Red Bull Motorsports
Max Verstappen didn’t need a second invitation. Gifted the Formula One equivalent of an empty net at Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix, with both Oracle Red Bull Racing team-mate Sergio Pérez and primary title rival Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) out of the picture after qualifying, the door to a potentially decisive championship strike was kicked open – and the Dutchman duly pushed through it to record his sixth victory in nine starts this season, and his first at the much-loved Montreal venue on its return to the F1 calendar.
With Leclerc at the back of the grid following an engine penalty and Pérez unusually mired down in 13th after a qualifying crash, the aim for Verstappen was as clear the Montreal skies that finally bathed the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in summer sun on race day – convert pole to his 26th F1 win and hope, for his title chances, that Leclerc in particular could only make limited headway from the very back.
The reigning world champion ticked the first box, at first emphatically. Then, as so often happens at the Canadian Grand Prix, a wrinkle; a safety car caused by a crash for Scuderia AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda saw the race paused, and a 70-lap marathon turned into a 15-lap sprint to the finish, Verstappen holding the lead, but Ferrari rival Carlos Sainz lurking ominously behind on tyres that were six laps younger.
With the tension mounting, Verstappen kept his cool and kept Sainz in his mirrors lap after lap as the Spaniard closed up to the back of the RB18 as the duo thundered down the back straight to the final chicane. It wasn't until the final lap that Verstappen could finally exhale, and while the victory margin was a miniscule 0.993 seconds at the end, it was enough for Red Bull's sixth successive victory, the team's longest streak in nine years rolling on.
Sainz took the fifth second place of his career, again tantalisingly close to his first F1 win, while the podium was rounded out by a resurgent Lewis Hamilton, the Mercedes man strong at the site of his first F1 victory way back in 2007.
Leclerc, consigned to a rear-of-grid start because of an engine penalty, recovered to fifth, while an unfortunate early retirement for Pérez saw Verstappen increase his series lead to a whopping 46 points with 12 rounds of the 21-race season still to run.
Here's how F1's return to Canada after a three-year absence played out on Sunday.
No radio, no worries for Max
While the margin of Verstappen's win didn't look likely after he dominated the early exchanges, the reigning world champion's trademark composure was a constant throughout the 70 laps as the race beside the St Lawrence River ebbed and flowed, thanks to several safety car interruptions.
After a wet qualifying session on Saturday scattered the standard starting order, Verstappen bolted from his second pole of the year to lead by as much as nine seconds on Lap 24, and appeared to have the measure of Sainz – and the rest – as the lap counter ticked down. The late-race curveball got the heart rate of the Red Bull pit wall up, especially as a radio communication issue made two-way feedback impossible in the closing stages, but Verstappen was pragmatic and perfect. He knew Sainz couldn't pass him unless he made an error, so simply drove mistake-free.
"The safety car didn't help!" Verstappen grinned afterwards.
"Overall they (Ferrari) were very quick in the race… it was really exciting at the end and I was giving it everything I had. Carlos was doing the same. It's hard to follow around here but I could see he was pushing, charging… the last few laps were a lot of fun.
"Luckily we seem pretty quick this year on the straights, so that really helps a lot. I would have preferred attacking instead of defending, but it worked out."
The victory was Red Bull's third in Canada after Sebastian Vettel won in 2013 and Daniel Ricciardo tasted success for the first time a year later, while Verstappen's victory was his 26th in Formula One, surpassing three-time world champion Niki Lauda and double world champion Jim Clark for ninth all-time.
Oracle Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner was all smiles afterwards, but admitted there were a few sweaty-palm moments.
"It wasn't very comfortable at all in those last 10 laps. (Ferrari) could attack the kerbs and stay close, but there was not a single mistake," Horner said.
"We lost communication with the car, there was only one-way traffic – he could hear us, but we couldn't hear him. I guess he didn't need us too much…
"We've put a great run together, Max is in the form of his life and the team is doing a great job."
The victory saw Red Bull maintain a healthy lead in the constructors' title race too, the team enjoying a 76-point advantage over Ferrari with 304 points.
Checo's Canada curse continues
It wasn't all smiles for Red Bull in Canada despite Verstappen's success, with Pérez's superb recent run coming to an abrupt end.
The Mexican arrived in Montreal on a run of seven straight finishes inside the top four and with five podiums in the past six Grands Prix, but Canada and Pérez have never gone together well, just three points finishes in eight career Canadian starts a jarring counter-point to his recent strong record.
History proved stronger than momentum from qualifying onwards for Pérez, after he slid off the circuit at Turn 3 in Q2 and buried the nose of his car into the barrier, a 13th-place grid slot his worst starting position for 18 races dating back to last season. Hopes were high for the race and he signalled his intentions to run a long first stint and pick off his rivals as they pitted by starting on the hard tyre, but a gearbox gremlin saw him become the race's first retirement after just eight laps.
The one sliver of good news was that, with Leclerc scoring just 10 points for finishing fifth, Pérez maintained second to Verstappen in the drivers' standings, the second time the team has had its drivers sit 1-2 on the table since the Belgian Grand Prix of 2011.
No happy return to Montreal for AlphaTauri
Tsunoda provided, inadvertently, the one headline for Scuderia AlphaTauri on Sunday when he crashed coming out of the pits in his debut at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the resultant safety car setting up the grandstand finish.
The Japanese driver used a long first stint of the race after starting from the very back of the grid alongside Leclerc as he took his own engine penalty to edge his way into the top 10, but failed to score for the third race running as one of the three drivers who failed to see the chequered flag.
It was a race without reward for team-mate Pierre Gasly too, the Frenchman suffering with brake issues in qualifying and starting just 16th, a cruel blow after he was a very promising second in wet conditions during the final practice session. Reliability issues kicked in as early as Lap 4 in Sunday's race, and he finished in 14th place.
No gains for famous surnames
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso was the talk of the town after qualifying on Saturday, the Alpine veteran lining up second on the grid for his best qualifying return since the German Grand Prix 10 years earlier, and just a month shy of his 41st birthday.
The Spaniard was realistic to know he wasn't in the fight with the likes of Verstappen and Sainz for victory, and eventually crossed the line in seventh place. More frustration was to follow, though, as a post-race penalty for weaving on the penultimate lap when fighting with Valtteri Bottas's Alfa Romeo dropped him to ninth.
Alonso's qualifying brilliance made him the oldest driver to start on the front row since 43-year-old Michael Schumacher was second on the grid in the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix; Michael's son Mick finally looked set to score his first F1 points when he qualified a stirring sixth for Haas, but the German retired while running in the points on Lap 19.
It's coming home
Formula One heads back to where it all began for the next round of the 2022 season at the British Grand Prix (July 3), the Silverstone Circuit hosting the first of (so far) 1066 world championship Grands Prix way back on May 13, 1950.
Also a long time ago? The last time Red Bull sprayed the British GP victory champagne at the famous old World War II airfield, Mark Webber the most recent winner for the team back in 2012.
Verstappen, in particular, will be keen for redemption after his controversial early-race clash with Hamilton a year ago; Max won an F1 race at Silverstone before, but that was the one-off 70th Anniversary Grand Prix held in 2020 as part of a hastily re-arranged pandemic-curtailed calendar. He did triumph in the Sprint Race at Silverstone a year ago and, with it, earned his first British GP pole.
Pérez has a Silverstone record that's more modest: the Mexican was 16th last year after an early-race spin dropped him to the back in the Sprint, while he missed both races at the circuit in 2020. Sixth for Force India back in 2016 is his best return in 10 starts to date.
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