My stand-out driver from Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix was unquestionably Alex Albon, who brought his upgraded Williams FW45 home seventh after a wonderful drive in which he resisted tremendous pressure from the recovering George Russell, the increasingly consistent Esteban Ocon, the on-form Valtteri Bottas and old F2 rival Lando Norris.
With its long straights Williams had high hopes that the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve would suit their revised car, and so it proved.
In some quarters people like to denigrate high top speed, as if having a straight line advantage is somehow unfair. But in F1 you play to your strengths.
Aston Martin’s AMR23, for example, had better low-speed traction and thus better acceleration than Mercedes’ W14. Nobody thought that was unfair as it helped Fernando Alonso to catch, overtake and then defend against Lewis Hamilton as they made it three world champions on the podium with winner Max Verstappen.
From his strong ninth on the grid, Alex dropped a place at the start to Charles Leclerc – which was expected given that he was driving a Ferrari – but kept ahead of the duelling Carlos Sainz in the other one and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.
Then he was one of those to benefit from the Safety Car deployment on Lap 12 after George Russell smacked the wall, as Williams were able to put together a very strong single-stop race. Thereafter he deployed his established skills in managing a race while defending, and was also able to overtake when it mattered.
How Alex Albon delivered his best Williams finish at the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix
His sole moment came under braking for Turn 16 on Lap 22 when he had to go over the run-off and lost out momentarily to Oscar Piastri and Kevin Magnussen, but he re-passed the McLaren and the Haas and otherwise resisted the consistent pressure from his pursuers.
For lap after lap between 39 and 54 the Anglo-Thai underlined his undoubted class by keeping former F2 rival Russell’s Mercedes at bay. The Englishman had driven bravely, ignoring potential damage to his W14, and had climbed up from last to eighth, but he just didn’t seem able to find a way past the blue car.
And when his front brake wear started to get to a dangerous point, the man from Kings Lynn was called in to retire.
Alex then had Esteban thirsting after him – a very aggressive racer who is doing a great job right now – but again Albon proved equal to the task and never put a wheel wrong keeping him at bay.
Meanwhile, in his wake, Lando had outfoxed Valtteri and squeezed by the Alfa Romeo exiting the hairpin on Lap 63. But though he quickly closed on the pink and blue Alpine and pushed Esteban hard, neither was able to catch the Williams. An honourable seventh place was a major boost to the reviving Grove squad.
“It’s been a very strong weekend and I have to thank the team first and foremost because we had the upgrade on the car,” Albon said afterwards. “And I think it shows that we made a good step and the circuit suited us.
“The work that has gone on at the factory to get this upgrade ready has been monumental and everyone has been working so hard. We also fitted a new PU, so we threw everything at this weekend.
“We had a great qualifying yesterday and now the race today was great. To get these points on the board and move up to ninth in the championship is a nice place to be.”
Back when it seemed that he was doomed to miss out on a drive at the end of 2020 I was happy to see Sergio get the second Red Bull seat alongside Max, but lately you can’t help wondering what sort of job Alex would be doing in the second RB19 if Red Bull had kept him.
For a man who drives so hard, with his elbows out when the occasion demands, he has an endearingly gentle character out of the cockpit which is another of the things I like about him.
He’s matured greatly within it, learned to channel his racing aggression into forward progress, and the team love him. You won’t be surprised to know Williams boss James Vowles has every intention of hanging on to him.
Part of racing is watching such progress, which always gives me a warm feeling. And I also love being there when history is being made.
Of course, there isn’t much chance that you’d overlook Max with all the winning he’s been doing these past two seasons, but it’s sometimes easy to forget that he has been doing that for eight years now, starting with that astonishing victory in Spain back in 2016 under big pressure from Kimi Raikkonen, as he graduated to Red Bull from the sister Toro Rosso team.
As he drew level with Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41 victories this weekend, his true position in racing was underlined yet again. He will go down as one of the sport’s greats.
With Red Bull’s current level of dominance, Max could easily equal Alain Prost’s score of 51 wins by the end of the season, and home in on former team star Sebastian Vettel’s 53. I’m not much of a one for betting, but I would put money on him, one day, challenging Michael Schumacher’s 91 wins, and possibly even Lewis’s 103. Time is on his side…
It was a big weekend for Red Bull, too. After an initial struggle once Dietrich Mateschitz had bought them from Jaguar in 2005, Sebastian Vettel kicked off the wins in China in 2009, and Max’s 41st success was their 100th.
Red Bull celebrate 100th F1 win with Verstappen victory in Canada
Remember George Russell’s prediction after the season opener in Bahrain that Red Bull would win all the races? Despite the recent improvements made by both Aston Martin and Mercedes, I wouldn’t bet against that, either.
Currently Red Bull are a very credible fifth overall on wins, in a table headed by Ferrari with 242, McLaren 183, Mercedes 125 and Williams 114. It’s another bet I wouldn’t take that Williams could be displaced from fourth before the 2023 season is over.
In all this there was something else that was almost missed – and to me it was the most remarkable of the achievements surrounding Red Bull in Montreal.
The aforementioned figures were rightly celebrated, as was what Christian Horner and Helmut Marko have achieved as their team currently stand head and shoulders above their opposition. But there was another story, which surrounded another architect of that success.
Adrian Newey, the man whom they say can “bend air” since his cars are so perfect aerodynamically, is one of the most self-effacing people I’ve met.
That happened back in 1988, when his Leyton House March 881 was one of the most elegant cars on the grid, and his subsequent CG891 and CG901s were even better.
But it was his Williams FW14 that really marked his card and which, courtesy of Riccardo Patrese in Mexico in 1991, set him on his personal winning trail.
By my calculations legendary Lotus designer Colin Chapman arguably had a hand in designing cars that took 81 wins in F1, if you count his work with Tony Vandervell’s Vanwall team prior to Lotus’s entry to F1 and the overall guidance he gave employees such as Len Terry, Maurice Philippe, Ralph Bellamy and Martin Ogilvy.
Patrick Head was involved one way or the other with all of Williams’ 114 wins, while Mauro Forghieri can count 56 victories with his Ferrari designs; John Barnard 51 with his McLaren, Ferrari and Benetton cars; and Rory Byrne dozens with Ferrari and Benetton, as both designer and later consultant.
And Ross Brawn was a key part of almost 120 victories with Benetton, Ferrari, his own team and then Mercedes.
But besides his work alongside Head at Williams, Adrian’s designs have also won for McLaren and Red Bull, creating an unprecedented record of excellence which saw the Canadian Grand Prix success take his tally to an astonishing 200.
Sunday’s race was the 1087th World Championship Grand Prix, so his cars have won almost 20 percent of them – and that is a stunning achievement.