Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023

“The new target is 200”: Verstappen clinches Red Bull’s century of wins

2023 Canadian Grand Prix review

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On the same week that the new officially-licensed Formula 1 game was released, Max Verstappen had arrived in Canada on such a crushing run of form that his rivals could be forgiven for wishing they could bump up his real-life difficult setting if they could.

For so much of 2023, it has been too easy for the world champion. Five wins in seven rounds, including a hat-trick of victories leading into Montreal, Verstappen has enjoyed the kind of start to a season that’s typically only possible to experience virtually.

But while there are many keen gamers on the modern F1 grid, there’s no options that any of Verstappen’s rivals can adjust to help bring him closer to them in the real world. And there seemed little that any of his competitors would be able to do on in Canada to prevent him from taking another seemingly unstoppable victory.

Montreal tried its best, however. Over the first two days of the weekend, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve seemed determined to throw teams and drivers out of their comfort zones. From circuit systems failures to a heavy dose of rain on Saturday, the paddock had endured a disrupted and disorienting start to the weekend.

Race start, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023
Hamilton took second from Alonso on the run to turn one
To the surprise of few, however, Verstappen once again rose risen above it all to secure pole position for the second consecutive year in Canada. While Fernando Alonso had to wait for Nico Hulkenberg’s penalty to bequeath him his fourth front row start of the season, he nonetheless ended Saturday ahead of the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell – an important boost for Aston Martin after being soundly beaten by the black cars at the previous round in Spain.

The self-inflicted absence of both Ferraris and Sergio Perez’s Red Bull from the front of the grid offered an enticing prospect for Alonso and the Mercedes duo to have a clear run at Verstappen for themselves on Sunday. And when the tyre blankets were removed to reveal the top 11 starters were all on the medium compound, it meant the top four would all be racing on an even keel for the opening stanza.

Over 100,000 fans had endured delays and dreary weather at the Ile Notre-Dame over the first two days of the race weekend and were rewarded with one of the most enticing grids of the season. As the lights went out Verstappen, Alonso and Hamilton all launched at an identical time but the Mercedes found much better traction than the others, allowing Hamilton to clear Alonso before reaching the 100 metre board approaching turn one. Verstappen led the pack through the opening sequence as all 20 successfully made it around the two tight turns without any running off-track.

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Verstappen completed lap one just under a second ahead of Hamilton, with Alonso equally far behind and Russell far closer to him than the Aston Martin was to the other Mercedes. Back in the pack, Kevin Magnussen narrowly avoided taking out both Perez and himself by bailing out onto the run-off area at the final chicane as the Red Bull moved onto the racing line after being passed by Carlos Sainz Jnr.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023
Alonso kept the pressure on Hamilton
Alonso was determined to keep Hamilton within range. So much so he almost ended his race on the fourth tour by kissing the outside wall at turn four. His reward was to remain within DRS range of the Mercedes, while Verstappen ahead had already pulled clear of Hamilton. Alonso did his best to make himself large in Hamilton’s mirrors along the back straight for multiple laps, but then was forced to back off on lap eight when the Virtual Safety Car was deployed for Logan Sargeant retiring his Williams.

A quick recovery allowed the race to resume as the leaders were approaching the hairpin, with Alonso able to gain within half a second of Hamilton as the VSC was cleared. But despite an excellent run on Hamilton down the straight, a frustrated Alonso discovered he could not activate his rear wing flap.

“Why the DRS is not open?” Alonso asked, knowing his best chance of passing Hamilton was going begging.

“It’s because the detection was after the VSC ended, mate,” engineer Chris Cronin explained. “It’s all okay.”

“Copy,” Alonso responded. “We had the opportunity there.”

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Verstappen had opened up a lead of three seconds to Hamilton by lap 10 as he began to face the effects of his medium tyres going through their natural grip cycle out front. The local groundhogs that are so common a sight around the island circuit had done a commendable job over the weekend of keeping out of trouble, so Verstappen was naturally surprised when he found another form of wildlife sitting in his way on the exit of turn four on lap ten.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023
An unlucky bird and a kerb posed the greatest threat to Verstappen
“I think I hit a bird!” he reported over the radio, causing a brief alert on the Red Bull pit wall. Verstappen had struck the creature directly with his wheel, which avoided any damage to the sensitive bodywork of his car, but the feathered remains spent the remainder of the race behind his brake duct. Had substantial piece of the poor creature gone into the duct it could have provoked a race-ending failure, which was the closest Red Bull came to potentially losing victory through the entire contest.

