Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023

Alonso-Mercedes duel and front-runners in midfield promises lively Canadian GP

2023 Canadian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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A wet qualifying session in constantly changeable conditions is typically the catalyst for unexpected and unpredictable grids as smaller teams are offered rare giant-killing opportunities they could never usually hope to have.

So, naturally, what other front row combination could possibly have been produced from Saturday in Montreal than Max Verstappen on pole with Fernando Alonso lining up alongside him?

But while the very front of the grid is identical to what we had 12 months ago at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the rest of the order sees all manner of cars out of position which could be the recipe for an enthralling an eventful 70 laps of racing.

While we will never know how the top ten would have panned out had Q3 not been interrupted by a red flag which effectively ended the session with seven minutes remaining, it’s unlikely that Verstappen would have been denied pole position. Not without a mistake or the track conditions favouring a rival at the exact right time, that is.

Race start, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2022
Verstappen easily beat Alonso to turn one last year
The championship leader looked quicker on Saturday in the damp than he had after Friday’s interrupted day of running in largely dry conditions. Then, the Red Bull had been bested on the times sheets by both Mercedes and Ferrari. Even on the long runs on medium tyres in the extended second practice, Verstappen’s pace was matched or even slightly beaten by Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari, who hailed his Friday as the team’s best of the season.

However, Verstappen is unlikely to be too worried heading into Sunday when the RB19 has consistently demonstrated its prowess on race days throughout the first seven rounds of the season so far.

“The long run still looked alright – we’re quite happy with that,” Verstappen said after qualifying on Saturday. “But they’re always things that you want to look at and improve and that’s what we did. Maybe the one-lap pace wasn’t fantastic. But that’s not what we are, of course, worried about tomorrow in the race.”

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Last year, Alonso could not beat Verstappen on the short, curved run down to the first corner where the pole-winner’s advantage is especially strong. If he somehow manages to do so this time around, it will be an extremely rare feat indeed. Of the 11 times that Verstappen has started from pole position with the fabled number ‘1’ on his car, he has only failed to lead the first lap once – in Melbourne earlier this year.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023
Gallery: 2023 Canadian Grand Prix qualifying in pictures
Regardless of if he does take the lead at the start or not, Alonso remains realistic – if optimistic – about his and Aston Martin’s hopes of challenging Verstappen for that coveted breakthrough victory.

“Let’s see in a dry race if we can challenge Max a little bit,” Alonso said. “I don’t think that we are at that level, that’s for sure, but in a state of being 20 seconds behind or 30 seconds behind, hopefully we are a little bit closer.”

The first corner could become a more intense flashpoint than typical at the start due to a potentially volatile combination of many drivers out of position on the grid and the newly extended barrier cutting drivers off from easily skipping turn two if they run wide at the first corner. The revised barrier has already caused headaches for drivers, many of whom ran off at turn one over the course of the first two days.

As the turn one left-hander immediately gives way to turn two’s right, anyone on the right side of the grid who doesn’t get to the inside line for turn one is at genuine risk of being run out and onto the run off on the outside. That could lead to some chaotic scenes at the start as drivers potentially have to rejoin the track perpendicular to oncoming traffic.

If there is conflict between Verstappen and Alonso at the start, then Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and George Russell are poised to pick up the pieces having locked out the second row of the grid. After a strong showing in Spain, Mercedes are the only ‘top four’ team with both cars in strong starting positions and Russell is eager to take advantage.

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“The race pace looked really strong,” said Russell of their Friday performance. “Ferrari looked surprisingly competitive in their long-run pace – maybe question marks over their fuel load, but we were just a small step behind Verstappen, ahead of Alonso, ahead of Perez at least yesterday in FP2, so signs of promise going into the race tomorrow.”

George Russell, Mercedes, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023
Mercedes overcame tyre warm-up woes to claim second row
While Mercedes are well-placed to take the fight to Alonso, Ferrari left themselves with a lot to do after qualifying. Carlos Sainz Jnr collected himself a grid penalty which leaves him 11th, promoting Leclerc to 10th, the other Ferrari driver infuriated by the team’s refusal to heed his call for slicks in Q2.

They aren’t the only front-runners who left themselves on the back foot by coming up short in the rain-hit qualifying session. The team mates of the two front row starters, Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, start only 12th and 16th respectively, the latter having been penalised for impeding as Sainz was.

Fortunately for this quartet, this circuit is one where it is possible to make places. Last year, Leclerc started from 19th following a power unit penalty and rose up to fifth by the chequered flag, making 10 on-track passes for position as well as picking up places through the pits. The long back straight leading into the final chicane and the pit straight which follows it provides ample opportunity for slipstreaming and double the chance to use DRS.

