• Alonso finishes third behind McLaren one-two
• Hamilton moves top of drivers’ championship
Lewis Hamilton has been tested more often than Hercules this season but he returned to the top of the world here with his second straight win in Montreal, the 13th of his career.
The victory took him to the top of the world championship table for the first time since he won the title in 2008 and his McLaren team-mate, Jenson Button, was second in a repeat of the British one-two in Istanbul two weeks ago.
This intense and challenging race may have been dominated by worries over tyre degradation, reduced downforce, unforgiving walls and heavy traffic but at the end such technical issues were washed away in the spray of champagne with which Hamilton soaked his team.
No one in motor sport shows his emotions more openly than Hamilton – the fifth leader of the championship in this volatile season – and tonight he was a study in pure joy. Summer has arrived in Formula One and in his life. And he likes the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the scene of his first F1 win in 2007; now he has two wins in three races.
The decision to qualify on soft tyres – which “crumble like cheese” according to the Red Bull principal, Christian Horner, – was considered a gamble, since the leading drivers have to go into the race with the same tyres. Hamilton, it was thought, needed the early intervention of a safety car and to make an early switch to the harder, prime tyres if he was to prevail here. In the end, though, he showed the sort of tyre-conservation skills that are more readily associated with Button. He made the second of his two stops on the 26th lap, which means he raced on the same rubber for 44 laps. And this track, with its fast straights and chicanes, is one of the most punishing on the schedule.
Rain, as well as safety cars, had been forecast. But Montreal does not need such props to prove that it is one of Formula One’s most compelling stages and the crowd who had been deprived of a race here last year because of financial issues showed their appreciation.
Not everyone was jumping for joy as the chequered flag waved, however. Red Bull have had the fastest car all year but they must have wondered why they fell further behind the McLaren pair, even though this track was never likely to reward their superior downforce. Things had turned sour for the Milton Keynes-based team before the start with the news that the previous championship leader, Mark Webber, had been dropped back five places on the grid because of a gearbox change.
Webber finished fifth, immediately behind his team-mate, Sebastian Vettel. Fernando Alonso finished third as Ferrari, who are due a major upgrade in Valencia in a fortnight, proved more competitive than expected. But the Spaniard was admirably dissatisfied with his podium position because he had felt victory was achievable. Certainly he was tangled up with other cars on the occasions that Hamilton and Button passed him but at the end of the race he posed no threat to the McLaren cars.
But if Alonso felt disconsolate, how must Michael Schumacher feel? After making slow but steady advances since his anticlimactic return to the circus after three years ago this was probably his worst performance to date.
Not only did he finish out of the points in 11th place but he was involved in a number of pieces of crass driving, as Renault’s Robert Kubica and Force India’s Adrian Sutil would ruefully confirm. He also looked after his tyres carefully; he made three stops to be reshod but was still off the pace and suffered the ignominy of being passed by Sébastien Buemi.
Webber’s decision to delay his final tyre change until the closing laps did not pay off. Vettel, meanwhile, appeared to have some problems with his car and was heard on the radio to be arguing with his team. At one point, after being told to pass the leaders because they would not pit again, he said: “Seriously, how do you expect me to pass, we are going slower and slower.” Horner replied: “We are managing an issue, repeat, we are managing an issue.”
There was, though, a brilliance about Hamilton’s driving this weekend that probably would have seen him at the fizzy centre stage of the post-race celebrations whatever anyone else did. There was something Ayrton Senna-like about his final and very late lap on Saturday which gave him pole position. And his driving today, in what he described as one of his most difficult races, was supreme. There are still those who question Hamilton’s right to be housed in Formula One’s pantheon but they are diminishing in number.