Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button triumphed in an engrossing five-way battle for supremacy at a Canadian Grand Prix dominated by the struggle to manage extreme tyre wear over the 70 laps of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
With the McLaren drivers adopting a different strategy from their Red Bull rivals, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso inserting himself into the mix, the race ebbed and flowed as first one team then the other seemed best-placed to find the right balance between speed and tyre wear.
Before the race it was expected that McLaren’s decision to start on the softer option tyres meant their drivers would require an early safety car if they wanted to avoid handing the advantage to Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, who began on the more durable prime tyres and were able to attack from the start.
But the hotter-than-expected conditions meant that the primes proved almost as troublesome as the options, and when Hamilton, Button and Alonso made early stops to abandon their softer tyres they closed the gap on the two Red Bulls so quickly that the leaders also pitted.
The team split its strategy, Vettel changing to softs and Webber – who had started from seventh after a penalty for changing his gearbox – staying on the harder tyres.
Hamilton had lost position to Alonso during their stop, racing side-by-side out of the pitlane and having to yield to the Spaniard, but he regained the place as the pair caught Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi, who had been left suddenly in the lead when Vettel pitted.
As the Swiss driver went straight on into the pits for his own stop, Hamilton was able to make a run on Alonso and snatched the lead. Alonso fought back and, by the time Hamilton was next ready to pit, was on the verge of overtaking. His time at the front was short, however, encountering enough traffic during the two laps before his own stop to end up behind the McLaren driver again.
By then, with the race approaching its half-way mark, Vettel had also pitted to switch back to the prime tyres, leaving Webber comfortably out in front but in a very poor strategic position.
By staying out he minimised the time he would have to spend at the end of the race on the soft tyres, but he also increasingly wore out his current tyres, allowing his rivals to eat away the advantage he needed if he was to remain in touch with them after his own stop.
Eventually, on lap 49, his lead was completely gone and Hamilton was able to overtake to hit the front again. Alonso could not follow suit, but Webber made his long-delayed final stop at the end of the lap and dropped to a fifth place he would hold to the end – behind Vettel, who was repeatedly warned by his team not to push too hard as his car had a problem.
Hamilton by now was safely out front while Button was reeling in Alonso, making the crucial pass for second place as the pair came up to lap Karun Chandhok. The reigning world champion then set about closing the gap to his team-mate, making up ground rapidly until Hamilton responded with some fast laps that demonstrated he intended McLaren’s second consecutive 1-2 finish to involve the same finishing positions as the previous one in Turkey.
In the end, Hamilton beat Button by 2.25 seconds, with Alonso nine seconds off the lead and Vettel and Webber nearly 40 seconds adrift.
Hamilton now leads the championship by three points from Button and six from Webber. He said: “It has been a tremendous weekend, fantastic. This is a special day for me. I won my first grand prix here and to repeat it after three years is a real pleasure.
“The team did an exceptional job – it was one of the toughest races so far but that is what you want. I am very happy and proud of the team.
Button added: “It was a great race, very enjoyable and pretty tough. It is very difficult to judge when to push on the tyres – it was an exciting race from that point of view.
“I think I probably kicked in a bit early in the last stint, but it got me P2, so a big thank you to the whole team. It was fun, and for the viewers it was a great race, down to the tyres being a bit more different than normal. It made for a hell of a race.”
Alonso’s pleasure at his podium was tempered by the knowledge that he had three times lost position to the McLarens: “I had a good opportunity to win today, fighting with Lewis, we overtook him with a fantastic job in the pitlane.
“We lost position with traffic and then lost another position – we lost 10 points with those from 25 to 15. But it was a great recovery for the championship, we were 50 seconds behind McLaren in Turkey and fighting for the win here.”
A very quiet sixth place went to Nico Rosberg, who had a trouble-free afternoon unaffected by either the battling ahead or the fireworks behind.
These began at the start, when Force India’s Tonio Liuzzi and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa engaged in a barging match that saw them bounce off each other three times and ended with the Italian facing the wrong way on the track.
Both were forced to pit, both then needed to fight their way through the field, and both also eventually found themselves engaged in more fisticuffs as they tried to pass the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher, struggling late in the race on ruined soft tyres.
The multiple world champion had warmed up earlier in the race by emerging from the pits and shouldering aside the Renault of Robert Kubica, forcing both cars across the grass. Kubica went on to finish seventh, ahead of Buemi.
Schumacher dealt with Massa’s attempted overtake by nearly sending him against the wall at the entrance to the pitlane, damaging the Ferrari driver’s front wing and forcing him to pit for a replacement. The Brazilian would eventually finish 15th and stewards decided to take no action following a post-race investigation.
Liuzzi caught Schumacher in the final laps as the German was running in ninth place. Some robust defending sent carbon fibre flying, but eventually Schumacher cut a corner, losing time, and was passed by both Liuzzi and Adrian Sutil.
Provisional results of the Canadian Grand Prix
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:33:53.456
- Jenson Button, McLaren: +2.254
- Fernando Alonso, Ferrari: +9.214
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: +37.817
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: +39.291
- Nico Rosberg, Mercedes GP: +56.084
- Robert Kubica, Renault: +57.300
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: +1 lap
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: +1 lap
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: +1 lap
- Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP: +1 lap
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: +1 lap
- Nico Hulkenberg, Williams: +1 lap
- Rubens Barrichello, Williams: +1 lap
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: +1 lap
- Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus: +2 laps
- Vitaly Petrov, Renault: +2 laps
- Karun Chandhok, Hispania: +4 laps
- Lucas di Grassi, Virgin + 5 laps
- Timo Glock, Virgin: retired, 50 laps
- Jarno Trulli, Lotus-Cosworth: retired, 43 laps
- Pedro de la Rosa, BMW Sauber: retired, 30 laps
- Bruno Senna, Hispania: retired, 14 laps
- Kamui Kobayashi, BMW Sauber: retired, 1 lap
Points-scorers only are shown.
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 109
- Jenson Button, McLaren: 106
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 103
- Fernando Alonso, Ferrari: 94
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 90
- Nico Rosberg, Mercedes GP: 74
- Robert Kubica, Renault: 73
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 67
- Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP: 34
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 23
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 12
- Rubens Barrichello, Williams: 7
- Vitaly Petrov, Renault: 6
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 5
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: 3
- Kamui Kobayashi, BMW Sauber: 1
- Nico Hulkenberg, Williams: 1
Points-scorers only are shown.
- McLaren: 215
- Red Bull: 193
- Ferrari: 161
- Mercedes GP: 108
- Renault: 79
- Force India: 35
- Toro Rosso: 8
- Williams: 8
- BMW Sauber: 1