The VSC had not only allowed Alonso to close up to Hamilton, but brought Russell within DRS range of the Aston Martin. Now the second Mercedes stalked its quarry around the lap.

However, in his eagerness to put Alonso under pressure, Russell took too much speed into turn eight which caused him to bounce over the inside kerb of the second part of the chicane. The rear of the Mercedes tagged the outside wall, knocking his right-rear tyre off the rim and a large chunk of his front wing off in the process.

“Fuck’s sake, guys,” Russell lamented as he nursed his wounded W14 back to the pits. “I’m sorry.”

With debris on the racing line, race control quickly opted to deploy the Safety Car. The three leaders were all barrelling down the back straight approaching the pit lane and Red Bull, Mercedes and Aston Martin reacted instantly to bring each of them in for hard tyres. As Alonso joined the fast lane, Hamilton was released by Mercedes just ahead of him. Alonso did his best to sell an impediment, sawing at the wheel and reporting he had to brake to avoid the Mercedes, but the stewards would not be swayed.

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“Whilst [Alonso] had to perform minor braking in our view there was no risk of collision or the need for significant evasive action,” they ruled, “hence we determine there was no unsafe release.”

FIA Safety Car, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023
The leaders got their first pit stops done during a Safety Car period
Verstappen led behind the Safety Car ahead of Hamilton and Alonso. Russell likely wished he could activate a flashback to undo his costly unforced error. But while real life offers no such luxury, he did at least avoid retirement as Mercedes were satisfied that his car was safe enough to continue after they had fitted new wheels and a front wing onto it.

Having stayed out Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz Jnr and Sergio Perez had each gained multiple places to now sit in fourth, fifth and sixth, still on the tyres they had started on. When the race resumed at the start of lap 17, Verstappen dropped the hammer at the final chicane, minimising the threat from Hamilton behind.

Hamilton did not allow Verstappen to escape out front, but Alonso was doing a much better job of hounding him than Hamilton was of chasing the leader. Exiting the hairpin for the 22nd time, Alonso was only half a second away from the Mercedes. This time, he did receive the benefit of DRS and after closing on Hamilton late down the straight, Alonso cut to the inside before the braking zone to dive through into the chicane. Hamilton’s efforts to fight back into turn one would prove fruitless and Alonso had successfully reclaimed the second place he had lost off the start line.

As the top three settled into a rhythm on their hard tyres, Verstappen’s pace was only around handful of tenths of a second a lap quicker than the pair behind – the Red Bull running from the mid-to-late 1’16s as opposed to the high 1’16s to low 1’17s that Alonso and Hamilton were putting in. But despite his slightly superior pace, Verstappen was not having an easy time on his hard tyres.

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“It was quite tough to keep the tyres in the right window, they were always running quite cold,” he explained after the race. “So we had to push actually quite hard on the tyre. And then with low grip, low rubber, it was not the easiest or most straightforward.”

After running half the race on their starting tyres, the Ferrari drivers in fourth and fifth had managed to pull enough of a margin behind to make their first stop while retaining the places they had gained behind the Safety Car, with Perez rejoining in seventh after his first stop and passing Alexander Albon to claim sixth.

Having lost second to Alonso, Hamilton was now as far behind the Aston Martin as it was from the race leader. Mercedes chose to commit to a two-stop to offer Hamilton some kind of option to attack Alonso, pitting for medium tyres on lap 40. Aston Martin chose to cover off that angle of attack on the very next lap, bringing Alonso in for his final stint and getting him back out in fifth having surrendered no ground to the chasing Mercedes.

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Alonso, however, had to switch to the hard tyres, not having a fresh set of mediums left. Finally, it was Red Bull’s turn to move to a two-stop as Verstappen was switched onto his second set of mediums on lap 42.

Alonso reclaimed second place from Hamilton
After Russell’s earlier mistake, Alonso was warned not to take too much speed into turn eight to avoid suffering the same fate as the Mercedes driver. But despite being under no direct pressure from Hamilton, Alonso almost committed the exact error he had been cautioned against on lap 47, running wide at turn eight and missing the second half of the chicane.

“I lost a second in turn nine, sorry,” he admitted. “I will drive faster now.”

