SEBASTIEN VETTEL IN FLIGHT ON SATURDAY
Five years ago, Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain won the first Grand Prix of his career when he won the Canadian GP at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve.
Sunday afternoon, in brilliant sunshine and in front of a huge crowd estimated at more than 100,000, Hamilton drove his McLaren-Mercedes to his first victory of the 2012 season.
But the victory was much more than a checkered flag.
It was the third time he’s won the Canadian race — he won previously in 2007 and 2010 – and the points he earned Sunday put him into the lead for this year’s world championship, a title he first won in 2008.
And he became the seventh different winner in the first seven races of an F1 season, something that has never happened before.
Romain Grosjean of France, driving for Lotus-Renault, finished second and Sergio Perez of Mexico, driving a Sauber-Ferrari, was third. It was the second podium finish this season for each of those two young drivers.
The pole-position winner, defending world champion Sebastien Vettel of Germany, finished fourth in a Red Bull-Renault and Fernando Alonso of Spain was fifth in a Ferrari after starting third.
Nico Rosberg of Germany was sixth for Mercedes, Mark Webber of Australia seventh for Red Bull, Kimi Raikkonen of Finland eighth for Lotus, Kamui Kobayashi of Japan ninth for Sauber and Felipe Massa finished tenth in his Ferrari.
Massa was as high as fourth early in the race but he lost control and spun out, dropping back to twelfth. He later called his tenth-place finish “a success.”
Both Alonso and Vettel tried to make it to the finish of the 70-lap contest, which took an hour and 32 minutes to complete at an average speed of 198.027 km/h, with only one stop for tires while Hamilton stopped twice.
It was the second stop that made the difference. Alonso and Vettel lost speed as their traction went away and Hamilton was not only able to catch them but to leave them in his dust with Vettel eventually surrendering and making a late stop for tires.
“What a feeling,” said Hamilton, who hadn’t won before today despite taking two pole positions, at a media conference afterward. “This is where I won my first Grand Prix. I knew it would be tough (to win) but I loved every single minute and I am really grateful.”
The winner, who joins Nelson Piquet as the winner of three Canadian Grands Prix – only Michael Schumacher has won more of them: seven – said it was one of the most enjoyable races he’s ever driven.
“I could not believe it wen I crossed the line. The feeling inside was like an explosion. . . and that is what I like about racing.”
He praised his team for the two-stop strategy and said one stop would have been a mistake.
“I think the team did a great job with the pit stops and the strategy,” he said. “I was not able to do one stop; I think I would have fallen back. I think a two-stop was just right.”
Hamilton said a combination of things is at the heart of why he does so well in Montreal.
“It’s the weather, it’s the city and it’s the fans,” he said. “The fans are incredible here.There are very few places like this that we go to throughout the year. The support here has been incredible.”
Although it was Grosjean’s first race at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve — he was in F1 briefly two years ago but only drove a handful of races — he cheerfully admits that it’s his favourite race track because of the video games he likes to play.
“But it’s more bumpy in real life than on the X-Box,” he laughed. “But it’s pretty interesting and I already liked it before I got here.”
Perez was delighted to be back on the podium – he had a storming drive earlier this year in Malaysia to finish second – and said it wasn’t something he’d anticipated after qualifying 15th.
The winner of last year’s race, Jenson Button of England, had a terrible day and finished 16th in his McLaren, a lap down.
And Schumacher, a sentimental favourite because of his previous success here, dropped out on the 43rd lap when a flap in the rear wing on his Mercedes, which can increase straightaway speed when activated at certain approved places on the race track, stuck open and his mechanics couldn’t get it closed.
The team issued a public apology to the champion later – something that is extremely rare in the world of motor racing.
The race this year was a marked change from a year ago when it also set a record — for the longest Grand Prix ever run, a mark that will likely never be challenged.
A two-hour rain delay in 2011 meant the race went into the record books at four hours, four minutes and 39.537 seconds, prompting the FIA (auto racing’s international governing body) to change the regulations to limit a Grand Prix to four hours maximum, regardless of the circumstances.
Although there were threats of disruptions and demonstrations at the Grand Prix, everything went off without a hitch. Montreal police did say, however, that roughly 30 people had been detained at Metro stations leading to Ilse Notre Dame, where Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is located, because of what was described as suspicious behaviour.
