By Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- Rare mistake cost Sebastian Vettel the race
- Lewis Hamilton’s overtaking blues
- Schumacher, almost there, but not quite
Of course Jensen Button was the happiest man on the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve when the finish flag was waved in what can only be described as a chaotic, but sensational Canadian Grand Prix. Button was one of the survivors of a race that was red-flagged after 25 laps due to the torrential rainfall, and was restarted after an agonizing two-hour long wait.
The race that unfolded in Montreal was perhaps the best Canadian Grand Prix ever, in which the rain, the safety car and the Pirelli wet weather tyres played the main role. The conditions were very difficult, and perhaps the most challenging of the season so far. The action on track this year has already exceeded all expectations, and the race in Canada again proved Formula One is still very much alive.
Button also had his share of incidents and almost-accidents, but after the rain had subsided and it was finally time to switch from intermediates to slicks, he proved to be unbeatable and was by far the fastest man on the track. The Briton described his victory as his best win in his over ten-year long Formula One career. “It was a fantastic race, even if I hadn't won I would have enjoyed it. An amazing win and possibly my best,” he smiled. “Definitely one of those Grands Prix where you are nowhere and then somewhere. The last one [lap] is the important one to be leading and I was leading half of it. An amazing day, I don't know what else to say really.”
A long but rewarding journey for Button
The race was started behind the safety car and all competitors were on the full wet weather tyres. Buton was in seventh place and it was still very slippery when the safety car headed for the pit lane. On lap six Button got ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who just had ran wide in the hairpin trying to overtake Michael Schumacher. He then made a small mistake when he headed into the chicane before the start/finish straight and Hamilton then saw an opportunity to overtake his team colleague, wrestled his car on the inside along the pit wall and completely surprised Button who just followed his racing line. The pair collided which spelled the end of the race for Hamilton.
“What is he doing”, Button asked his team on the radio. After the race Button said, “As far as the incident with Lewis is concerned, I couldn’t see a thing behind me except a blur of Vodafone rocket-red, but that could have been my rear wing: obviously, it’s the same color as Lewis’s car. I moved to the left, which is the racing line, then I felt a bang, and I feared it was game over for both of us.” The safety car came out again and Button decided to pit for intermediate tyres.
But as he was in a hurry to join the field behind the safety car again, he exceeded the speed limit, and was handed a drive-through penalty. After his drive through he was in 15th place, obviously not a good position to win a race. But his gamble to switch to intermediates started to pay off and a few laps later he was in ninth position. But on lap 19 it started to rain harder and Button had to visit the McLaren pit once more, this time for full wets.
On lap 25 the FIA Stewards deemed it was too dangerous and the red flag was waved and the race was suspended. When the race was finally restarted Button was again flying, but disaster struck him again on lap 36 when Alonso tried to overtake him in one of the chicanes. The Spaniard was a bit too optimistic and crashed into Button while trying to take the inside line. For Alonso the race was over, Button’s left front tyre was damaged and he had to limp back to the pits for new tyres.
Unfortunately the safety car was again on track to give the marshals the opportunity to tow away the stranded Ferrari, and Button rejoined the race in 21st and last position, and at that moment it looked like his race was effectively over. But the McLaren had a superior pace in the hands of a man who is famous for getting the most out of the tyres, and by lap 50 Button had moved up to eighth position behind the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg.
The rain had stopped and there was now a clearly visible dry line on the circuit, Button made another courageous decision and once more visited the McLaren pit, this time for slicks. He was the first and it certainly paid off, his assessment was correct and the Briton got wings on his slicks, and was almost four seconds a lap faster. He then overtook Rosberg, Vitaly Petrov, Nick Heidfeld, and Kamui Kobayashi. He then started to battle for third with Mark Webber, the Australian made a small mistake and Button was able to pass him on lap 64.
