Max Verstappen winning a race in 2022 is nothing to write home about. It happens all the time, really. There have been nine races in this Formula 1 season: Verstappen has picked up two engine-related DNFs, finished third in Monaco, and then won the other six. That includes Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix, a race Verstappen started on pole and one that he led for 53 laps.
On paper, it seems like the Montreal race was just a walk in the park for the championship leader, but the reality—thanks to both some unlucky safety car timings and Carlos Sainz having his best race of the year—was more of a grueling dogfight. Verstappen didn’t win simply because he has the best car, but also because it seems clear that he is incapable of making the kind of costly mistakes that would submarine a lesser driver.
For a race that saw Charles Leclerc make it from a 19th-place start—thanks to a grid penalty related to replacing his engine after the debacle in Baku—to a fifth-place finish, as well as three DNFs up and down the field, the Canadian Grand Prix was mostly an uneventful affair. Verstappen took his pole position and turned into a spacious lead, only losing his position when pitting under a safety car on the 8th lap, while Sainz stayed out. The Dutchman gained it back 11 laps later when Sainz went in for his required pit stop, though it was pretty evident from the loss of tire grip that Verstappen would have to pit once more. He did so on lap 42, and looked set to make a charge back from third place to first with fresher tires than Sainz.
That’s when the safety car came back into play: on lap 49, Yuki Tsunoda collided with the wall on turn 2, ending his race and throwing on a late safety car. That allowed Sainz to get a free pit stop and make a charge at Verstappen with fresher tires. To win the race, Verstappen had to hold off the Spaniard for 15 laps of perfect driving. He did exactly that. Even with Sainz staying within Drag Reduction System range for most of that chunk of the race, Verstappen was able to come out of the slow corners in Montreal with higher speeds than Ferrari’s No. 2, repeatedly forcing Sainz to make riskier and riskier moves, particularly on the final chicane of the race, where he would repeatedly take too much of the curb to keep up with the Red Bull.
If there was ever need for a Max Verstappen Master Class, it was on Sunday, and he was up to the challenge. Sainz never really got closer than about four-tenths of a second behind Verstappen, as the increased speed from the DRS didn’t make up the difference from how well Verstappen took the corners. Simply put, he outraced Sainz for all of those laps, using the Red Bull’s superior straight line speed as an extra boost in the fight.
Though Sainz has been disappointing this season, it’s not really on him. He put in a fantastic showing, and it’s hard to say what else he could have done in the situation. He even picked up his first fastest lap point with a scorching 1:15:749. Sainz simply ran into the brick wall that is Max Verstappen defending a lead, and there’s probably no one on the grid right now that could have threatened him. Leclerc has been Verstappen’s closest challenger on even terms, but one need only look at Miami to see a similar situation; Leclerc was in position to pass Verstappen towards the end of that race, but could not get the last bit of power and perfection needed.
With nine rounds gone by and 13 to go, Verstappen now leads the championship by 46 points over Sergio Perez, his teammate, and 49 over Leclerc. Perez picked up a gearbox-related DNF on Sunday, bringing back questions about Red Bull reliability that plagued the team early this season. Verstappen’s car seemed fine on Sunday, but it might take a full-blown return of those problems for anyone to have a chance of catching him. If he defends the championship lead like he did the race against Sainz in Montreal, a second consecutive driver’s championship seems all but a formality at this point.