Much earlier today:
Lewis Hamilton of McLaren-Mercedes makes history by becoming the seventh winner in the first seven F1 races in a season when he won the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve this afternoon.
Romain Grosjean of Lotus-Renault was second and Sergio Perez was third in a Sauber.
Sebastien Vettel was fourth, Fernando Alonso was fifth, Nico Rosberg was sixth, Mark Webber seventh, Kimi Raikkonen eighth, Kamui Kobayashi ninth and Felipe Massa tenth.
“Thank you boys,” Hamilton yelled after his team told him he did “a great job.”
It marks the third time Hamilton has won the Canadian race. He did it in 2007 and 2010 – his world championship years. He didn’t finish the race in either of 2008 or 2010.
Pole sitter Vettel’s tires went off as he tried to stay with Alonso, who tried to make it to the end on only one stop.
Earlier, if this holds up, Lewis Hamilton will become the seventh different winner in the first seven races of a F1 season – another record. He has five to go.
Earlier, Vettel pits with seven to go; Hamilton takes lead with six to go.
Earlier, Hamilton in second.
Earlier, Hamilton told with nine laps left there’splenty of time to get past the two in front of him, Vettel immediately and Alonso a little further.
Earlier, they’re all together – Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton – who has fresher tires.
Hamilton is closing – 7.7 seconds back with 12 to go; Alonso still has 3.2 seconds on Vettel.
Earlier, Massa, RFosberg and Perez just went three wide down the front straight. NASCAR has nothing on these guys.
Earlier, Hamilton told Ferrari might try to go to the finish; he’s 12 seconds back with 16 to go.
Earlier, Hamilton told to give it everything he’s got for three laps (presumably to hold the gap when the other two pit). He’s later told he’s running one second faster than Alonso.
Earlier, Hamilton in on Lap 50, slow stop (right rear); Alonso leads from Vettel.
Earlier, Michael Schumacher retired on Lap 43. The DRS stuck open.
On this day, Vettel is just being outraced. Hamilton has a 3.1-second lead over Alonso on Lap 44, with Vettel 6.5 seconds back.
After 40 laps, Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel still held down the top three positions with Perez and Webber in fourth and fifth.
Earlier, Button pits on Lap 34.
Earlier, after 30 laps – nearly the halfway mark of the Canadian Grand Prix, Hamilton still leads with Alonso second and Vettel third. After that it was Raikkonen, Perez, Webber, Rosberg, Grosjean, Massa and Di Resta.
Earlier, after 20 laps, Lewis Hamilton leads from Alonso, who tried to block,, with Vettel third. Raikkonen is fourth, Kamui Kobayashi is in fifth, Sergio Perez is sixth, Mark Webber is seventh, Nico Rosberg is eighth, Romain Grosjean – who led for a lap when he reached the front of the line – is ninth and Pastro Maldonado is tenth.
Narain Karthikeyan went for the big spin in the HRT; no harm, no foul.
Earlier, Alonso pits on Lap 20.
Earlier, Hamilton in for tires on Lap 18; Alonso leads.
Earlier, Button pits on Lap 16 – another three-stop strategy.
Vettel in on Lap 17! Hamilton in lead.
Earlier, Paul Di Resta, who was in fifth for Force India-Ferrari, and Michael Schumacher in his Mercedes, both pitted on Lap 14 for tires – a three-stop strategy.
Earlier, drivers are already being told by their teams to save fuel. It’s expected that some, at least, will try to run the race with only one stop for tires. Others, of course, will go for two stops.
Earlier, after 10 of 70 laps of the Canadian Grand Prix, Sebasztien Vettel still leads, with Hamilton second, Alonso third, Webber fourth, Di Resta fifth, Rosberg sixth, Grosjean seventh, Shoemacher eighth, Buttton ninth and Kimi Raikkonen tenth.
Earlier, it’s Vettel at the start, with Hamilton second and Alonso third.
Earlier, drivers are in their cars and engines start for Canadian GP.
Earlier Sunday: Before I give you some food for thought – some stats and other information you can chew on leading up to the 2 p.m. start of today’s Grand Prix of Canada at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve – I have one more bit of social news.
As I mention below in my scene-setter, Mario Andretti, Bernie Ecclestone, Emmerson Fittipaldi and other motor racing heavyweights are in attendance but moments ago it looked like the second coming over at the Scuderia Ferrari hospitality area.
