George Russell, Mercedes, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2024

Rain and rapid rivals threaten to Russell’s bid to become latest 2024 winner

2024 Canadian GP pre-race analysis

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What is the difference between the two drivers who set identical pole position lap times in yesterday’s qualifying session? The answer, it appears, is Alexander Albon.

George Russell and Max Verstappen could not be separated to within a thousandth of a second over 4.36 kilometres of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve at the end of Q3.

Russell may have been credited with pole after he broke the tie by setting the time earliest, but it was possible that Verstappen should have claimed the spot all along. On their respective laps, Russell received the slightest of benefits from Albon’s Williams returning to the pit lane ahead of him, while the Red Bull ran the entire lap with no cars ahead.

Verstappen was the quicker of the two for the bulk of their laps until they exited the hairpin onto the long back straight. There, the slightest of tows from the Williams helped Russell gain a 6kph top speed advantage before hitting the brakes for the final chicane, allowing him to inch ahead. Although Verstappen gained time back through the chicane, it wasn’t quite enough to regain his advantage, and both drivers registered times of 1’12 on the dot.

Despite all the pre-weekend talk focusing on the threat Red Bull faced from Ferrari and McLaren, Mercedes emerged stronger than all three. Now Russell has an opportunity to end Mercedes’ win drought which stretches back to his 2022 victory in Brazil – the second-longest wait they have endured – and confirm that the remainder of the 2024 season will be exactly what so many had hoped it would be heading into the year.

But at one of the most eventful and unpredictable rounds of the season, where the weather could be set add even more challenge and drama to proceedings, whoever prevails on Sunday is unlikely to have a straightforward journey to the top step of the podium.

Weather

Daniel Ricciardo, RB, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2024
Heavy rain fell on Friday – but dried quickly
Perhaps the biggest talking point over the weekend, the rain in Montreal has played a huge role across the opening two days – even if it largely failed to materialise during Saturday’s running.

Forecasts that qualifying would be heavily affected by rain never became true, despite the 80% chance that it would prior to the session. Those same forecasters now predict that rain is just as likely on Sunday as it was on Saturday – but given that the rain did not come when predicted, that could also be a sign that drivers needn’t worry about the weather this weekend.

Assuming it stays dry, drivers can expect similar ambient and track conditions to those they had in qualifying. But the rain could come at any point before or during the race and throw everything the teams have planned entirely out of the window and force them to improvise and adapt as the race progresses.

Start

Start, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, 2016
Vettel took the lead from third on the grid in 2016
Russell has not only secured pole position, he has the inside line into the first corner too, which may be crucial to him retaining the lead at the start on Sunday. This is a unique starting situation in Montreal as the track curves to the right almost instantly after the cars leave the grid before turning left for the first true corner, which provides an extra dynamic to the launch off the line.

Verstappen may be on the outside for the true corner, but he does have the advantage of that becoming the inside for the Virage Senna – the right hand hairpin of turn two. Any driver able to hold on around the outside of the left-hander can enjoy a very strong position heading into turn two.

Not since the 2016 race has the driver on pole position failed to lead the opening lap in Montreal, when Lewis Hamilton dropped from first to second. The pole winner’s ability to earn the ‘holeshot’ so often will be encouraging for Russell as he leads the field away for only the second time in his career.

Strategy

Strategy will be a difficult call on Sunday for a variety of reasons. Assuming a completely dry race, even the strategy of last season cannot be directly compared due to the full resurfacing the circuit has received.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2024
Perez will start 14 places behind Verstappen
As a result, Pirelli expect to see continued track evolution throughout the race and more graining than typical, especially on the medium compound that many drivers used for longer runs in third practice.

The relatively short lap time means drivers don’t have as much to gain through the ‘undercut’ effect by pitting early. But they lose less time pitting than at most other tracks, increasing the incentive to risk a two-stop strategy.

Pirelli believe pitting twice is the most effective approach in the event of a straight sprint from lights to flag, starting on the mediums and pitting for two sets of hard tyres during the race. Some teams could even attempt a one-stop or begin with the intention of running a one-stop strategy, before pivoting to a two stop if the wear levels prove too high.

That said, the arrival of rain threatens to transform all of that and make being on the right wet weather tyre at the right time critical. Friday demonstrated just how quickly this new track surface can dry, which could lead to a lot of teams lower down making an aggressive early switch from intermediates to slicks.

Neither of the drivers on the front row have their team mates in close proximity. Verstappen is least likely to be able to rely on his team mate to be useful for his strategy, though Hamilton may move into the picture if he starts strongly. McLaren are well-placed here, having locked out the second row of the grid. Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri may be able to explore strategic alternatives as they bid to get in the hunt for victory.

Overtaking

This track has often been one where drivers are able to overtake, especially down the lengthy DRS zone along the back straight heading into the final chicane. A secondary boost from DRS along the pit straight into turn one also does not hurt for chasing cars, however last year Albon showed how having a car with inherently high top speed can allow you to successfully run a very defensive race and retain position.

Over the last eight races held here, there have been an average of 26.37 on-track overtaking moves successfully made per race. This is not as high as many circuits on the calendar, but if it rains, that average shoots up dramatically.

Safety Cars

Alexander Albon, Williams, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2024
The barriers have caught several drivers out already
Whether it’s the proximity of the barriers in Montreal, the slipstreaming opportunities followed by tricky chicanes or the high risk of interference from local wildlife on the Isle Notre Dame, this track does tend to produce Safety Car interruptions quite regularly. Over the last eight races held here, only one has run without any Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car deployments – five years ago today when Sebastian Vettel finished first on track but lost the win to Hamilton due to a penalty.

Teams and drivers will have to remain on constant alert for a sudden incident prompting a Safety Car. The pole winner himself proved last year how easy it is for drivers to make a mistake and crash themselves around the chicanes on the circuit.