The weather has played a starring role all weekend in Montreal, but while current reports do offer a potential risk of rain, it is much less than what teams faced heading into Friday and Saturday. The radar predicts a 20% chance of precipitation at some point during the two-hour window of the race, meaning it’s more likely than not that drivers will face a fully dry race, as teams have expected would be the case all weekend.

However, that does not mean drivers will have the luxury of a consistent track during the grand prix. Over the weekend so far, track temperatures have fluctuated wildly through sessions – from 30-37 degrees in first practice down to 27 degrees in the wet in second practice to as low as 17 degrees in qualifying. As the circuit warms or cools over the course of the race, that could have a direct impact on the performance of various teams through the 70 laps, with some teams, like Mercedes, struggling to generate tyre temperature more than their rivals.

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Pirelli expects that teams will have multiple options for strategy, between one- and two-stop races should it remain dry. However, Pirelli’s chief F1 engineer Simone Berra says the soft C5 compound is unlikely to feature much in the race.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023
Ferrari failed to heed Leclerc’s call for slicks
“The C5 is quite weak, we can say, compared to the medium and hard,” Berra explained. “All the teams are thinking not to use the C5 for the race.”

Instead, the most likely choice is to start on the C4 medium tyre to provide early grip at the start before either pitting twice with stints on the hard and mediums or running a long second stint on hards to the finish. A deciding factor is likely to how soon the C4s succumb to graining, which was a problem for teams on Friday, and may return now yesterday’s heavy rain has washed the track clean of rubber.

With so many factors at play, including the generally high chance of a Safety Car presented by the circuit, this is likely to prove an especially exciting and eventful Canadian Grand Prix. The prospects of a challenge to pole-winner Verstappen emerging look slim, but as always he’s taking nothing for granted. “It’s a long race, a lot of things can happen so we just need to be on top of things.”

Qualifying times in full

PositionNumberDriverTeamQ1 timeQ2 time (vs Q1)Q3 time (vs Q2)
11Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’20.8511’19.092 (-1.759s)1’25.858 (+6.766s)
227Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’22.7301’20.305 (-2.425s)1’27.102 (+6.797s)
314Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’21.4811’19.776 (-1.705s)1’27.286 (+7.510s)
444Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’21.5541’20.426 (-1.128s)1’27.627 (+7.201s)
563George RussellMercedes1’21.7981’20.098 (-1.700s)1’27.893 (+7.795s)
631Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’22.1141’20.406 (-1.708s)1’27.945 (+7.539s)
74Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’21.9981’19.347 (-2.651s)1’28.046 (+8.699s)
855Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’22.2481’19.856 (-2.392s)1’29.294 (+9.438s)
981Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’22.1901’19.659 (-2.531s)1’31.349 (+11.690s)
1023Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’21.9381’18.725 (-3.213s)
1116Charles LeclercFerrari1’21.8431’20.615 (-1.228s)Missed by 0.189s
1211Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’22.1511’20.959 (-1.192s)Missed by 0.533s
1318Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’22.6771’21.484 (-1.193s)Missed by 1.058s
1420Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’22.3511’21.678 (-0.673s)Missed by 1.252s
1577Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’22.3321’21.821 (-0.511s)Missed by 1.395s
1622Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’22.746Missed by 0.016s
1710Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’22.886Missed by 0.156s
1821Nyck de VriesAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’23.137Missed by 0.407s
192Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’23.337Missed by 0.607s
2024Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’23.342Missed by 0.612s

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Sector times

PositionNumberDriverSector oneSector twoSector threeUltimate lapDeficit to ultimate lap
123Alexander Albon22.921 (3)24.835 (1)30.773 (1)1’18.5290.196
21Max Verstappen22.949 (6)25.126 (4)30.795 (2)1’18.8700.222
34Lando Norris23.03 (8)25.094 (3)31.065 (3)1’19.1890.158
481Oscar Piastri22.619 (1)25.308 (9)31.31 (4)1’19.2370.422
555Carlos Sainz Jnr22.951 (7)25.135 (5)31.405 (5)1’19.4910.365
614Fernando Alonso22.787 (2)25.145 (6)31.768 (11)1’19.7000.076
744Lewis Hamilton22.948 (5)25.046 (2)31.817 (13)1’19.8110.615
827Nico Hulkenberg22.928 (4)25.253 (7)31.773 (12)1’19.9540.351
963George Russell23.09 (9)25.282 (8)31.676 (9)1’20.0480.050
1031Esteban Ocon23.232 (11)25.478 (11)31.481 (6)1’20.1910.215
1116Charles Leclerc23.397 (13)25.314 (10)31.583 (7)1’20.2940.321
1211Sergio Perez23.329 (12)25.618 (12)31.682 (10)1’20.6290.330
1318Lance Stroll23.101 (10)26.053 (14)32.276 (18)1’21.4300.054
1477Valtteri Bottas23.719 (14)26.103 (15)31.618 (8)1’21.4400.381
1520Kevin Magnussen23.794 (16)25.762 (13)31.916 (14)1’21.4720.206
1610Pierre Gasly23.723 (15)26.244 (16)32.143 (15)1’22.1100.776
1722Yuki Tsunoda23.999 (17)26.481 (17)32.266 (17)1’22.746
1821Nyck de Vries24.062 (18)26.613 (18)32.434 (19)1’23.1090.028
192Logan Sargeant24.182 (20)26.687 (19)32.263 (16)1’23.1320.205
2024Zhou Guanyu24.088 (19)26.719 (20)32.535 (20)1’23.342