Next target was Schumacher who desperately was trying to hold on to his second position, but the seven-time World Champion was much slower and became a sitting duck for the now hard charging Button. On lap 66 Button was just a second behind leader Sebastian Vettel, and again pushed hard to get even closer to the Red Bull. It looked like Vettel was able to defend his position all the way to the finish, but Button kept on pushing and on his last lap Vettel made a small mistake and ran wide, opening the door for Button who probably thought ‘ thank you very much Seb’ and went on to win the race.
”It felt like I spent more time in the pits than on track,” said Button. “The guys did a great job of calling the strategy. At some points we definitely lucked out with strategy. We called it very well going to slicks and the car was working really well in these tricky conditions,” Button commented after the race. And he added, “I enjoyed it very much coming through the field, fighting your way through the field is almost as good as winning the race!”
A rare mistake cost Vettel the race
Before Button pushed Vettel into a mistake in the very last lap, it had been a walk in the park for the 23-year old German. Up to the last few laps he had comfortably led the race, knowing his main opponents were far behind him or had been eliminated by accidents caused by the atrocious weather conditions. Hamilton, the man who was his nearest rival had to give up after he collided with Button, and the man who had been tipped to win the race, Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, crashed after an incident with Button, and with both Webber and Button behind him during the closing stages of the race, he therefore had nothing to fear.
But all that changed after the rain stopped and the circuit dried out. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner had said ahead of the race it was a matter of ‘being on the right tyres at the right time’ and this indeed proved to be the key to success. Vettel was on the right tyres at the right time, but Button was simply flying during the last laps.
I could feel Jenson was a little bit quicker than us, I could see Jenson was catching up
Of course Vettel was disappointed. ”We led every single lap except the last one, or one part of the last one,” Vettel said. “I could feel Jenson was a little bit quicker than us, I could see Jenson was catching up, I locked up the rear a little bit ... I ended up in the wet and it was quite easy then for him to pass,” he explained.
Horner was not at all disappointed and gave Vettel all his support, “Look at what happened in the five hours that that Grand Prix seemed to consume here. There were a lot of mistakes in really difficult conditions, and he should not be too disappointed.” Despite Vettel’s error, he still remains the championship leader, and Red Bull still leads the Constructors’ Championship, and Horner was therefore pleased with the result. “On a day when neither Lewis nor Fernando scored, and on a day when so many incidents were there, at a track where we are not really supposed to be competitive at, to have come away with a P2 and a P3, in the cold light of day, is actually a pretty good team result,” and optimistic Horner concluded at the end of the day.
Hamilton’s overtaking blues, it takes two to tangle
After his overtaking escapades on the streets of Monaco Hamilton once again found himself in the limelight, and his overtaking moves in Montreal have been heavily criticized again. The 2008 champion, who answered his critics after Monaco he ‘would not change his driving style’ perhaps should think about changing his driving style, as he was involved in two incidents before he eliminated himself during a third incident with his team colleague Button.
First rule in any form of racing is that a driver can only win a race if he finishes the race. Hamilton seems to have forgotten the basic rules of overtaking as well, as he again tried to overtake in places where there is no room and then when things go wrong, complained the other driver ‘just turned into me’. He should know better than that, as every driver is allowed to keep his racing line, and is even allowed to change direction one time to defend his position.
Webber called Hamilton’s overtaking move right after the safety car peeled off the track on the fourth lap ‘clumsy’, and also hinted it is not smart to do this that early in the race. “I think Lewis thought the chequered flag was in Turn Three,” the Australian said. Hamilton was again too impatient and ran wide at the hairpin while trying to overtake Schumacher, which gave Button the opportunity to overtake him. He then saw another non-existing opportunity to take back his position from Button, but forgot about the golden rule a driver has the right to keep the racing line. As a result of the poor visibility Button could not see him and Hamilton hit the pit lane wall after he tangled with Button and had to retire from the race.
Again Hamilton accused others of not seeing him, but in this case, it takes two to ‘tangle’, and he should have known what the result of these aggressive moves would be. About his incident with Button he said, “It felt to me like I was halfway alongside him down the pits straight -- but, as he probably hadn’t spotted me, he continued moving across on the racing line. There was no room for me, so I hit the wall.” Which means he did know what was going on, but nevertheless decided to take the risk, which easily could have ended Button’s race as well.