If it rains, however, all bets are off. The unparalleled wet race here in 2011 set a then-record of five separate Safety Car periods, becoming as much a war of attrition as it was a race. No one should expect a simple and straightforward run to the flag in this one.

One to watch

With Sergio Perez starting well out of position again down in 16th and the two Ferraris outside of the top ten, there will be no shortage of drivers to keep an eye on over what is shaping up to be an enthralling grand prix.

However, the one driver who perhaps will be most eager to move forward and might have the best opportunity is seventh-placed Hamilton. The second Mercedes should have been fighting for pole with Russell and Verstappen and has shown impressive pace throughout the first two days of the weekend. He has the motivation and he, finally, has the car to be in contention for a very strong result. Now he needs to make the most of that speed in the race.

Over to you

Will Russell become the fifth different winner this year? Share your views on the Canadian Grand Prix in the comments.

2024 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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26 comments on “Rain and rapid rivals threaten to Russell’s bid to become latest 2024 winner”

  1. I’m betting on the Mclaren duo.

    1. I’m betting on the broads in race control to needlesdly red flag and/or SC the race multiple times.

  2. One guy on the grid is going under the radar. And that is Zhou Guanyu. The man has been genuinely shocking this year. The worst driver on the grid. At least we all expected Sargeant to get beaten by Albon every weekend.

    1. True but I imagine Zhou will be out of F1 after this year anyway.

    2. Harsh – Zhou’s stuck in what is pretty much the worst car with a team that has pretty much checked out as it is about to be taken over completely (operationally).
      And he’s often not far behind Bottas (who did beat Hamilton on pace quite a few times, let’s not forget).

      Whatever – put him in the best car with full team support and he’ll look like a prodigy in F1, but in a backmarker he looks hopeless. This is just how F1 works – more so now than ever.

      Reply moderated
      1. Bottas and Perez have both managed to look ordinary in championship-winning cars. They are easy proof that the driver does make a difference. You could easily tell that Hamilton > Rosberg >> Bottas, and Verstappen >>> Perez.

  3. An Sionnach
    9th June 2024, 10:17

    I think George will be pretty happy to be without his team mate’s “support”. It was that which pressurised him into his mistake in Singapore last year. Instead of working together to get a better result, Lewis got third and George got null points.

    1. If you think Hamilton pushing him into a mistake was bad, how can you imagine a driver as soft as you’re making him to be to be capable of ever winning the WDC one day?

      That crash was 100% on Russell. If you want space, silence and peace to perform, go play golf.

      1. An Sionnach
        9th June 2024, 18:37

        I’m not saying that George was blameless in the crash, just that he cannot expect help from Lewis, and in this race he will hope that the other drivers can work as a buffer to keep Lewis at bay.

        Going back to Singapore, I think that if Lewis and George worked together, they’d have had a better chance of getting past Lando and Sainz. Maybe there weren’t enough laps yet, but perhaps Lewis might have helped out and then passed George after that.

    2. It was George and Mercedes not making the common sense decision to give Lewis, who had extended and had much better tires and just seemed a lot faster, to take a shot at the absolutely turtle paced rear guard of Leclerc that turned the GP into a disaster. Did Russell crash into the wall in Canada last year because Hamilton was pressuring him? No. George is just mistake prone.

  4. Russell did a great job to get pole. For some reason though I feel that the result flatters Mercedes. I don’t think that they have caught up and it’s just the cooler temps helping them alongside a touch of tow. I expect the Mclaren duo to be the main threat if it remains dry.

  5. I am expecting Oscar and Lando to be serious contenders for a double podium in almost any permutation of positions.
    It would be nice to see Lewis get up amongst the top 4 as well, but his fire seems to have gone out again.
    He said himself, he is just looking forwards to going home … not a great mentality for the start of a race is it?

  6. Is there any data on long runs?

    1. Hard to read too much into this as FP1 and 2 were basically wiped out so teams did slightly different programs to normal in FP3, but Mercedes didn’t look quick from the times I saw.

  7. Pretty much zero chance of Russell win here, their race pace looked quite poor.

    Max is definite favourite but McLaren might challenge him, rain would make it more interesting and bring in possible challenges from further back – 60% chance apparantly, so probably dry then.

    1. I hope it’s a drying track, even if that invokes the stupid rule about starting on the blue tyres.

      Filthy wet conditions in the Porsche Supercup (about 4 hours before the GP) – good thing the Porsches have lights on – they’d never start a Grand Prix in that.

  8. Hamilton will win it.

    Reply moderated
  9. Sky and F1TV were claiming 80% chance of rain during FP3 for quali simply to hype up quali. I checked three different weather services after FP3 and the highest chance I saw published was 40%.

    1. Josh (@canadianjosh)
      9th June 2024, 17:53

      I have family in Montreal, I’m a 10 hour drive west to Lake Huron, my cousin Nico says it’s raining right now.

      1. Was talking about yesterday.

        1. Josh (@canadianjosh)
          9th June 2024, 18:57

          Oh lol ya duhhhh, just noticed now

  10. Josh (@canadianjosh)
    9th June 2024, 17:39

    F1 is finally becoming fun again, it’s been pretty much the Max show since the new regs but with 4 teams now looking competitive again I’m starting to get 2010-2012 vibes

    1. Montreal is almost ways a great race. It’s also the best place to go in person. Been to four Canadian GPs just because of how awesome the town is and the track being a nice, breezy location. It’s also fun to watch that violent, scary St. Lawrence Seaway.

  11. Josh (@canadianjosh)
    9th June 2024, 19:02

    I’ve been to 3, Montreal other than my farming community here in Grey Bruce is my favourite place in the world

    1. Really beautiful girls too.

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