Is Mercedes quick again? Is Red Bull back? What we know (& don't) after the Canadian GP

F1

An epic 2024 Canadian GP saw Max Verstappen battle Mercedes and McLaren for victory while Ferrari trailed at the back. Mark Hughes examines the state of the frontrunners

George Russell leads Max Verstappen and Lando Norris in 2024 F1 Canadian Grand Prix

Russell led Verstappen and Norris at the start

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Max Verstappen’s Red Bull emerged victorious after fighting tooth and nail with Lando Norris’s McLaren and George Russell’s Mercedes for victory in a rain-punctuated Canadian Grand Prix and it was epic.

It posed a number of questions, though.

 

Is Mercedes finally quick?

Russell set pole, and even though that time was subsequently matched to the thousandth of a second by Verstappen (with third-fastest Norris only two hundredths adrift), his Q2 time was a quarter-second faster than any other team went all weekend.

Mercedes of George Russell is reflected in a puddle during 2024 F1 Canadian Grand Prix

Mercedes upgrade enabled drivers to attack — with timesheet-topping results

LAT via Mercedes

Mercedes came here with its new front wing, not running so deep in ground effect, designed to give it a much wider window between the car’s previous awkward pivot between high speed oversteer and low-speed understeer. It gave Russell and Lewis Hamilton a front end with which they could attack the track between the walls. In Friday FP3 Hamilton looked untouchable, even by Russell. But into qualifying it all dissolved yet again. After a ragged race to fourth (plus fastest lap) from seventh on the grid, he rued his own personal poor performance, but was effusive about the car. “It’s becoming a car we can fight with,” he said. “Going into this next part of the season if I get my head on right I’ll get better results.”

Russell led for a long time but his tyres didn’t hold out as well as those on Norris’s McLaren and in trying to fend off the irresistible force, ran into the run-off, lost momentum and was zapped by Verstappen. He wasn’t going to get that place back again. But he later diced again with Norris, got ahead, got crossed up, and lost the place again. Wheel-rubbing with Oscar Piastri lost him a place to Hamilton briefly, which he took back aggressively before finally making the move stick on Piastri. But Norris was long gone, Verstappen even further. It was a race of too many mistakes from George, but the speed was most certainly there.

We’ll know how robust that speed is when we get to Barcelona, a circuit with the sort of big corner speed spread that would spell trouble for the original version of this car.

 

Is Red Bull really back?

Max Verstappen leads Lando Norris in 2024 F1 Canadian GP

Verstappen leads Norris — uncomfortably

Mark Thompson/Getty via Red Bull

Not quite. Verstappen had to fight for this win. The RB20 was slower than the Mercedes in qualifying and slower than the McLaren in the intermediate stints of the race (stints one and two of three).

As the track dried, so Verstappen’s complaints of bouncing over the kerbs became steadily more insistent. “The car still has the same problems as at Monaco,” he said, “but there’s some aero here to compensate.” Around Barcelona, we might expect to see the car of earlier in the season.

Sergio Perez didn’t make it out of Q1, crashed out of a lowly position in the race but has just had his contract renewed.

 

Where was Ferrari?

Ferrari of Charles Leclerc drives through puddle in 2024 F1 Canadian GP

All at sea in Montreal: Leclerc found himself at the opposite end of the grid to Monaco

DPPI via Ferrari

Around half-a-second off the pace. Neither Charles Leclerc nor Carlos Sainz made it out of Q2 in qualifying, unable to generate enough front tyre temperature for the start of the lap. Both retired from lowly positions in the race, Leclerc after a power unit problem, Sainz after crashing out.

It’s unlikely we’ll see any difficulty generating tyre temperatures around the long, fast curves of the Spanish circuit.

 

Was McLaren actually the fastest?

For much of the race, yes, Norris was the fastest guy on track. But it was weather/set-up specific. The car is fast and Norris is driving superbly at the moment and that was amplified by a set-up which, as at Imola, required the tyres to be brought in gently to give a big advantage at the end of the stints. Norris went from third, 10sec off the lead, on lap 10, to consecutive lap passes on Verstappen and Russell to take the lead nine laps later. He then built up a lead of almost 8sec in the next four laps.  That was partly because the inters of Russell and Verstappen were finished and Norris’s were not, but no-one wanted to make a call on whether the next set should be slicks or more inters, so capricious was the weather.

Side view of Lando Norris McLaren in wet weather during 2024 F1 Canadian Grand Prix

Norris could be celebrating victory had he stopped one lap earlier

McLaren

If Norris had pitted when the first safety car came, he’d almost certainly have won. He did an extra lap, which cost him 10sec and put him back down to third. He tried overcutting them at the second stops, when everyone was switching to slicks, and came agonisingly close to making it work, just a crossed up moment on the standing water of Turn 2 allowing Verstappen by.

“The safety car took away what it gave us in Miami,” he shrugged. “I cannot really complain.”