The mistake allowed Hamilton to close from five to three seconds in little over a lap, setting a new fastest lap of the race in the process. Over the next ten laps, Hamilton would close even more on the Aston Martin, going from three seconds behind to just 1.5. But Hamilton’s gaining had as much to do with Alonso managing a developing problem with his car through heavy use of lift-and-coast than it was to do with Hamilton picking up his own pace.

“We thought we had a problem with the fuel system, but we were not sure,” Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack later explained after the race. “So as a precaution, we said the best thing is to save some fuel and to do lift-and-cost. How much it cost us, it’s difficult to judge – a few tenths, probably.”

Despite being asked to moderate his throttle usage and back off on straights where he could, Alonso began to pick up the pace with under 15 laps remaining, dropping back under the 1’16s again. Hamilton, on his medium tyres, could not emulate this speed and gradually began to drop back from the rear of the Aston Martin, his hopes of challenging Alonso for second place beginning to fade gradually as the laps wound down.

Out front, Verstappen was taking advantage of Alonso’s conservative driving and opening his lead. While not as healthy as some of the leads he had enjoyed over the opening rounds of the 2023 season, he was now further ahead than he had been at any point during the race so far.

Alex Albon, Williams, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023
Quicker cars jumped Albon but he held on to seventh
But when you’re all alone out front, it is deceptively easy for concentration to falter. As Verstappen ran his 64th lap of the race – his 218th consecutive racing lap in first place – he became the latest of the leading drivers to run too quickly into turn eight and awkwardly mounted the harsh kerb that caught out Russell.

Luckily for Verstappen, his Red Bull refused to be unsettled by running directly over the apex of the turn and he avoided any potential race-ending meeting with the wall on the exit. “Fuck, I almost knocked myself out on that kerb,” he confessed over the radio.

But that half-moment was the only brush with danger Verstappen had faced all afternoon – save for his earlier encounter with the local wildlife. With his concentration renewed, Verstappen kept his lines disciplined over the remaining laps and took the chequered flag at the end of lap 70 to seal his fourth successive victory, his sixth of the season and equal Ayrton Senna with his 41st career win.

Alonso, who had been spared a genuine fuel system problem developing over the latter part of the race, came home 9.5 seconds behind to secure yet another podium. Strikingly, it was only the second time all season that a non-Red Bull car had finished within ten seconds of Verstappen – and only the first time it had happened at full racing speeds. But Alonso was more relieved to have held onto second than to have been relatively close to the Red Bull.

“I was quite okay until the last 20 or 25 laps, then Lewis was coming very fast and I had to push again to the limit,” Alonso said. “So all in all, it was 70 laps of qualifying – there was no time to rest. And I loved it.”

Despite being one step lower on the podium than he had been in Spain, Hamilton was satisfied with third as further evidence that Mercedes’ major Monaco upgrades had worked to make them a step forward.

“For us to be up there, having battles with Fernando in the Aston, and being just on the second row, it’s been great,” he said. “And to be on the podium, two races in a row is really, really fantastic for us.

“We were also running fourth in Monaco, so we’re definitely getting closer. And it’s going to be a battle of development, I guess, over the rest of the season.”

The Ferrari pair were served well by the pit wall
Another agonising Saturday for Ferrari was put well behind them with fourth and fifth for Leclerc and Sainz – the Safety Car having allowed them the opportunity to convert to a one-stop strategy which paid off handsomely. Like the Ferraris, Perez also gained six places to finish in sixth, but despite pitting late for softs to take the fastest lap, his race pace had been well off that of his team mate’s throughout the 70 laps.

Albon secured his best ever finish for Williams in seventh in typical Alexander Albon fashion, by running an extremely long final stint and making use of his car’s excellent straight-line speed to hold off any challenges from faster rivals behind. Esteban Ocon took eighth, continuing his points scoring streak, while Lando Norris lost his gutsy ninth place due to a five-second time penalty for driving too slowly under the Safety Car. That allowed Lance Stroll to take ninth place, which he snatched away from Valtteri Bottas on the run out of the chicane to the chequered flag in dramatic fashion.

After a weekend where the Montreal fans had been made to put up with both delays and dismal weather, they had been rewarded with a podium featuring three drivers all destined to go down as among the all-time greatest of the sport. Fittingly, they were joined by Adrian Newey – Formula 1’s most successful designer – chosen to mark an impressive milestone of 100 race wins for Red Bull stretching back to Sebastian Vettel’s first triumph with the team back in China 14 years ago.

