You have it completely backwards. Canon isn't manufacturing a flagship to keep up. Neither the A1 or A9 present any major challenge to the 1dx line. You can literally count them on one hand in any sporting venue, if you even see one A9 at all. I would not bet any money on anything being "Early development" Same story as last year, then boom. What was Canon's flagship before the 1Dx? There is nothing to ponder over. The DSLR 1d lines have been coverted to RF. Plain and simple. The Olympics will begin their showcase. Who cares about the nomenclature, 1dx owners know which is their replacement, same as the 5D owners.Yeah I think a lot of people are missing that this is a leaked early development announcement rendering picture, I doubt Canon would change the grip material much unless they found a way to make it even more gripper or better for the user. I'm sure in person this camera will look just amazing.
I think bbasiaga is on the money here. Canon probably had to reevaluate how they would handle the 1Dx Mark III existing with the R3 at the same time.
I also think Canon can tell that the market is moving towards high-res, high-speed, and probably wanted to make a camera line for the professionals who wouldn't normally be buying a mirrorless camera. I do think that means that the R3 will not be a hugely high-res blockbuster, but instead a tried and true camera built for speed. The most important thing for 1d users is reliability, so that might be the focus here.
I would guess that if and when the R1 comes out, the R1 would be a camera that totally breaks the mold in ways that current pros might be hesitant to jump into at first. That said, no one said the R3 can't be 45 megapixels. I expect 24 mp, but if 8k is just where we're at right now, 45 mp might soon be "normal" resolution, and then the R1 could be upwards of 80mp.
I hate to compare lineups, but I'd say the R3 name makes sense as an A9 competitor, and the eventual R1 could be more of a A1 competitor. I could be wrong, but I think Canon is very aware of the importance of the 1 series name.