Ex-Formula One driver John Watson about Hamilton’s frustrations, “I don't think he's in a good place in himself at the minute. He thought he could go to Canada and challenge Red Bull but he ended up fifth on the grid and, to me, he's being driven by frustration, not by his race brain.” And Watson gave Hamilton his advice, “Hamilton needs to sit down and think about what he's doing and try to get his season back on track.”
Formula One racing legends have also given their opinion about Hamilton’s latest incidents, Sir Stirling Moss however was mild in his comments. “He often goes a bit too far now that he is no longer managed by his father,” the 81-year old Moss said to the BBC. Triple World Champion Niki Lauda even suggested the FIA should take action and warned Hamilton his actions could even result in someone getting seriously hurt, or even killed.
He is completely mad. If the FIA does not punish him, I do not understand the world any more
”What Hamilton did there goes beyond all boundaries. He is completely mad. If the FIA does not punish him, I do not understand the world any more. At some point there has to be an end to all the jokes. You cannot drive like this -- as it will result in someone getting killed, the Austrian said.
Another racing legend, Emerson Fittipaldi, who was one of the FIA Stewards during the Canadian Grand Prix, was also worried, “I think Lewis is an exceptional talent, a World Champion, but sometimes he is too aggressive when he tries to overtake.” And the Brazilian added, “It was like that in Monaco with Felipe [Massa], placing half of the car in the sidewalk and putting Felipe in a difficult position, at least.” And he also had a message for Hamilton, “I think there has to be a limit for being aggressive, respecting the others and still being competitive. You can be competitive, but you have to respect the others.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh was not worried at all, and pointed out McLaren’s view on the matter. “In our view it was just a racing incident, and both Lewis and Jenson share that view. So did the FIA stewards, who did an excellent job in tricky conditions today. Sometimes an accident is no-one’s fault, and this was one of those occasions,” he explained.
But there seems to be a growing majority of people who think Hamilton is like a run-away train, and think he probably misses the guidance of his father Anthony, who was until the start of the season his manager. Hamilton has to be careful the next race in Valencia, as the FIA Stewards can now impose a race ban on a driver during the race, and if that happens, he can certainly say goodbye to the title this season.
Ferrari’s podium chances washed away
The Ferrari team headed back home with only eight points in the bag, not the result they expected after their excellent qualifying on Saturday, when Alonso and Massa took second and third position respectively in what was Ferrari’s best qualifying performance of the season.
Alonso had a perfect start after the safety car left the track, and even had a go at Vettel, but decided it was too early to risk everything and settled for second position at Turn One. He had a pretty uneventful race until on lap 17 he decided to pit for intermediates, as they seemed to be quicker. Others soon followed but it started to rain heavier and after two laps he was forced to return to the pit to change to the full wets again. When the race was suspended, he was in eighth position and other drivers ahead of him had the advantage they could change their tyres during the red flag period, while Alonso wasted valuable time in the pit lane.
Alonso again decided to gamble and again dashed into the pit lane for a set of intermediates. Whether his gamble would have paid off will remain unknown, as he crashed into Button while trying to overtake him. His car got stranded on the high kerbs and the Spaniard had to abandon his race. “Everything went wrong, right from this morning when we saw it was raining. We had our best qualifying of the year and we found ourselves starting behind the safety car, when I felt that, for me, the intermediates were the best tyre,” he commented about the first part of the race.
“Finally there was the coming together with Button, which as a final result left my car beached on a kerb and I was unable to get going again. It’s a real shame because today we really had a good race pace but we were unlucky: that’s not a feeling I have, it’s a fact.” For his Brazilian team colleague the race had a similar pattern, he also was in the top three before the race was suspended, and after the restart he ended up damaging his nose on the barrier after overtaking the HRT of Karthikeyan.