Wow, had the prime minister of Italy shown up? Sure looked that way with the crush of onlookers straining for a glimpse of someone inside. Or the mayor of Maranello? None of the above.
It was, in fact, one of the most powerful automotive personalities in the world – Sergio Marchionne, the guy who runs Fiat (parent company of Ferrari) and Chrysler Corp.
He was holding court – and everybody knows who he is.
So now to the grist for your mill:
This is the 33rd Grand Prix to be held at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. The first F1 GP in Canada was at Mosport in 1967, Centennial year, and it then alternated between there and Le Circuit-Mont Tremblant for several years. It moved to Montreal in 1978 and has been held here every year since except in 1987 and 2009.
That first race at Ilse Notre Dame was won by Gilles Villeneuve, who died in a crash in his Ferrari at the Grand Prix of Belgium in 1982. This year marks the 30th anniversary of his passing and Ferrari drivers Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso have both made mention.
Massa has Villeneuve’s name painted on his helmet and Alonso has suggested he would like to win the race in Gilles’ memory.
When Jenson Button won last year’s GP in a little more than four hours, it established a record that will never be beaten. It was the longest GP on record (due to a two-hour-plus rain delay) that ran 4 hours, 4 minutes and a few seconds. As a result, the FIA has since put a limit on a Grand Prix: four hours, period. Regardless of circumstances, whoever is ahead at that time will win.
Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton are the only drivers in the race today to have won it more than once – Schumacher seven times and Hamilton twice.
Although I mentioned in Saturday’s story that the winners of the last four F1 races have started from the pole position (meaning Sebastien Vettel has got a pretty good chance today . . .) three of the last seven Canadian GPs have been won by drivers from outside the top five starters.
Fernando Alonso of Ferrari is the championship leader going into this race, with 78 points – three more than Red Bull-Renault drivers Vettel and Webber, who are tied for second.
On a personal note, I can’t believe the number of people in F1 who still smoke. Not the drivers, of course, but just about everybody else. Of course, although this is a world championship, all of the F1 folks (with one or tw exceptions) are from Europe, so that might explain it.
It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in Montreal. There’s not a cloud in the sky and the forecast is for bright sunshine to continue with a forecast high of 27C – a perfect day (as Jackie Stewart would say) for a motor race.
Thousands of spectators are making their way to Ilse Notre Dame via subway, charter bus, shuttle, taxi and car. Although organizers estimate the crowd could drop by 20 per cent today, any number approaching 100,000 is huge and the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve will be a sea of humanity regardless of the final tally.
There are celebrities, of course, and then there are celebrities. Mario Andretti, 1978 world champion and a legend in the sport, arrived about 9 a.m. via private charter jet from Fort Worth, Tex., where his son and grandson were in competition last night during an IZOD IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway (won by Justin Wilson, with James Hinchcliffe of Oakville fourth and pole-winner Alex Tagliani of Montreal ninth.)
Andretti was instantly surrounded by F1 regulars including Bernie Ecclestone, who runs the sport. Journalists of the stature of Nigel Roebuck (editor of Motor Sport) and Gordon Kirby were quickly in his circle.
Mario is in his early 70s now but looked like a million bucks – slim, trim and wearing serious gold around his neck. He’s done well.
Not looking as good, or as prosperous, but still legendary in their time were ex-world champions Emmerson Fittipaldi and Niki Lauda, who are in attendance representing sponsors. Ex-F1 driver Jacques Lafitte is also in the paddock.
There are support races at Grands Prix, of course, and during the Canadian Touring Car Series race earlier today, Andre Rapone of Thornhill was involved in the most serious crash of the weekend.
Coming out of the last turn before the main straight, Rapone tried to turn left and his Cooper Mini wouldn’t go, somersaulting into a crash barrier and bouncing at least once upside down before coming to rest on its wheels with the driver’s side door, the trunk and the hood all open.
Rapone was not injured but he’ll certainly remember the CTCC race at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in 2012 for a long time.
There was some unpleasantness in downtown Montreal Saturday night, with 28 people arrested and several people injured when hit by a taxicab.
But although some media reports have coined these disturbances as being “riots,” or “rioting,” they are no such thing. The people arrested are being ticketed for unlawful assembly, or something similar, and there are few instances of assault or actual property damage.
Downtown Montreal the morning after looks just fine.
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