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Chris Harris on F1: The Canadian GP reminded us why we love this sport

by News7

Clearly the gods of Formula 1 have access to my computer, because this column was supposed to be something quite different.

I had a clever idea and told my editor how I intended to deliver on it. See, I recently returned from watching the motorcycle racing on the Isle of Man, the best spectator sporting event I’ve attended. On the back of the Monaco GP (sponsored by the insomnia assistance industry), I anticipated writing a witty column about the Canadian GP along the following lines: I would tell the story of the Isle of Man 2024, with its 37-mile road course and sense of utter bewilderment you feel as a bike wheelies past a school at 170 mph. I would fawn over the TT and tell F1 fans what they were missing. The last line of the column would be the only one with any F1 content. “And there was a Formula 1 race in Canada, which Max Verstappen won.”

Smugness comes before a fall, and I was smug. Formula 1 is the erratic child that has a habit of delivering the unexpected. The Montreal weather radar twitched all weekend, and what transpired was a race that reminds us why we love the sport. That column idea is on the spike—for now.

The Canadian GP’s qualifying was a blast. George Russell took pole, though Max recorded an identical time  and earned P2 only because he was second on the road. McLaren looked very strong with the second row covered, and Daniel Ricciardo’s war of words with an angry Jacques Villeneuve was rewarded with a sensational P5!

(Sidenote: I think we were all rather taken aback by Villeneuve saying he couldn’t understand how Ricciardo was still in F1. I certainly was. And then I thought about it for a bit, and I came to believe that JV is probably right about this one. I don’t really get the whole Ricciardo thing—like Gunther Steiner, he’s the unintended star of a Netflix show that charted his career’s nosedive with every new season. (Like presenting Top Gear, some of you may observe.) And yet, even after a season outside the sport and a lackluster return, Ricciardo’s made oodles of money while grinning his way around the paddock, seemingly loved by all—and on occasion, so he tells us, still hungry to win. If I was a team manager, I’d love to sink a few cold beers with Ricciardo. But he’s one of the last of the current grid I’d want to employ as a driver.)

The other runners and riders you will know. Ferrari didn’t make Q3; Albon did. He’s seriously good at the qualifying bit. And poor old Checo Perez? Signs a two year deal and then crashes out of Q1. You just want to hug the bloke.

Charles Leclerc and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

We were lucky this race started at all. Montreal had a new surface this year, but we’ve seen longer delays with less standing water. I love watching racing under these conditions, not because of some macabre fascination with crashes and safety cars, but because real rain leads to some of the few moments you’ll likely see multiple drivers making multiple mistakes. Rain has such a profound effect on a grand prix that it can render Monaco a watchable experience. Rain means overtaking and divergent strategies and K-MAG on full wets when all the others (except his teammate) are on inters! Early on, the leaders did a fine job not binning it, but the Danish sensation was up to 5th…before the standing water disappeared alongside his super-power. Hulkenburg enjoyed a similar fortune. 

Ferrari was already hating Montreal when Leclerc radioed in to say he felt his engine was a bit shit. “We know engine is sheeet” came the helpful reply from the Scuderia. Racing has a habit of reminding victorious drivers of their mortality, but there have been few crueler wake-up calls than Leclerc gambling on slicks later in the race, losing 30 seconds a lap, actually being lapped, and then retiring. Sainz, ever the team player, dropped it towards the end and, in the process, trashed Albon. Ferrari has every reason to detest this race track for many years to come. 

McLaren doesn’t. Norris should really have won this race. Commentators love telling us about possible and probable over- and undercuts. But the way I saw it, McLaren just screwed up that pit stop. On the last re-start, Verstappen reminded us why he’s the best driver in Formula 1—he absolutely delivers at the moment his team needs him to. Piastri was weirdly quiet for much of the near two-hour spectacle, but, like all of these heroes, will always have my full admiration for driving something with 1000 horsepower and awful visibility on what looked like a shallow boating lake. Perez needs to avoid Helmut for a few days.

George Russell might watch the race now and see a millimetrically-targeted brilliance as the small distance between his current form and becoming a world champion in the future. He beat himself up after the show for making so many mistakes, but he drove an aggressive, exciting race. His move on Piastri was bold, but Mr. Senna’s opinion on such situations still stands. 

Davey Todd en route to one of his three wins during the Isle of Man TT

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Meantime, on the Isle of Man, a young chap called Davey Todd took three senior TT wins. His fastest lap averaged 135 mph; his top speed was over 200 mph. One of his main rivals, Peter Hickman, low-sided at a place called Ginger Hall, narrowly missing a wall at 80 mph. By the time the commentators had confirmed he was alive and moving, Hickman had hobbled to the pub nearby and was drinking a pint of beer. As Todd was about to cross the line, the same commentators ruminated on the exact date a TT winner last sported a distinctive mullet-and-moustache combination like the rider’s. “Eddie Laycock in 1989,” came the confident reply of a colleague.

Even a great F1 race is shaded by the awesome Isle of Man TT.

Top illustration: Ralph Hermens

Read more Chris Harris on F1 

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