“I can’t draw much satisfaction from this sixth place, given the potential we had here,” Massa confessed. “My chances of finishing on the podium and also of fighting for the win given how things went, just evaporated when I was passing Karthikeyan. He was going very slowly on the dry line but then, as I was passing him on the wet, he accelerated and I lost control of the car ending up in the wall.” And added, “I am angry, there is no point denying it. We qualified well and we were in the top three up until the red flag. Then what happened happened and it was all over.”
We had the potential to fight for the win, but everything that could go wrong did go wrong
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali was a disappointed man, “Today we had the potential to fight for the win, but everything that could go wrong did go wrong. In the end, Felipe’s sixth place is definitely a result that is hard to swallow given how the race ended.” He was also disappoints because the two drivers who were responsible for Ferrari’s misfortune, had not been punished by the Stewards. “Two incidents in particular -- the collision between Fernando and Button and the passing move on Karthikeyan that caused Felipe to go of the track -- leave a bitter taste in the mouth,” the Italians said.
Schumacher: almost there, but not quite
Schumacher was probably the man who had a good reason to curse the DRS wing, as he lost his second position solely due to the fact Button and Webber were able to overtake him aided by DRS on the Casino straight during the closing stages of the race. The experienced Schumacher had made no mistakes whatsoever, which was given the circumstances an achievement on its own, but nevertheless had to settle for fourth position.
The German was in fifth position when he changed to the intermediates, but had like many others to return to the garage for full wets again, and when the race was suspended he was in 12th position. On lap 34 he pitted again for intermediates and rejoined the race in 18th position, but from that moment on his luck finally changed. His pit stop strategy was right this time, he had pitted while the safety car again appeared on track, and amazingly enough, only three laps later he was at the tail of the Red Bull of Webber and fighting with the Australian for fifth position, a battle he won on lap 42.
After another round of chaotic pit stops, when most drivers finally switched to the slick dry weather tyres, Schumacher ended up on second place behind leader Vettel, but still with a charging Webber right behind him. He did whatever he could to prevent Webber from overtaking him on the Casino straight, but with a speed advantage of almost 15 km/h it was impossible to keep the Red Bull behind him, and on lap 63 he lost his second place to Webber. Schumacher now had an incredible fast Button behind him, and he subsequently lost his third place to the Briton.
Schumacher certainly had mixed feelings about losing his very first podium place since he had joined Mercedes in 2010, something he had been waiting for so long. “I am leaving this race with one eye laughing and one eye crying, as I am not sure if I should be excited or sad about it. Having been in second place towards the end, I would obviously have loved to finish there and be on the podium again,” he commented. “But even if it did not work out in the very end, we can be happy about the result and the big fight we put in. A good strategy after the red flag made it possible, and I am very happy for our team.”
Next stop: Valencia, Spain
Although for some the Canadian Grand Prix became a disaster, for the fans it was a true spectacle to watch the cars slipping and sliding through the turns of the Gilles-Villeneuve circuit, after the red flag had come out they had to wait awfully long before the race was resumed again, but it was well worth waiting for. They witnessed a race that was unpredictable from the very first until the very last lap, and most of the favorites for the victory were one by one eliminated meaning others could make the most of this now classic Canadian Grand Prix.
It was a race of the survivors, those who could keep their car on the track under the extreme conditions -- although it must be said some had a bit more luck than others. The race had five safety car deployments, was red-flagged and restarted again, was hit by torrential rainfall several times, and lasted over four hours from start to finish. It was a race of opposites: for Ferrari and Mercedes the race was a bitter disappointment, while Button drove the race of his life.
The next race, the European Grand Prix in Valencia, will again be a street race, but there are a few more overtaking opportunities than in the narrow streets of Monaco. It will also be the last race where the by FIA criticized ‘off-throttle blown diffuser’ is still allowed, after the European Grand Prix the system is banned, and it is expected Red Bull, who have perfected the technique, will become the main victim of the ban.