Max Verstappen WINS dramatic Canadian Grand Prix ahead of Lando Norris after McLaren strategy blunder – with George Russell third

It should have been Lando Norris standing on the top step of the podium, his slim world championship hopes having caught fire in a pulsating Canadian Grand Prix of thrills and perils in the rain.

But it wasn’t to be, the intervention of a safety car, and his McLaren team’s sluggish response to it, condemning the Briton to a never-say-die second place behind the unignorable Max Verstappen, who else?

Yet the most stirring memories – the ones that should have secured the win – were of Norris dancing through the early squalls as nimbly as Gene Kelly, weaving his superlative McLaren into the lead as if twirling his umbrella as he went, past Verstappen and Mercedes’ pole-man George Russell.

Norris is clearly in confident mood, in the form of his life, and he accelerated into a five-second advantage in a trice from the moment he moved in front on lap 21 of 70. Nothing was ever easy in these conditions: rain, or the threat of it, stood at the race’s elbow throughout, ready to give certainty a nudge.

Next, and this is where it turned against Norris, Logan Sargeant spun, for a second time, at Turn 4. The Williams pirouetter grazed the wall and ended up at 90 degrees to forward. The safety car came out.

Max Verstappen emerged victorious in a gripping Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday
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Max Verstappen emerged victorious in a gripping Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday

Verstappen (left) took first place after battling it out in the rain on Sunday afternoon
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Verstappen (left) took first place after battling it out in the rain on Sunday afternoon

The Red Bull driver pictured celebrating his breathtaking victory on the podium in Monreal
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The Red Bull driver pictured celebrating his breathtaking victory on the podium in Monreal

All Norris’s rivals came in to be reshod on new intermediate tyres on a track no longer being showered in rain but far from dry enough for slicks. The leader stayed out. A big mistake.

Yes, the McLaren boffins had less time to hatch their plan to box, but, however you cut it, their shilly-shallying cost Norris a likely victory.

Norris pitted the lap later and emerged in third place, Verstappen and Russell ahead of him.

‘It was wild,’ said Norris of the race. ‘It was chaos; it was eventful. I had amazing pace, but the safety car had me over.

‘The first stint I led by 10, 12 seconds, pulling away by a second a lap. Things were going beautifully, but it’s Montreal so something has got to come into play. The safety car helped me out in Miami a few weeks ago, so I’m not one to complain. We’ll keep fighting.’

Not that the 24-year-old was on the floor even after the safety car setback on lap 26. Another potentially pivotal moment: by lap 46, his rivals had made the switch to slicks, but for Norris. He was still pounding out the fastest times and briefly in the lead again.

The maverick strategy, on this occasion, was worth a go. It allowed him to overcut Russell and nearly to establish enough of a margin to be reshod a couple of laps later and to reemerge in the lead. But not quite enough of one, and he found himself lying second. Russell then overtook him, only for Norris to pass him back.

‘Focus, George, focus,’ came the instruction from Toto Wolff to Russell.

Lando Norris, who finished in second, described Sunday's race as 'wild' and 'chaos'
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Lando Norris, who finished in second, described Sunday’s race as ‘wild’ and ‘chaos’

George Russell, who started the day in pole position, finished up in third place
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George Russell, who started the day in pole position, finished up in third place

It was that kind of dramatic weekend on this fabulous Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. And goodness the weather was capricious throughout practice, qualifying and the race. A grey scowl one moment, a teary sky the next, a smile of sunshine another.

The rain being of the spotting variety than the pelting provided opportunities for heroes and mistakes. Cue Ferrari as an example of the latter. Despite winning in Monaco through Charles Leclerc a fortnight before, they qualified only 11th and 12th. And then it got worse.

Leclerc’s engine was playing up. He took a long stop in order to have it attended to. This put him to the back, but, worse, he was ludicrously given slicks just as a second downpour fell. He was like Bambi out there. ‘Just try to keep it on the track and then we’ll be quick afterwards,’ he was told.

A laugh went up in the press room at that pearl of wisdom. Obviously, he was called back in, humiliation piling on humiliation until he retired.

As for Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari, he later spun, collecting a helpless Alex Albon – impressive for Williams – as he did so.

The image of Sainz’s red-faced machine slithering on the grass like a drunken lawnmower was about right.

Ferrari endured a nightmare in Canada as both of their drivers failed to finish the race
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Ferrari endured a nightmare in Canada as both of their drivers failed to finish the race

As for Verstappen, never mind that his Red Bull was supposedly not suited to the kerbs of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. He is always on hand with the gelatine should an opportunity present itself to blow the doors off. He finished 3.8secs ahead of Norris.

Russell, sometimes a little twitchy but fighting bravely throughout, finished third. Mercedes’ first podium of the season, abetted by a front-wing upgrade, was secured with a great late pass on Lewis Hamilton, who started seventh and was himself impressive on a favourite track in conditions in which he is a past master.

A tremendous afternoon of sport – the kind in danger of giving Formula One a good name.

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