Lewis Hamilton led another McLaren-Mercedes 1-2 victory at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal this afternoon, as Hamilton and teammate Jenson Button were best able to adjust to the hard-wearing track surface at the Circuit ...
Lewis Hamilton led another McLaren-Mercedes 1-2 victory at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal this afternoon, as Hamilton and teammate Jenson Button were best able to adjust to the hard-wearing track surface at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve.
"It wasn't easy, I can tell you that," said the race winner. "This track is unique -- you can never be too confident, because you really have to look after your tyres, and it's so hard to know how long you can make them last."
The rarely-used track on Ile Notre-Dame in the St. Lawrence river was the biggest challenge of the year yet for the Formula One teams, at least as far as the tires go. With the super-soft compound tires lasting only 10-15 laps and even the harder 'prime' compound wearing out after 25-30 laps for most drivers, two stops were the norm for the 70-lap race.
The two McLaren drivers were able to conserve their tires, though, from their final stops on laps 26 and 27, and that was the key to their claim to the top steps of the podium.
Hamilton, the 2008 World Champion, had started from the pole position, but in the final picture at the finish, that starting position was probably one of the lesser factors contributing to the victory.
However, he did hold the lead through the first corner, ahead of the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, Button and Webber, the last of whom gained two places at the start -- thanks to Felipe Massa and Vitantonio Liuzzi -- to partially make up for his five-place gearbox change penalty.
With Hamilton, Alonso and Button all starting with the softer option-compound tires, an early pit stop for each was always to be expected, and so a quick sprint to stretch out the lead was to be essential. The plan was as successful as could be hoped for: as the three exited pits on laps six and seven, now equipped with the harder-compound tires, they were able to stay within the top ten.
Behind them it had been far less of a tidy start, though. Ferrari's Massa, who had qualified sixth, behind Force India's Liuzzi, tried to force his way past into the corner. Liuzzi was caught between Massa and Button and had nowhere to go: the end result was that the Ferrari and Rice India touched, and each one ended up making an early visit to the pits to repair damage.
Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi made it safely past that incident, and gained a stonking eight places on the first lap, but his heroic drive ended early as he slid into the Wall of Champions at the final corner of that lap.
At the front, though, with the option-tire runners having pitted, it was Vettel, looking for another race victory. He didn't hold that exalted position for very long, though, and pitted as early as lap 13, putting on the softer footwear. Clearly Red Bull was planning a long final stint for the prime-compound tires.
Webber, though, stayed on harder tires, with the Red Bull team choosing to hedge their tire strategy bets. And when the front-runners -- Hamilton, Alonso, Button and Vettel -- pitted a dozen laps later, the Australian was released into the lead.
Webber looked very strong indeed in the mid-race, but as the Australian hadn't yet used his option tires, he would need to make another stop. It was then, a question of whether he could stretch out enough of a lead to exit the pits in front of his challengers. It looked good for a while, but then Hamilton began to reel him in as the Red Bull's rear tires began to grain badly.
"In the second stint I was ahead and was monitoring the gap to Lewis," Webber recalled. "I was moving away a bit at the start, as he was pacing to get to the finish. I was trying to keep my pace constant, but in the end the tyres didn't want that pace and they go away from you. It's virtually impossible to keep the tyres from degrading here, no matter how slow you drive."
Hamilton hauled in the Red Bull hand over fist as its tires lost their grip, and then made the pass with relative ease on lap 50. Alonso tired to make his way past into second place on the same lap, but before he could make the move stick, Webber ducked into the pit lane.
As the front four streamed past, it was back to the same picture as before: Hamilton leading from Alonso, followed by Button, Vettel and Webber. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and Robert Kubica (Renault) were nearly a lap back from the lead, and would not factor into the podium fight.
Button was able to make a pass on Alonso six laps later, as the Spaniard tried to make his way passed lapped traffic, and Alonso was unable to respond in kind.
"Today, we could have won but we did not manage it because, on a few occasions, we paid a heavy price for the traffic," said the glum Alonso after the race. "These things can happen to anyone in a race, and this time it was our turn."
Unlike the Red Bull team battle a fortnight ago, which saw the two teammates touch while in a 1-2 race lead, Hamilton and Button managed the race lead as one would expect from a top-tier professional team.
"I decided to focus on driving flat-out to catch Fernando," Button recounted the late-race events. "And it worked: when we both hit further traffic, I was able to pounce and make my move. After that, I began trying my best to reel in Lewis, but I'd taken so much out of my tyres while chasing Fernando that I couldn't get any closer to Lewis than about two seconds."
Button eventually finished 2.254 seconds adrift of Hamilton, but 9.214 in front of Alonso, who fell away quickly in the closing laps.
Vettel wasn't close enough to attempt an attack on the Ferrari, though, as a gearbox problem forced him to drop his pace. He finished nearly 40 seconds back of Hamilton, and just 1.2 of Webber, whose option tires had severely deteriorated in the 20 laps until the chequered flag was shown.
Rosberg held off Kubica for sixth, but it was the young German's older teammate, seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, that was creating excitement behind them.
Both already a lap down on the leaders, the recovering Massa had made his way past Liuzzi -- cleanly this time! -- and his teammate Adrian Sutil, and was attacking his former Ferrari mentor, Schumacher, for ninth place. The German veteran's tires had little more grip than ball bearings at this point, though, and he had trouble holding the line in the corners.
However, as Massa attempted a move in the penultimate corner on the 65th lap, Schumacher chopped him off, moving over and damaging the Ferrari's front wing. Massa had to make another unplanned stop, dropping back to 15th place.
Schumacher attempted a similar manoeuvre on Liuzzi when the Force India driver attacked on the final lap, and the two touched as well. Liuzzi kept on the track, though, and made his move stick in turn 8 as Schumacher missed the braking point.
Sutil made their way past Schumacher on the final lap as well, dropping the F1 legend out of the points again, for the second time in the past three races.
Hamilton now has the championship points lead with 109, followed by Button at 106 and Webber at 103; Alonso and Vettel follow with 94 and 90 points, respectively.
The next race will be of a very different nature, as the Formula One circus will run on the streets of Valencia in a fortnight's time.