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Double Redemption

Verstappen Consolidates His Lead |

While reports are mounting on South Africa staging a Grand Prix again, the momentum in the current championship chase has swung firmly in favour of Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Winning in Baku redeemed the Dutchman’s heartbreak of last year, and his first victory in Canada made up for the disappointment he suffered there in 2019.

South Africa is on the verge of hosting a Formula One Grand Prix again. So read the headlines after F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali visited the country for talks with Warren Scheckter, CEO of the South African Grand Prix Corporation, and Toby Venter, owner of the Kyalami circuit, where the race could be hosted.

The talks, by all accounts, appear to progress promisingly, but Scheckter warned there is still a lot of work to be done to make it happen. If it comes off, it will be the first time in 30 years that Formula One returns to the continent. Scheckter added that any announcement in this regard is still some months away, so watch this space.

Unbridled Bulls in Baku

There has been high drama in all four of the previous races at the Baku track, and with Sergio Perez now in contention for the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship, it was a three-way fight for points up front. Charles Leclerc put his Ferrari in pole position, followed by Perez, with Verstappen on the second row ahead of Sainz. George Russell (Mercedes) was fifth on the grid, ahead of Lewis Hamilton in seventh. 

At the start, Perez launched his Red Bull perfectly, covering the inside. Pole-sitter Leclerc locked up into the first corner, and had to fall in behind the Mexican, with Verstappen and Sainz line astern.

Perez quickly opened a nearly two-second lead, while Verstappen started harrying Leclerc as Sainz dropped away slightly. Then, on Lap 9, it was trouble for the Scuderia as Sainz parked his Ferrari at Turn 4 with hydraulic failure. A Virtual Safety Car was deployed, and Leclerc immediately pitted for hard tyres. The stop was slow, and he was now over 10 seconds behind Verstappen. 

Russell, now fourth, also pitted, but the Red Bulls stayed out. Perez was now just ahead of Verstappen, but on lap 14, the Dutchman passed his teammate into Turn 1 with DRS assistance. Leclerc, meanwhile, was catching both and was only eight seconds behind the Mexican. 

Perez pitted for hard tyres on Lap 16 and emerged third behind Leclerc after a slow stop. With Verstappen still to pit, it was clear that Leclerc was in control of the race, and even after a superfast stop, the Dutchman was nearly 14 seconds behind the Ferrari driver. He wasn’t making inroads into Leclerc’s lead either, so all the Monegasque had to do was drive it home.

It wasn’t to be, as the Ferrari started to smoke on Lap 20, leading to an agitated Leclerc’s second retirement from the lead in three races. Verstappen was now comfortably ahead of Perez, with Russell nine seconds back. 

Although Hamilton complained of pain due to excessive porpoising, he wasn’t giving up, after another VSC, he re-joining the race in sixth, but he soon got past Tsunoda and then methodically reeled in Gasly, passing him on Lap 45.

Verstappen took an easy win – redemption for last year when a tyre failure robbed him of victory – with Perez as runner-up, claiming the fastest lap. Russell, Mr Consistency, clinched the final podium position with Hamilton fourth, and was voted Driver of the Day. Verstappen, joining Jim Clark and Niki Lauda on 25 career Grand Prix wins, now had a 21-point lead over Perez, with Leclerc dropping down to third. 

Azerbaijan Formula 1 Grand Prix

1. Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:34:05.941
2. Sergio Perez Red Bull +20.823s
3. George Russell Mercedes +45.995s
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +71.679s
5. Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +77.299s

Montreal magic with Bull-fighter Sainz

The disappointment of Baku lingered on for Ferrari as Leclerc’s car needed a raft of new power unit elements, dropping him to the back of the grid in Canada, so the Monegasque, already 34 points behind Verstappen, was likely to lose more championship points.

Extreme wet conditions during qualifying at the historic Circuit Gilles Villeneuve played into the hands of the Alpine and Haas teams, with veteran Fernando Alonso sublime in the wet and qualifying second to Verstappen, while Sainz, in third, rued a wheelspin moment in the final corner, costing him a possible pole.

The rain made way for clear skies on Sunday. Verstappen made a clean start, keeping both Alonso and Sainz at bay, and opened a slight gap. Sainz cleared Alonso on Lap 3, but Sergio Perez, having a dismal weekend, retired on Lap 8 with gearbox issues, triggering a VSC.

Verstappen pitted for hard tyres under the VSC, but Sainz and Alonso stayed out. Verstappen (now third) reeled in Alonso – passing the Spaniard on Lap 15, but another VSC (after Schumacher retired) allowed leader Sainz, as well as Russell, Zhou, Ocon, Vettel, Ricciardo and Norris to pit. 

Meanwhile, Leclerc made up positions, passing Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) on Lap 21 for seventh. Verstappen was now leading Sainz by eight seconds, and the Spaniard was well clear of Hamilton, Alonso, Russell and Ocon, and Leclerc.

Sainz, on fresher tyres, was catching Verstappen, and with his lead down to six seconds, the Dutchman dived into the pits on Lap 43. He emerged side-by-side with former foe Hamilton but quickly got past him. Hamilton then pitted, followed by Russell and Leclerc, a slow stop dropping him to 13th, but on fresh rubber he quickly moved up to 8th

Tsunoda pitted on Lap 47 but made a hash of it when he left the pit lane, careening into the wall at Turn 2. The Safety Car was deployed, and Sainz made a quick pit stop, stacking up right behind Verstappen. With 16 laps left, Verstappen tried to pull a gap to Sainz, but the Spaniard was having none of it, staying with the Red Bull lap after lap. 

He just could not get close enough to make a move, and in the end, his former Toro Rosso teammate took the chequered flag first by less than a second. Hamilton was a commendable third, showing decent speed in the Mercedes W13, followed by Russell and a frustrated Leclerc in fifth.

So, it was double redemption for Verstappen, taking his first win in Canada after a dismal race in 2019. He is now 46 points clear of teammate Perez in the standings, with Leclerc a further three behind – with the fast and flowing Silverstone up next.

Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix

1. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:36:21.757
2. Carlos Sainz Ferrari +0.993s
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +7.006s
4. George Russell Mercedes +12.313s
5. Charles Leclerc Ferrari +15.168s

Points standings (after Canadian F1 Grand Prix)

Formula One World Drivers’ Championship:

1. Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) 175
2. Perez (Red Bull Racing) 129
3. Leclerc (Ferrari) 126
4. Russell (Mercedes) 111
5. Sainz (Ferrari) 102

Formula One World Constructors’ Championship:

1. Red Bull Racing 304
2. Ferrari 228
3. Mercedes 188

Report by Ferdi de Vos | Images © Ferrari F1/Red Bull F1/Getty Images/Mercedes-F1/LAT

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