Max Verstappen was heading for what looked like a very comfortable win on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve this Sunday, before a strategic move to make a pit stop with 27 laps to go meant the Dutchman would have to catch and pass the then one-stopping Ferrari of Carlos Sainz. As it turned out, a safety car a few laps after Verstappen had made his stop enable the Spaniard to make a pit stop himself and come out just behind the world champion – on fresher tyres.
Sainz tried to launch several attacks down the back straight, but couldn’t really get clos enough to get a move on the Red Bull. The strategies regarding management of the battery were crucial, for both of them to attack and defend.
Speaking after the race, Verstappen confirmed he was observing Sainz’s approach to energy management, and said he was “giving it everything” to keep the Ferrari behind, and how important Red Bull’s straight line speed superiority proved today:
“It was really exciting at the end. I was giving it everything I had. Of course, Carlos (Sainz) was doing the same. Following is tricky around here, but I could see he was pushing, charging, pushing – but of course, naturally when you’re in the DRS it is a bit easier to charge.
“The last few laps were a lot of fun,” he said. “Luckily, this year we seem (to be) pretty quick on the straights, so that helped a lot.”
According to Verstappen, the timing of the safety car for Yuki Tsunoda’s crashed AlphaTauri wasn’t helpful for his strategy, as it put the Ferrari on newer tyres right behind him for the final few laps, However, he points out that it would be “tough” to close a 9 seconds gap on Sainz if the safety car hadn’t happened:
“The safety car didn’t help. I think, overall, they (Ferrari) were very quick in the race, so it would’ve been really tough for me to close that gap to the end – even on fresher tyres.
“Overall, I think they were very strong in the race, so yes, it would have been tricky to to catch up. But then, of course, the safety car came out, so they had fresher tyres, so then I was like ‘Oh’. I think I would have preferred attacking instead of defending, but luckily it worked out,” he concluded.
Verstappen now leads the championship with a margin of 46 points to his nearest rival – his team-mate Sergio Perez – and 49 points to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who could only recover back to 5th place after starting at the back of the grid following penalties for changing power unit components outside of his permitted allocation for the season.