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Canadian Grand Prix: 2024: George Russell rues ‘missed opportunity’ for Mercedes


The Mercedes was indeed truly rapid in Montreal. Russell’s pole time may have been exactly matched to the thousandth of a second by Verstappen, who started second because Russell set it first, but even the Dutchman admitted he could not have matched the times both Russell and team-mate Lewis Hamilton had managed in the second part of qualifying.

The claim by Verstappen and Norris that the Mercedes was the quickest car in the race was more questionable.

Norris said he “should have won” – and a first safety car period scuppered what was looking like becoming a race-winning advantage for the McLaren. And whenever Verstappen got into the lead, he never truly looked like losing it, and usually pulled away.

But to even be in the mix was a massive step forward for Mercedes, and a justification of the work they have done in recent weeks.

Where did this form come from? Mercedes had a bit of a rude awakening in the early races of this season when a car they believed would be a platform for them to build back towards the front actually left them in worse shape than they were last year.

But, since the Miami event early last month, Mercedes have been saying that they believed they had made a crucial breakthrough. Unlike in 2022 and 2023, they felt they now understood how to get the performance from the car, whereas in the previous two years any development to the car simply unlocked further problems.

They have been piling upgrades on to it since Miami – first new bodywork, then a new floor, and now a new front wing. And in Canada it all came together to create their best performance of the year by far.

Norris said: “They’ve clearly improved a lot. Like, the last two weekends, they’ve been pretty close to probably being the quickest car.”

Hence Russell’s disappointment. Could he have won? “Maybe for a few minutes we dreamt about it,” team boss Toto Wolff, said, “but in reality probably not.”

Wolff’s realism rings true. Yes, Russell led the first 20 laps, but Verstappen and then Norris put him under increasing pressure as the track dried out.

By lap 21, Norris was past using the DRS on the back straight. And that led to the first of Russell’s errors. As the McLaren passed him, he missed the final chicane, and Verstappen was able to slip past, too, on the exit. First had become third in one corner.

Into the second phase of a dramatic race, after the track had been doused for a second time by another bout of rain, now it was Russell’s turn briefly to pressure Verstappen.

Once the race settled down after the first safety car period, though, the Red Bull began to ease away. Russell was beginning to come back at him as the track dried again, but then he was delayed after Norris made an error at the first corner and rejoined in front of him. Verstappen’s lead, which had been down to 2.4secs, was now back up to four.

The leaders pitted for dry-weather tyres and briefly Russell again looked to be inching close to Verstappen, only to cut the chicane at Turns Eight and Nine and drop behind Norris.

A second safety car gave Mercedes another shot – they pitted Russell and Hamilton for fresh tyres while Verstappen and Norris stayed out. So now the Mercedes drivers had a 10-lap tyre advantage with 11 laps to go, albeit they were now lying fourth and fifth, also behind the second McLaren of Oscar Piastri.

But then came the third error from Russell. Racing Piastri for third place and with the laps running out, he tried an overambitious move at the chicane on the outside and again took to the run-off, costing him more time, and a position to Hamilton. He fought back to pass both his team-mate and Piastri before the end. But any hope of catching Verstappen was gone.

“I am disappointed with my own performance but there is a lot to take away,” Russell said.

“That mistake with Oscar when I tried overtaking him and I lost the position to Lewis cost us at least P2 and maybe going to fight with Max later in the race.

“For me, it was just one too many mistakes at key moments that cost us a shot of fighting with these two (Verstappen and Norris) towards the end of the race.

“But, you know, we’ll take all the positives from this weekend. First podium, first pole position of the year and excited moving forward.”

Russell was not the only Mercedes driver feeling he could have done a better job.

“It was a pretty bad weekend for me,” said Hamilton, despite converting a seventh on the grid into fourth at the finish.

“Lots of mistakes and just overall really poor, fighting for fourth place when I should have been further up. It’s great we are looking like we are closer to the front, but I have some work to do to improve. Once I start driving with my head I should be able to get some better results.”



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