At one stage in the Canadian GP it seemed as if Lewis Hamilton was about to pull back all of his 25-point deficit to Sebastian Vettel, as the Englishman was leading comfortably while the German was in the pits having a new front wing fitted to his Ferrari.
In the end, however, though he dominated to win his sixth Canadian GP on the tenth anniversary of his maiden success here a decade ago, finishing ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel was able to fight back to fourth place and limit the damage as he left Montreal still 12 points to the good.
Hamilton was not too disappointed by that twist, happily savouring his 56th career victory and his sixth here.
“It’s been an incredible weekend, and I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “For the team to come away from Monaco, where everyone was scratching their heads, it was fantastic that we all just wanted to work together, In five years with the team I’ve never seen everyone pull quite so well together in a cause and give it to Ferrari.
“Valtteri did a great job too, and this is our first 1-2 together and solid points for team. It’s kind of crazy because I took my first pole and first win here 10 years ago, and today felt very reminiscent of 2007 in terms of how the race went. It was all about managing the car and the tyres, and it was a long race, particularly when you’re out there on your own.
“This was always been special place for me, and I absolutely loved it the whole way today.”
It was extremely windy throughout the race, but it wasn’t that which afflicted Vettel’s aerodynamics but a brush with Max Verstappen, who shoved his Red Bull round the outside of the Ferrari to snatch second place doing into the first corner, exactly as Bottas was doing something similar to take third place away down the inside. Hence the need for the new front wing.
That same lap, exiting Turn 2, there was further excitement when Romain Grosjean and Carlos Sainz tangled, the Haas spinning the Toro Rosso down the grass on the inside of the track until it collected the innocent Felipe Massa’s Williams in the following chicane. Out came the safety car.
On the restart on lap four Hamilton pulled clear and thereafter simply controlled the race, running his ultrasoft Pirelli tyres until the 32nd lap, then switching to supersofts for the final 38.
Bottas moved to second on the 11th lap when Verstappen’s Red Bull stopped in Turn 2, to the Dutchman’s evident chagrin. But where Hamilton used the supersoft tyres, Mercedes pitted the Finn as early as the 23rd lap, and ran him to the finish on the harder compound soft tyres which were less effective.
Meanwhile, Ricciardo maintained fourth place as the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban ocoon sandwiched Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari. Raikkonen pitted first, for supersofts on lap 17. Ricciardo went for softs on 18, and Perez for supersofts on 19. Force India kept Ocon out on his ultrasofts until the 32nd lap, by which time he was running second to Hamilton. The stop dropped him back to sixth, but that became fifth when Raikkonen pitted again for ultrasofts on the 41st lap.
Perez had been pushing hard after Ricciardo, but as his challenge reached stalemate, Ocon began to push his team-mate, as Raikkonen was recovering fast on the softer tyres and Vettel was charging his way through the field. With 20 laps Force India were asking Perez to let Ocon by on his fresher tyres, promising that positions would be reversed if his attack was unsuccessful. But the Mexican wasn’t refused to move over and begged to be allowed to race. Meanwhile, the Ferraris were getting closer and closer.
The red cars switched places on the 60th lap, supposedly because Raikkonen went into the run-off area after messing up the final corner, and Vettel’s task was made easier when Perez resisted Ocon as they ran side-by-side going into the corner on the 65th lap. As he had to back off, the Frenchman lost momentum and that helped Vettel to overtake him going into Turn 1 on the 66th lap. Ocon was obliged to run wide into the run-off area to avoid contact, as Vettel found Perez slamming the door on him as he tried to put the Ferrari inside it.
Perez actually made it easier for Vettel to pass him than he had his team-mate, two laps later in the final corner, and Ocon was very unhappy after the two pink cars finished side-by-side, two tenths of a second apart in fifth and sixth.
“He can’t do that,” Ocon said of his teammate after the best race of his short career, “that’s not fair racing at all.
Vettel, meanwhile, was almost as delighted as Ricciardo, who celebrated his third podium in a row with a champagne shoey with Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart.
“When I found myself last on the fifth lap I thought it was all over,” Vettel said. “But we showed the strength of our car, and the team’s strategy, with a great recovery drive and only just lost out on a podium finish. We have to be happy with that.”
After Mercedes’ glitch in Monaco, the batte between F1’s two heavy hitters is re-engaged.
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