F1 Canadian Grand Prix: Can George Russell hold off Max Verstappen?

Last season only three drivers won a Formula 1 Grand Prix: Max Verstappen, Sergio Pérez, and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Today’s Canadian Grand Prix is the ninth Grand Prix of the season and four drivers — Verstappen, Sainz, Lando Norris, and Charles Leclerc — have reached the top step of the podium. That mere fact speaks to the compacted field this year, particularly at the pointy end of the grid, and the potential title fight that is emerging in F1.

Can George Russell made it five?

Russell’s stunning performance in qualifying, where and Verstappen posted the exact same time in Q3 but the Mercedes driver secured pole position by putting in his lap first, gives him a chance at his first win of the 2024 campaign. But what will it take to hold off the three-time Drivers’ Champion, who starts alongside him?

A bit of strategy, and perhaps a bit of luck, according to the Mercedes driver.

“I think it’s going to be a tough race for everybody, to be honest. Graining seems to be an issue. And this new track surface, nobody really knows how it’s going to pan out. But we’ve got to go for victory,” said Russell following qualifying on Saturday.

“The car is genuinely really, really fast at the moment. But it’s going to be a long race, I think. As soon as you fall off that cliff of the [tires] tomorrow, it’s going to be really difficult to recover,” added Russell. “So, yeah, it could be a bit of a strategic game. Maybe not as extreme as we saw in Monaco last week, but maybe something similar.”

Here is the full starting grid, and some more questions that will be answered later today:

Can Max Verstappen thunder to the front?

Over the past few F1 seasons, one of the most uncomfortable positions in the sport has been P1 … when you have nothing but Max Verstappen in your rear-view mirrors.

That will be the scene for Russell heading into Turn 1 and then Turn 2, known as Virage Senna.

Can Russell hold him off? And if he manages to keep the lead, how long can he keep it for?

Looking at their fastest laps from yesterday — Verstappen’s performance in Q3 and Russell’s 1:11.742 in Q2, which was the fastest lap from anyone Saturday — you can see where Russell and the W15 had an advantage over Verstappen.

On the straights:

That is the telemetry data for those two laps, courtesy of F1-Tempo. Russell’s strength on the straights, particularly the long Casino Straight heading into the final chicane by the Wall of Champions, could be huge on Sunday in this race.

It is also a departure from recent years, when the pure power of the Red Bull challengers gave them the advantage on sections like the Casino Straight. For example, here is last year’s telemetry data from the Canadian Grand Prix, which saw Verstappen win, and Fernando Alonso finish in P2:

Screenshot 2024 06 09 at 10.10.18 AM

Times have changed.

Verstappen may still win on Sunday, but it is not a given like it has been in year’s past.

What is the right strategy?

This might be the biggest question heading into Sunday.

What is the right strategy, given the newly resurfaced track in Montreal?

According to Pirelli’s Strategy Guide, the new surface in Montreal has made a two-stop strategy the likely solution for teams:

Screenshot 2024 06 09 at 10.12.57 AM

But which two-stop? The medium-hard-hard shown first? Or the medium-hard-medium offered as option two?

According to Mario Isola, Pirelli’s Director of Motorsport, the graining and degradation issues they have seen on the medium tires this weekend makes Option 1 more likely.

“Luckily, we had that one dry session,” said Isola. “We were expecting a mix between one- and two-stop strategies but the wear and degradation we measured on the medium compound is higher than expected. I believe this will push teams onto a two-stop.”

Will a team starting outside the points roll the dice on a one-stopper? This is the path Alexander Albon rode to a P7 in last year’s race, as he stopped on Lap 12 and switched from the medium compound to a set of hards. He then delivered a stunning 58-lap performance on that set of hards, for a tremendous result.

Could that be Sergio Pérez’s path to points?

Of course, all of this assumes a dry race …

What does the weather hold in store?

This might be the biggest question of the day.

What do the weather gods have in store for the field in Montreal?

According to the Weather Channel, there is a 58% chance of rain right after lights go out for the Canadian Grand Prix. And moments ago in one of the support races — the Porsche Carrera Cup North America — wet conditions led to this:

All week long drivers and teams have talked about the potential impact from the weather, and how the results on Sunday might come down to which team makes the right strategy calls … and when they make them.

That is looking very likely as the Canadian Grand Prix approaches.

What about Aston Martin?

A team that has perhaps fallen down the pecking order and flown under the radar a bit this season?

Aston Martin.

They were the darlings of the early season a year ago, evidenced by Alonso’s P2 in this race last season. But they arrived in Montreal sitting just fifth in the Constructors’ Championship standings, 52 points behind fourth-place Mercedes.

Can they have a bounceback performance today?

Saturday was a strong result for the team, as Alonso will start up in P6, while Lance Stroll also starts in a points position, as he will roll off the line ninth. That gives Aston Martin a very good chance at accomplishing something they have done just twice this season:

A double-points weekend.

Team Principal Mike Krack outlined after qualifying how the circuit in Montreal might be a good fit for the AMR24.

“We achieved our target of getting both cars through to Q3 this afternoon in Montréal with the prospect of rain not amounting to much in the end. Our pace has been better at our ‘home’ race but we are not getting carried away. It was a close battle and encouraging to only be a few tenths away from pole position,” said Krack.

“We made good use of the used [tires] which got both Lance and Fernando through to Q3 ahead of the Ferraris,” added the Aston Martin boss. “They both drove very well with an ever-changing track. The AMR24 is certainly more suited to this circuit and we will work overnight to optimise our prospects for tomorrow’s race and give the local crowd something to cheer.”

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