Max Verstappen wins a rainy and chaotic F1 race in Canada as rivals challenge Red Bull

MONTREAL — Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday, holding off threats from McLaren and Mercedes drivers in a chaotic race shaped by unpredictable weather.

Finishing a few seconds behind him was McLaren’s Lando Norris, who briefly led the race after an ill-timed “safety car” put him behind Verstappen. Mercedes’ George Russell finished third after starting first, narrowly beating his teammate Lewis Hamilton after an intense battle during the final laps of the race.

It was an exciting Grand Prix with three different teams trading the lead in changing conditions, from wet to dry to wet to dry again. Russell led off the line against Verstappen before a charging Norris overtook both of them to take the lead. But a crash caused a safety car, playing into Verstappen’s hands and helping him get ahead.

“Yes! What a race, guys!” Verstappen said on team radio after winning the race. “Not easy, but we did it… Made the right calls.”

Red Bull’s victory masked the extent of the fresh competition the team is facing after a dominant stretch. Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez, crashed and failed to finish in the challenging conditions, which meant Red Bull was outscored by McLaren on Sunday as both McLaren drivers scored points.

Four different teams have either won or scored pole position in the last four races, a rarity in modern Formula 1.

“It was chaos! It was eventful,” Norris said in a post-race interview before taking the podium. “Then the safety car had me over… Just a bit unlucky, but it is what it is.”

Mercedes driver George Russell of the United Kingdom leads with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen behind him Sundahy at the Canadian Grand Prix. Christinne Muschi / Canadian Press via AP

Russell and Verstappen set an identically fast lap in qualifying, down to the last decimal, but Russell started in pole position because he set it first. It was just the second time in F1 history that multiple drivers set an identical fastest lap — the first time was in 1997.

“First pole position of the year. Exciting moving forward,” Russell said after the race, taking the optimistic view.

Rivals say Red Bull remain formidable.

“I don’t think you can count them out,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown told NBC News on the grid before the Canadian Grand Prix began. “But we’re going to give them a run for their money.”

In an interview with NBC News on the eve of the race, Horner said the era of Red Bull dominance that existed in 2023 is over, and the team have a fight on their hands from Ferrari and McLaren for the driver and constructor’s championships this year. His team won a staggering 21 of the 22 races held last season, with Verstappen winning 19 of them in a record-smashing year.

The team boss attributed that to a mix of factors: Red Bull hitting its stride early in the current era of regulations, competitors finding strengths late, rival teams adopting parts of the successful “RB19” design and some of the car’s weaknesses coming to light.

“There was always going to be convergence. And we’re seeing that at the moment. So we just got to keep pushing hard, keep looking for those incremental gains,” Horner said. “We’ve hit the top of the curve earlier than others for sure. It’s inevitable. But what you have to remember is last year was a unicorn year. That’s not natural to win the amount of races that we won last year.”

From left, Red Bull’s driver Max Verstappen, Mercedes driver George Russell and McLaren’s Lando Norris pose Saturday after the qualifying session. Shawn Thew / AFP – Getty Images

Red Bull’s challenges began to appear last month, when McLaren’s Norris won the Miami Grand Prix. Two weeks later, Verstappen barely held off a charging Norris to win by less than one second in Italy. Then in Monaco, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc dominated while a struggling Verstappen finished sixth.

But after his heroics in Monte Carlo, Leclerc failed to finish in Canada after early engine problems and a strategy error put him in last place mid-race, before Ferrari asked him to come into the pits. His teammate Carlos Sainz crashed his car and also retired.

“I think both McLaren and Ferrari could be a threat for Red Bull, but we clearly cannot afford to have Canadas anymore,” Sainz said after the race, adding that Ferrari needs “more Monacos” going forward.

McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, who finished fifth on Sunday, said it “will be tough” to challenge Red Bull over the full season when asked about Horner’s comments the previous day.

“But I think we’re in the fight,” Piastri said after the race, adding that McLaren has been “very consistent in the last few weekends” and strong “across some very different circuits.”

“Still some things to tidy up. And we’re talking about little things, but when you’re fighting for championships, little things go a long way,” Piastri said. “It’ll be a big second half of the year to make it happen.”

Perez, for his part, said he recognizes the emerging competition.

“I think the competition is definitely closer, getting a lot closer to us,” he said. “So we just have to be perfect and make sure that we are able to put it all together.”

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