Speed trap

PositionNumberDriverCarEngineModelMax kph (mph)
123Alexander AlbonWilliamsMercedesFW45338.9 (210.6)
21Max VerstappenRed BullHonda RBPTRB19332.6 (206.7)
311Sergio PerezRed BullHonda RBPTRB19332.0 (206.3)
481Oscar PiastriMcLarenMercedesMCL60331.3 (205.9)
516Charles LeclercFerrariFerrariSF-23330.4 (205.3)
655Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrariSF-23329.1 (204.5)
720Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrariVF-23328.4 (204.1)
827Nico HulkenbergHaasFerrariVF-23326.6 (202.9)
977Valtteri BottasAlfa RomeoFerrariC43325.9 (202.5)
1014Fernando AlonsoAston MartinMercedesAMR23325.6 (202.3)
1118Lance StrollAston MartinMercedesAMR23324.7 (201.8)
1244Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedesW14324.4 (201.6)
134Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedesMCL60323.2 (200.8)
1431Esteban OconAlpineRenaultA523322.7 (200.5)
1563George RussellMercedesMercedesW14321.4 (199.7)
162Logan SargeantWilliamsMercedesFW45313.0 (194.5)
1721Nyck de VriesAlphaTauriHonda RBPTAT04311.9 (193.8)
1822Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda RBPTAT04311.5 (193.6)
1910Pierre GaslyAlpineRenaultA523308.7 (191.8)
2024Zhou GuanyuAlfa RomeoFerrariC43306.1 (190.2)

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Over to you

Will this be another routine win for Verstappen? Who will lead the chase of him?

And which of the quartet mired in the midfield will emerge ahead? Share your views on the Canadian Grand Prix in the comments.

2023 Canadian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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10 comments on “Alonso-Mercedes duel and front-runners in midfield promises lively Canadian GP”

  1. Will this be another routine win for Verstappen? – Yes, unless something hampers him.
    Who will lead the chase of him? – Nando.

    1. I can’t even

      1. And yet you do, every single day….

        1. It took a while for someone to join me in the criticism but good to see!

  2. Max will almost certainly drive away from the rest. There may be some incidents at the start which could have an impact. Most likely further down the field.

    Lewis is usually pretty good around here so I can see him finishing second.

    One of the Ferraris ought to be able to get up to sixth I reckon providing they stay out of trouble at the start.

  3. I think that revised barrier, while good in theory, is bound to produce chaos and even more unsafe rejoins.

  4. Alonso can be difficult to understand sometimes, but he’s saying what, maybe we can challenge ‘a little’ being 20-30 seconds behind over a race? It’s a meaningless comment. He’s focused on the Mercedes. And Perez maybe.

  5. Montreal is the most reliable GP on the calendar in terms of producing great racing. We’re in for a treat!
    Stat nerds, when was the last time he had 3 former champions starting from the front?

  6. Ver-Ham-Rus on podium. Alonso – top 7 at best because I am sure Aston will use this dumb, always losing strategy – stay on track as much as possible before first stop, then lose a pitstop compared to guys who stopped earlier and made up heaps of time during a handful of laps, and somehow make 1 pit strategy work. And finish 7-9 at the end.

    Alonso should not waste another opportunity to have a very bad race in Canada. Which is almost every time for him: Lost a win in 2010; DNF in 2011; 5th in race after Q3 in third, 2012; podium in 2013; 6th in 2014; DNF in 2015; lapped in 2016; DNF in 2017; DNF in 2018; 9th in 2022 after second on the grid. Ten races, two podiums, two lost wins.

    1. I know this is with hindsight but even if you look at previous races this year, aston martin seem to know what they’re doing strategy wise; alonso’s terrible strategy in 2022 was with renault.

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