Before the Canadian Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton teased his father, asking how he could possibly crash a high-performance car at 30mph.
He won’t be asking that again.
The young McLaren driver made a boy racer’s mistake in the pit lane of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, running into the back of main rival Kimi Raikkonen as the Finn waited at the red light that blocked the exit onto the circuit.
By putting both himself and Raikkonen out of the race he created the circumstances for Robert Kubica’s debut win, an unlikely BMW 1-2, and much-needed boosts to the seasons of second- and third-placed Nick Heidfeld and David Coulthard.
As a result, BMW are now breathing down the neck of Ferrari in the constructors’ championship, Kubica leads the World Drivers’ Championship, and Hamilton holds the slimmest of advantages over Felipe Massa in second – the pair are tied on points, and separated only by Hamilton’s 13th place in Bahrain.
And the after-effects will carry over to the next race in France on June 22 – the McLaren driver and Nico Rosberg, who ran into the back of Hamilton in the same incident, have both been given 10-place grid penalties for their rashness.
“It’s just unfortunate when stuff like this happens, but I have no argument with the stewards,” said Hamilton, recognising perhaps that he’d been caught bang to rights. He has also apologised to Raikkonen who – mindful of Monaco, where he ran into the back of Adrian Sutil – kept his criticism to a minimum.
The Finn said: “I’m not angry, but what Hamilton did was inexplicable. More, it was stupid. I’m not the right person to talk about a shunt, given what happened in the last race, but it is one thing to collide on the track in the heat of the race and another in the pit lane when you are stopped at a red light.”
Earlier, the race had shown no sign of producing such fireworks as drivers responded to fears over the condition of the track by making a tentative start, Hamilton in front and Kubica successfully defending second from Raikkonen.
It was not until lap 12, when Sutil’s malfunctioning gearbox expired out on the circuit, that the shake-up began. Stewards spent three laps pondering the stranded Force India machine then, when flames started leaping from a front wheel, finally brought out the safety car.
The leaders all dived into the pits and the Ferrari garage serviced Raikkonen so efficiently that he emerged from his pit box contesting the lead with Kubica.
The pair stopped side-by-side at the exit, waiting for the red light to change, but Hamilton saw too late that they’d halted and ploughed into the back of Raikkonen. Rosberg, making a similar mistake, tapped Hamilton. He damaged his car, but was able to continue.
Hamilton said: “Before my pit stop, everything looked on course for the perfect result: we were so quick, we were breezing it in fact. But it wasn’t a great pit stop – and, as I exited the box, I saw two cars jostling for position ahead of me in the pit lane.
“Obviously, I didn’t want to get involved in their tussle, and was trying not to do so, and then all of a sudden they stopped. And by the time they’d come to a halt, it was too late for me to avoid them.”
Behind them, Fernando Alonso pulled up in time to avoid damage while the Ferrari mechanics, having done such a good job with Raikkonen, were having problems with Massa. The Brazilian had arrived in the pits just behind his team-mate but a joint in the fuel line broke and no fuel went in. He was forced to pit again a lap later and found himself faced with a charge from the back of the field.
Meanwhile, the one-stopping cars were still out the circuit and leading the race. Veterans such as Rubens Barrichello, Coulthard and Jarno Trulli all took turns at the lead, but most dangerous-looking of all was Heidfeld, who seemed well poised for a strong finish.
By the time he pitted he’d built enough of a lead over his team-mate to slot in just ahead of him, with Alonso just behind them, but the lighter Kubica was soon past him and pulling away.
As the other cars ahead finally pitted these three looked like filling the podium, but Renault’s mechanics rashly told Alonso to ignore warning signs from his brakes and push hard in the hope of a win. Soon after, the inevitable happened and Alonso span to a halt on the track, promoting Coulthard to third.
Meanwhile Massa was clawing his way back up the field, producing a contender for overtake of the season by nipping past both Heikki Kovalainen and Barrichello on the inside of the treacherous hairpin as the Finn made a meal of a successful overtake of the Honda driver.
His charge halted at fifth, when a mistake by fouth-placed Timo Glock obstructed his team-mate Trulli and allowed Massa past. Glock proved unexpectedly resistant over the final few laps, and the race ended with no more drama.
Kubica took the win, with Heidfeld second. Coulthard survived near-unmanageable brakes to secure third, then Glock, Massa and Trulli some way down the track. Barrichello, who had spent the whole race defending positions higher than Honda have recently been used to, led home a traffic jam consisting of Sebastian Vettel, Kovalainen and Rosberg. Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Sebastien Bourdais were the final finishers.
Coulthard, who had yet to score all season and was in a run of dismal form, was pleased and surprised with his result: “I’m delighted to get a podium for the team, they’ve had a lot of work on at the previous races and back at base.
“You can expect some unusual results here so we fuelled it long; but we expected the incidents would occur on track, not in the pit lane. But, nonetheless, the strategy worked well and all credit to the engineers, mechanics and everyone back at Red Bull for all their hard work.
“The start was pretty hairy with all the cars bunched up round Turn 1 and Turn 2, but my goal was to get to the finish and get points, so to get my 62nd podium is a great result. This adds to the points Mark has already scored this season and helps us build our total in the Championship.”
Button, who started in the pit lane with Vettel, had briefly appeared in the top eight but his two-stopper strategy did not work for him. He said: “It was a very tough and ultimately disappointing race today.
“It’s always difficult starting from the back of the grid and we were using a set-up that we hadn’t run previously this weekend. Things didn’t quite go our way with the strategy and safety car which meant I was unable to make any progress up the field by the end of the race.
“We need to get our heads down now and work hard to make improvements before France to ensure that we are more competitive there.”
Team boss Ross Brawn added: “With Jenson, we swapped the tyres in the safety car period so he did not need to run on the weaker option later. For him the safety car just did not open the race enough to enable him to get into the points.”