Ferrari’s Maranello base.

Whatever the findings of that investigation, that qualifying call, and the saga around Carlos Sainz’s impeding penalty, cost Ferrari on a weekend where it appeared to avoid suffering its previous race stint tyre woe. Both drivers nailed the one-stopper and dropped Perez, raising a feeling of what might’ve been but for a better Saturday for the red team.

5. Albon again able to show his class and worth to F1

Albon ended up with Williams equal-best result in five years

Albon ended up with Williams equal-best result in five years

Photo by: Williams

The main consequences of changing the way Autosport rates every F1 driver after each race in 2023 is that fine qualifying performances go unrewarded. Sometimes, an in-race gaffe can eclipse things entirely. But Albon was so good last Sunday he was able to overcome both those points and earn the second maximum score of our new ratings.

Having brilliantly topped Q2 with his bold early slicks use, he made the tricky one-stopper work from starting ninth. That was after a brief off when fighting Kevin Magnussen cost him a mid-race spot to the two-stopping Oscar Piastri. Securing seventh was in itself impressive, but the way Albon calmly held off both the recovering Russell and then the rampant Esteban Ocon – waggling wing and all – by nailing his energy deployment and traction requirements in the slippery Williams was magnificent.

That he did it with such assuredness and understated cool speaks to his enduring class, a refreshing tonic in what can be an overly brash arena. Plus, he ended up with Williams' equal-best result in five years, if we discount Russell’s podium in the 2021 Spa washout.

6. Williams upgrades work as rebuilding team hoped

The main aim of Williams’ upgrade was to add on downforce

The main aim of Williams’ upgrade was to add on downforce

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

“As a package, we are getting there,” Albon said of Williams’ extensive floor, sidepod, engine cover, halo fairing, mirror placing, suspension geometry, rear brake duct and rear wing endplate upgrades, which only ran on his FW45 this time.

“This was always going to be a track that suited us. But just looking at lap times, we’re clearly competitive, so I’m happy. I feel we made a good step.”

The main aim of Williams’ upgrade was to add on downforce – something it’d been lacking since the start of the new rules era. Therefore, this wasn’t the best track to assess its impact as one of the strengths of its package has long been straight-line speed. That it kept this was handy for Albon’s race, but also gives Williams a good base to build on with its upgraded car, with Sargeant set to get the new bits next time out in Austria.

The team also nailed critical calls last weekend – such as running the slicks to ensure a Q2 progression for Albon and fitting a new engine in his car to boost his top speed at a venue where that’s vital.

The team might be running systems “20 years out of date”, which team boss James Vowles is keen to highlight as part of his bold strategy for successfully completing Williams’ rebuild, but it still has the nous to make F1 weekends interesting in a season crying out for additional narratives.

7. Norris penalty description has opened another needless rules debate…

Norris's That transgression deserves a penalty, but to dress it up as “unsportsmanlike conduct

Norris's That transgression deserves a penalty, but to dress it up as “unsportsmanlike conduct" makes no sense

Photo by: Patrick Vinet / Motorsport Images

McLaren’s Lando Norris claimed receiving a five-second time addition last Sunday “doesn't make sense to me”. This was handed out as breach of Article 12.2.1.l of the FIA International Sporting Code and declared “unsportsmanlike conduct" for his driving behind Piastri when the safety car was called. Both things are baffling.

For a start, Norris clearly reacts to being told, twice, he was McLaren’s “second car” at the upcoming safety car stops. He obviously drops well behind team-mate Piastri and so appears to breach Article 55.5 of F1’s sporting rules, which states “no car may be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person at any time whilst the safety car is deployed” and applies on track and in the pitlane.

That transgression deserves a penalty, but to dress it up as “unsportsmanlike conduct" makes no sense. McLaren team principal Andrea Stella suggested the stewards “want to set new references”, but to do so in such a manner opens the possibility of teams calling for this interjection for all manner of things. Could it be passing attacks and defences, track limits abuse, carrying on with damaged cars – the potential list is lengthy because F1’s nature is about pushing the rules no matter what.

