MONTREAL ( Associated Press) – Max Verstappen kept his grip on the fight for the Formula One championship by stopping a late challenge from Carlos Sainz Jr. to secure his sixth win of the season in a fairly easy Sunday drive at the Canadian Grand Prix.
Verstappen won from pole at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to extend his lead in the standings to 46 points over Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, who retired early with a gearbox issue.
“It’s still a very long way to go and I know the difference is certainly huge, but I also know it can change very quickly,” Verstappen said of his points lead. He noted that he overtook Charles Leclerc by 46 points after the third race of the season.
The Dutchman had no trouble clearing Fernando Alonso, who made his first front-row debut in a decade, then joked that he would attack Verstappen in the first turn to steal the win.
But there was no challenge, and by the time Sainz passed Alonso to second on lap 2, Verstappen had already led 2.4 seconds. Sainz was able to close the gap in the final 10 laps and put pressure on the defending F1 champion, but faded on the last lap and was .993 seconds behind in his Ferrari.
“It was good racing, it’s always more enjoyable to be able to really push than to save your tires,” said Verstappen, who added Sainz “didn’t go into overtaking, but it was pretty close.”
Sainz said the best he got on Sunday was second.
“When I gave it my all, I was risking everything,” Sainz said. “I can tell you I was pushing. I just left everything there. For the first time this season I can say that I was the fastest guy on the track, which gives me confidence and some hope for the next race .
Mercedes made a tremendous rebound from their season-long struggles, which included a grueling Friday practice, as seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton made his first podium since the season-opening race in March. George Russell was fourth as Hamilton beat his new teammate for the second time in nine races this season.
“It feels great to be in the middle of a fight and at the end I was living with these guys. It gives me and the team a lot of hope,” said Hamilton. “The chances are really there if we can get the setup right and I think that’s the hardest thing to do this year.”
Hamilton received an enthusiastic praise after his finish, saying he had no problems with his back, which has been bothering him throughout the season because of how the new Mercedes bounces across the track.
“It’s good, I’m back to being young,” said the 37-year-old. But he added, “We were still bouncing, but it’s the difference between night and day.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said the team had increased the ride height on their cars to make them more steerable and to eliminate the “porpoizing” effect that has plagued Hamilton and Russell throughout the season. Its drivers have suffered back pain and headache due to jumping.
“The (wind) tunnel has told us that the lower the car, the faster you go, the greater its ground effect,” Wolff said. “But really, you can’t drive the car there so you need to lift it, and lift it, and lift it, and then on paper you’re losing half a second or so to less force.
“We raised it already (Saturday), but the more you lift, the more performance you lose. So it’s always a compromise.”
Meanwhile, Verstappen has now won six of the first nine races of his title defense season.
It was Verstappen’s first win in Montreal, which was said to have hosted a record 338,000 spectators over the F1 three-day weekend as the series returned to Canada after a two-year halt during the pandemic. Sunday’s crowd was treated to clear, sunny skies after two days of rain, which kept qualifying intact and allowed Alonso – and other drivers, including Hamilton – to earn their top starting places this year. Smooth track made.
Leclerc rallied from a 10-place grid penalty to move from 19th to fifth to change the engine in his Ferrari. Alpine’s Estaban Ocon finished sixth and teammate Alonso, who said he would be pleased to finish fifth, was seventh, but was penalized five seconds after weaving a race.
This dropped Alonso to ninth place, while Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas dropped to seventh. Bottas was followed by rookie teammate Zhou Guanyue, who dropped to eighth on Alonso’s penalty and finished in points for the second time this season. Aston Martin’s Canadian driver Lance Stroll was 10th.
Perez dropped out of the race after just nine laps with a gearbox issue, the fourth Red Bull mechanical failure this season between Perez and Verstappen. Eleven laps later, Mick Schumacher came to a halt on the track – ending the Haas driver’s bid to score his first F1 point.
Haas equaled his best qualifying effort in team history the day before, when Kevin Magnussen and Schumacher qualified in fifth and sixth places, but the team failed to convert. Magnussen damaged his front wing on the opening lap and finished 17th.
“I think we made a cake, but we didn’t get to put frosting on it,” Schumacher said.
Toronto native Nicholas Latifi, who has accepted his seat at Williams, is not safe, finishing 16th in his first career home Grand Prix.
“It’s great to finally have my first home race and the support I got from my family, friends and all the fans at Grandstand was amazing,” Latifi said. “In terms of on-track, we lacked a lot of speed and we need to try to understand why. Whatever the outcome, this weekend has been one to remember.