But in the light of yet another win as Verstappen appears on an unstoppable path to a third consecutive world championship, he was adamant that he and Red Bull still have a lot more winning left to do together.

“Honestly, it’s a great achievement for the team,” he said. “We’ve won 100. But again, I hope we win more than 100. So the new target is 200.”

Red Bull, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023
Red Bull marked their milestone 100th victory

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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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9 comments on ““The new target is 200”: Verstappen clinches Red Bull’s century of wins”

  1. Jimmy Cliff
    19th June 2023, 11:37

    4 seconds after SC flashed up on the screens Max/Red Bull decided to pit.

    If the SC would have come out a few seconds later or Red Bull/Max didn’t react instantly, Max would not have won the race as Lewis/Alonso would have gotten a free pitstop and come out behind Max on new/fresh tires with Max being picked up by the safety car.

    Montreal in that sense is unusual that time lost driving through pitlane compared to race track is the lowest of all race tracks on the Calendar except maybe Silverstone.

  2. I don’t think he will race so long in F1 to get 200 wins ofr Red Bull.

    1. 5 more years at the current rate.

    2. No he won’t. I do not even see him finishing his current contract to be honest. But he was talking about the team reaching 200. A team that he will always cherish once he moves on (which will be sooner than all think).

  3. Coventry Climax
    19th June 2023, 14:34

    For so much of 2023, it has been too easy for the world champion. Five wins in seven rounds, including a hat-trick of victories leading into Montreal, Verstappen has enjoyed the kind of start to a season that’s typically only possible to experience virtually.

    Schumacher has, Hamilton has. Some people will have commented it was too easy then, but the articles themselves? Why now? Generally people thought it was all driver’s genius for them. Not for Verstappen though. Look at what Perez ‘accomplishes’ in the basically same car.

    “I was quite okay until the last 20 or 25 laps, then Lewis was coming very fast and I had to push again to the limit,” Alonso said. “So all in all, it was 70 laps of qualifying – there was no time to rest. And I loved it.”

    Yet he complained about having to lift and coast?

    Otherwise nice review.

    1. Yet he complained about having to lift and coast?

      Alonso is a fantastic storyteller, and he’s always the hero of his own tales.

      It’s amusing and quite charming, but obviously has to be taken into account.

    2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      19th June 2023, 16:02

      Just 70 laps of qualifying? :-) Come on Fernando, you can do better than that! Don’t sell yourself short!

  4. When the heck is F1 going to fix the points system? I am sick of it. Red Bull are literally about 2.5% faster than Alpha Tauri, but in the points standings, they’re doing 160x better…
    Awarding points only to the top 10 completely distorts the standings, which are further distorted by the occasional race where the top teams’ bulletproof reliability falters.
    This broken system used to drive me to the Formula 1.5 website a few years back to see who was actually winning outside the top 3 teams, as the official points system was unable to accurately tell me.

    They need to copy Indycar’s system which rewards everyone for beating anyone, even if it’s for 2nd last place. I don’t know why 12th to 18th bothered in today’s. I guess for fun, but particularly for F1, due to the cars being made by different manufacturers, those places should matter, and the points system should accurately consider them throughout the season.

    There are various weak reasons why it shouldn’t be changed:
    1. It’s a historical tradition that goes back… 1 decade. Well it’s already unsuitable to today’s unreliable cars and in the future there *should* be more teams, so let’s move on to a more sensible system and stick to that one.
    2. Switching from 25 points for a win is harder to add up in the head than 50 points for a win (as used in Indycar). 50 may be a bigger number, but I’d argue it’s simpler to add than 25. And in any case there are apps, websites and TV graphics to do the maths.

    I suspect that this system, with its tendency to award almost all the points to the top teams, was brought in when only the top teams were allowed to even suggest rule changes. The lower teams did have a vote on whether rule changes went through but had no formal means of proposing a specific rule change. I think the latest governance system is better. So let’s get it done.

    1. If they want an exiting championship final. Drivers need to be close on points at the end of the season. How to do it. I don’t know. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1. 15,12,10,8,6,5,4,3,2,1. 15-1 for top 15? In the end they always want more and more so why not 100-5 for top 20? Or use the Bernies medal system..

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