Not to say this Canadian Grand Prix was easy for Max Verstappen, but he hit a bird early in proceedings which lodged in his brake duct and still won by 10 seconds.
Verstappen’s 41st Formula One race win – and Red Bull’s landmark 100th – was not one which will live long in the memory. He was in absolute cruise control throughout. When he hit a kerb with five laps remaining of the race, and jokingly told his team over the radio that he had “nearly knocked himself out”, it was tempting to wonder whether he had dozed off at the wheel.
But it was significant, lifting Verstappen into exalted company after he levelled Ayrton Senna’s total. Only Lewis Hamilton (103), Michael Schumacher (91), Sebastian Vettel (53), and Alain Prost (51) are now ahead of the 25-year-old in the all-time standings. At this rate, Verstappen will fancy his chances of catching the last two by the end of this year.
As much as Red Bull continues to reign supreme, the weekend did offer a few, admittedly small, crumbs of encouragement.
Verstappen has been winning most of his races this season by 25 to 30 seconds. At least at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso was less than 10 seconds behind, with Mercedes’ Hamilton less than five seconds behind the Spaniard. Those two teams are making steps in the right direction.
Yes, Verstappen had half a bird stuck in his car for most of the race (Red Bull team principal Christian Horner described the feathered creature as “black” and medium-sized, but suggested it didn’t make too much of a difference to his lap times). Yes, he could undoubtedly have pushed harder. But he could have pushed harder at every other race this year too.
For now, we can only dream of the day when Alonso and Hamilton are genuinely scrapping with Verstappen on track. But at least they are fighting each other again, as they were 16 years ago.
Hamilton was followed home by the two Ferraris, with Charles Leclerc taking fourth and Carlos Sainz fifth.
It is the second consecutive Grand Prix Hamilton has appeared on the podium while teammate George Russell had looked like a threat until spinning into the wall early in the race, damaging his car. He did not finish the race.
However, it was not a perfect day for Red Bull. Sergio Perez failed to get on the podium for the third consecutive race. After a poor qualifying effort that saw him start 12th, the Mexican moved up to finish sixth and take the bonus point for the fastest lap.
Perez remains second in the drivers’ standings, but 69 points behind Verstappen who leads with 195.
There was also some disappointment in the Aston Martin garage with the team unable to deliver the double podium result owner Lawrence Stroll had asked for at his home race. While Alonso reached the podium, the Canadian billionaire’s son Lance Stroll finished ninth.
Behind the front three, there was plenty of action. Alex Albon had a brilliant race in the Williams, finishing a highly creditable seventh. McLaren’s Lando Norris was ninth over the line, narrowly failing to pass the Alpine of Esteban Ocon at the final chicane, but dropped to 13th due to a five-second penalty for “unsportsmanlike conduct” (driving too slowly behind the safety car to avoid being “double-stacked” at the pitstop, apparently).
The weekend, though, belonged to Red Bull, whose 100th win came just 14 years after their first in China in 2009, and Verstappen.
Not that the man himself was getting carried away. Asked about drawing level with Formula One royalty in Senna, Verstappen did his best. “I hate to compare generations but from my side, when I was a little kid driving in go-karts I was dreaming about being a F1 driver,” he said. “I would never have imagined I would win 41 grands prix. To tie with Ayrton is incredible. I am proud of that but I hope it doesn’t stop here. I hope we keep on winning more races. We’ve won 100. Now the target is 200.”
The win coming on Father’s Day, Verstappen was quick to salute the man who had moulded him into the reigning world champion. Jos Verstappen made 107 F1 starts and was once a teammate of Schumacher.
The 25-year-old reminisced of the days he and Jos Verstappen traveled by van throughout Europe to his karting races, the father standing on the wet track and pointing his son to the correct driving lines.
“Without him I would not sit here today,” Verstappen said of his father.
“He has taught me and prepared me for so much, from a very young age. He had this goal, he had this goal set for me to first of all be better than him. And then try to get to Formula One, you know?
“We still call every day. I mean right before the race, I was still talking to him about what we were going to do with that strategy. He likes to know. Even when he’s not here. It’s just nice to have that kind of relationship with your dad.”
The Daily Telegraph in London and inputs from AP/PTI & Reuters