Hamilton wins and Button second as tyre gamble rewards McLaren

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The Independent Online

After a gripping Canadian Grand Prix, in which the tension never let up for a second, Lewis Hamilton led McLaren team-mate Jenson Button home for their third 1-2 of the season.

The British team had taken a major gamble on their tyre strategy when Hamilton and Button qualified on the softer compound Bridgestone tyre, whose wear characteristics were questionable in comparison to the medium compound tyres the Red Bull drivers favoured.

In a ragged start in which Force India's Tonio Liuzzi and Ferrari's Felipe Massa collided in the first corner, Hamilton grabbed the lead from Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, with Button fourth.

The day had not got off to the greatest start for points leader Mark Webber, who was dropped back five places on the grid after it was decided to change his Red Bull's gearbox. The team detected a potential problem, and swapped it as a precaution. "Better to lose five places than maybe a lot of points," the Australian said, remaining cheerful even though much of his hard work in qualifying second was thus undone.

Soon he was running fifth from his seventh place start, however, and when Hamilton, Alonso and Button all stopped for medium tyres between the sixth and seventh laps, the Australian found himself running second to his team-mate. Better still, from their point of view, Alonso had beaten Hamilton in a dramatic drag race to leave the pits on lap seven. There is no love lost between these two, especially where the Spaniard is concerned, and doubtless he hasn't forgotten being pulped here by Hamilton back in 2007 when the Englishman made a fool of him on his way to his first grand prix victory.

So it seemed as if the great gamble had backfired on McLaren. But then Webber and Vettel both stopped for fresh tyres on laps 13 and 14. Webber stayed on the medium tyres, which meant he would have to stop again to comply with the rules by running the softer option tyre at some stage.

Now Alonso and Hamilton were scrapping hard with Sebastien Buemi, who had worked his Toro Rosso through the early carnage. The Swiss driver was due to lead going into the 16th lap, but that coincided with him coming into the pits for fresh tyres. Thus the leader should have been Alonso in the Ferrari, but Hamilton's F duct, which stalls the rear wing and boosts straightline speed by reducing drag, had seen him blast by the red car before they got to the last corner. So McLaren were right back in the fight, even if they decided they needed to stop for more fresh medium compound rubber.

They did. Hamilton dived in for them on lap 26, surrendering the lead to Alonso and Webber. Then Button and Vettel pitted on lap 27, both going for medium tyres, as did Alonso a lap later. Approaching half distance, that left Webber building a lead (but with his other stop still due) from Hamilton, Alonso, Button and Vettel. Now the race had swung back in Red Bull's favour, provided Webber could keep the hammer down and build a big enough advantage to make his fast stop as close to the end as possible.

Unfortunately for the Australian, however, this crucial stint coincided with the heaviest traffic of the race as he came up to lap backmarkers intent on their own close fights. By lap 36 he had opened up a lead of 11.8s over Hamilton, but that was gradually eroded by the presence of slower cars as he came upon an intense battle between the Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Liuzzi and Massa's Ferrari, as they in turn prepared to lap Timo Glock's Virgin.

By lap 43, Webber's advantage was down to 6.6s. Four laps later, Hamilton was only 1.7s behind and Webber's tyres were finished. Hamilton had him back in his sights, but just to spice things up he still had Alonso for company and the Spaniard was becoming increasingly attentive. By lap 49, the three leaders were nose to tail again. Heading into lap 50, Hamilton outgripped Webber exiting the final corner and overtook long before they braked for Turn 1. The pendulum had swung back in McLaren's favour, especially as Webber momentarily kept Alonso at bay before stopping for his soft compound tyres at the end of the lap.

Now it was Hamilton's race to lose, and Alonso was focused more on defending his second place from Button. It proved an insuperable task even for the former double world champion, as the 2009 title holder breezed by on the 56th lap to make it a McLaren 1-2. Further back, Vettel wasn't going to offer much of a challenge to the Ferrari, and Webber was another 10s down the road after his stop. It seemed to be over.

Tyre wear was a major concern, however, and the Canadian race is famed for throwing up surprise results. But the dramas came much further down the field. Michael Schumacher's unhappy race, in which his Mercedes was lapped, took a dive when he pushed Massa off the road as they fought over ninth place on the 64th lap. The Brazilian had to pit for a new nose, enabling Liuzzi to take his place. Some might say that was poetic justice, after Liuzzi staged a brilliant recovery drive following their earlier clash. The stewards indicated that they would be investigating the Schumacher-Massa incident afterwards, and to rub further salt in the wound, both Liuzzi and Sutil passed Schumacher on the final lap for ninth and tenth places.

In the end, it all turned out well for Hamilton as he took his second consecutive victory 2.2s ahead of Button, and simultaneously took the championship lead, with 109 points to Button's 106, Webber's 103, Alonso's 94 and Vettel's 90.

"That was some race," he beamed. "The team did an awesome job this weekend, and this is a tribute to all the hard work everyone has put in."