🇨🇦 F1'24: R9: The Slipping Forecast

Am I pleased with this headline? Oh yes.

The rain came down in Montreal, leading to a much more cerebral race than the chaos of 2011, which incidentally is probably my favourite race of all time. But perhaps it’s a measure of how much thought goes into F1 from its strategists, who then have to articulate their thoughts and simulations over to team leaders and the drivers who have to take their car the distance.

You can run all the simulations you want, but the real unknown is what your rivals are doing. If the others all do the same, you lose the advantage of zigging when everyone else zags. 

It was Haas that pulled off an initial masterstroke, committing to the wet tyres in the early stages. With the other 18 on intermediates, Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg made up several places each, slicing their way through the field. But it didn’t last, and this strategic bravery was not rewarded with points, as they came home in 11th and 12th. 

As they switched to intermediates, the weather radars continued to say that another band of rain was due to fall. Teams didn’t want to switch their drivers to dry tyres knowing that they’d need to switch back quickly. Charles Leclerc attempted to do something different by switching to a hard set of tyres. It didn’t work - especially as the rain came back down - and he had to eventually retire, an engine issue causing a dramatic comedown from the highs of his hometown race. Carlos Sainz also failed to finish the race on a terrible day for Ferrari, especially with McLaren and Mercedes picking up bunches to close up more on their rivals.

As the race reached its final stages, the field was bunched up by a safety car caused by Sainz colliding with his potential future Williams teammate Alex Albon. There were a few battles to look out for, with George Russell eventually getting past Oscar Piastri on lap 63. This was after Lando Norris broke the DRS link with his teammate on lap 62. Norris wasn’t going after Verstappen, so it was strange that McLaren did not ask Norris (and that he didn’t identify it as a threat) to keep Piastri in DRS range to protect both their positions. 

Russell took that final podium place after beating teammate with a firm but fair move on Lewis Hamilton. And while that is the team’s first podium of the season, there was visible disappointment from Russell at the end of the race. He made more errors than you would expect him to make, and he started from pole, only for the weather to negate that edge. It may have been a different racing story if he’d won the pit stop race with Verstappen, who kept his car JUST ahead.

This was a strategic and intelligent race from the majority of teams and drivers and showed that Canada holds a unique place on the F1 calendar. Multiple tyre compounds being used across the grid, teams switching over at different times, overcuts, undercuts, a race that benefits from the eccentric June weather… I’m biased, with the 2011 edition living long in my memory, but 2024 will be one of the better versions of the Canadian GP.

And maybe that’s partly also down to the number of retirements. Five drivers failed to take the chequered flag - this happened last in Brazil 2023 (Leclerc also did not not start that race), and with both Ferraris not getting to the end, it meant there were spaces for other teams to fill the top 10.

Double point finishes for Aston Martin (their first since Australia) and - despite an angry Esteban Ocon - a 9th and 10th for Alpine in Pierre Gasly’s favour after a late swap. It’s the French team’s first double points since that Brazilian race last year, showing that to get points, you have to at least finish. That longevity is all important, especially as rivals might end up in the wall or make some other error.

There is a whole article that you could write (or, failing that, I’ll do it), on how teams treated their drivers fighting each other towards the end of the race. Mercedes (one driver staying, one leaving), were free to fight with a note to keep it clean. The RBs (one driver staying, one unconfirmed) were free to fight. Alpine (one driver leaving, one unconfirmed) told Ocon to fall in line behind Gasly who was chasing P8, but it took more laps than necessary for Gasly to be able to chase down Daniel Ricciardo in eighth. Alpine actually overtook Williams in the Teams’ Championship with a three-point haul, but I doubt there will be any type of celebration there on Monday morning. 

Teams have to move decisively, and as I said at the start of this, you can run all the strategies and simulations you want, but if the people at the top or in the cockpit don’t agree, it’s impossible to legislate for.

Formula 1 heads back to Europe now, and the start of a triple-header that takes in Barcelona, Styria, and Silverstone - the latter of which still has tickets available if you’ve got a spare ÂŁ300+ and the patience to wait in a queue for a long time in a car park. It’s a wonder it isn’t sold out during a cost of living crisis. Politically, it might be interesting, with a Labour sports minister presenting the trophies and avoiding the reactions the current government got. 

With Max Verstappen winning, the temptation from more casual F1 viewers will be to say that business has returned to usual at the front. But it’s far from that. Miami saw McLaren benefit from a safety car and damage to Verstappen’s car. Monaco is Monaco, and you can’t read anything from that track. Montreal had weather all over the place. We simply don’t know whether it’s McLaren, Ferrari or even the long shot of Mercedes being Red Bull’s biggest rivals. The winners of that six driver battle? Red Bull Racing, with the reigning World Champion streaking ahead while the contenders fight each other for second.

The only thing that’s for sure is that nothing’s for sure. And that’s when F1 is at its best.

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