Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel claimed a pole to flag victory in Montreal to go into the lead of the drivers’ championship, albeit with a single point over Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has treated Hamilton kindly on many occasions but this time, it was Ferrari’s combination of an upgraded engine coupled with the brilliant driving of Vettel that saw the Italian team win in Canada for the first time since 2004.
Vettel started the race perfectly and right behind him, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was keen to overtake Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas at the first set of turns but the Finn held his ground to maintain second position. Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo was able to overtake Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen soon after the start.
SAFETY CAR INCIDENT
Then came the first and only Safety Car incident of the race, when Lance Stroll in the Williams lost his rear and careened into the Toro Rosso of Brendon Hartley, taking both men out in the first lap.
Such was the squeeze on the Toro Rosso into the wall that it was launched into the air and landed with its nose on Stroll’s front left tyre. It was an unfortunate incident for Stroll who until then had finished every race since the start of the year.
For Hartley, he likely left the race mulling over whether the overtaking manoeuvre he attempted was necessary at that point of the race seeing how risky it was because of the pace of the cars through the bends.
The race resumed on the fourth lap and there was another collision soon after the restart, this time, the Renault of Carlos Sainz Junior clipping the Force India of Sergio Perez for what was eventually judged as a racing incident.
Vettel set the fastest laps in the next two laps to declare his intent early on.
Between the ninth lap and the eleventh lap, Vettel stretched his lead over Bottas by a second to 3.5 seconds. Verstappen, Hamilton and Ricciardo were behind the leading duo and except for Vettel who seemed to be in a league of his own, it was anyone’s guess who would take up the other two podium slots.
By the 16th lap, Vettel was four and a half seconds ahead of Bottas while Verstappen was behind the Finn by a slightly wider margin. Verstappen and Hamilton came into the pit stops on the sixteenth lap, with the four-time world champion wondering why he had been brought in so early in the race.
On querying why, he was told by his race engineer, Pete Bonnington, that the team was trying to sort out a power unit problem, and had somewhat succeeded.
Some slight reprieve there but there was none shortly afterwards as Ricciardo managed to execute an overcut on Hamilton when he stopped for fresh tyres a lap later. Close to the halfway mark, Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen had not pitted.
Raikkonen’s pit stop on the 32nd lap saw him almost leapfrog Hamilton at the exit when the Mercedes driver was momentarily blocked by Sergey Sirotkin’s Williams.
McLaren’s star driver Fernando Alonso retired on the 42nd lap of his 300th Formula One race to pile some more misery on the team which is grossly underutilising his talent.
With fifteen laps remaining, Bottas started closing the gap on the race leader and was trailing by 3.2 seconds when an error in braking on the 56th lap saw that gap expand to 5.6 seconds.
Meanwhile, Hamilton was catching up with Ricciardo, wiping off close to a second off the deficit on the 57th lap, with 13 to go.
The Merc was within striking distance and the Brit used DRS on more than one occasion but Ricciardo had just enough to stay ahead, in fact, enough to set the fastest lap on the penultimate lap of the race.
The gap between Vettel and Bottas stretched to more than seven seconds and it was the Finn who had to be careful at the tail end of the race not to be overtaken by Verstappen who came to within DRS range.
The chequered flag was waved erroneously one lap too early but that did not prevent Scuderia Ferrari from clinching a famous win to take them atop the standings and make only a single point the difference between the championship leaders with about a third of the year’s races done.
Mercedes were expected to dominate, but came out truly well beaten, even as the team plans to have engine upgrades for the French Grand Prix. Vettel, on his part, has now joined the elite few who have won at least 50 Formula One races in their career.
Bottas is back in third place with 86 points. Ricciardo is just two points behind him.