It’s just too vague a ruling and could well lead to further pain in the seemingly ever-lasting current debate on F1’s rules, its rule makers and officiating.

8. …but Hulkenberg qualifying penalty shows the importance of not crossing firmer rules

Nico Hulkenberg’s red flag delta time transgression in Q3 cost him a second-place start

Nico Hulkenberg’s red flag delta time transgression in Q3 cost him a second-place start

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

But one point where the Canada event stewards made the right call, if a wince-inducing one, concerned Nico Hulkenberg’s red flag delta time transgression in Q3. This cost Haas its best grand prix starting spot and was decried as overly harsh in some quarters.

In fact, the stewards opted to hand Hulkenberg a smaller penalty – three places and not 10 – as they might’ve done because he did adhere to the required speed having gone too fast initially in confusion when the reg flags came out following Piastri’s crash. The stewards also felt he wasn’t driving dangerously.

This is just one of F1’s firm rules that must be sanctioned harshly to avoid abuse. It comes just eight months after Pierre Gasly’s near-miss with a tractor on the track in the wet at Suzuka. With that and that track’s history in such circumstances in mind, it’s obvious why this must be strictly judged and with no ignorance defence. The possible consequences are just too severe.

Hopefully, people will at least remember Hulkenberg’s latest brilliant inters driving to trail only Verstappen in Q3.

9. ‘Big Brother’ issues can impact fan enjoyment unexpectedly

FP1 was in essence cancelled after just five minutes of installation running following Pierre Gasly’s early stoppage

FP1 was in essence cancelled after just five minutes of installation running following Pierre Gasly’s early stoppage

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Living amid intense CCTV coverage is just one of those uncomfortable realities of the modern world. But few would’ve expected such cameras to cost F1 fans 30 minutes of practice running last weekend.

FP1 was in essence cancelled after just five minutes of installation running following Pierre Gasly’s early stoppage, as the track’s static camera monitoring system suddenly wasn’t synching up with the live feed in race control, which meant the restart couldn’t take place. The issue then couldn’t be rectified until just 20 minutes before FP2 got underway.

That session was extended by 30 minutes ahead of its expected start time to make up for the earlier lost action, but it still cost spectators premium F1 track time on a day when rain was threatening and did appear late in FP2. Plus, prices are always hefty where motorsport is concerned. It was a rare problem, but one F1 really can’t afford to witness repeated to avoid short-changing its customers.

10. Helmet tributes aren’t always simple

Leclerc unveiled a delightful Gilles Villeneuve helmet tribute to legendary Ferrari driver at the track that bears his name

Leclerc unveiled a delightful Gilles Villeneuve helmet tribute to legendary Ferrari driver at the track that bears his name

Photo by: Ferrari

Everyone loves a one-off F1 helmet design, right? Sure, Sebastian Vettel’s regular lid livery swapping annoyed a few bores this time a decade ago, but actually the rule changes that followed that period meant now rarer design changes are celebrated more by most fans.

Leclerc unveiled a delightful Gilles Villeneuve helmet tribute to the legendary Ferrari driver at the track that bears his name as the event got underway but found himself inside a bizarre saga that meant he stopped using it after FP1.

It emerged Leclerc hadn’t alerted the Villeneuve family in advance and issues arose around adding Ferrari’s current sponsors to the famous design. Thankfully, everyone saw sense and Leclerc was back running the lovely lid for qualifying.

"It was just a big surprise to see the helmet [on Friday] because nobody had called the family,” Jacques Villeneuve said of the issue. “It's mainly my mother and my sister involved in that. So that was just a big shock.

“And when Lewis [Hamilton] wore Ayrton Senna's helmet the family was involved, obviously, because it's not just something you do like this. But then I chat with Charles and he said, 'Oh, sorry, I didn't think about it.' And then I think he talked with my sister and everything seems to be clean there.”

After a late check with the Villeneuve family, Leclerc was able to use his tribute helmet for the rest of the weekend

After a late check with the Villeneuve family, Leclerc was able to use his tribute helmet for the rest of the weekend

Photo by: Ferrari

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