Lewis Hamilton has always enjoyed coming to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, where he took his first ever F1 win back in 2007. Prior to yesterday’s race he had won there a further three times – now it’s five wins in total in Canada.
But the 45th win of Hamilton’s career was not a case of converting pole position to victory. At the very start Sebastian Vettel (who had lined up on third, behind Hamilton and Rosberg) got away brilliantly, jumping both Mercedes’ down into turn 1. Hamilton, under pressure from Rosberg (who was trying to go around the outside) wasn’t able to turn into the corner smoothly (understeer, as a consequence of cold tyres), and as a result, Rosberg was forced wide and off over the run-off area, rejoining down in ninth.
Vettel led for the first few laps, managing to keep out of DRS reach of Hamilton, and the top two eased away from the pack. Rosberg began to scythe his way back up the field, and McLaren’s Jensen Button would suffer yet another engine problem that would shift the pattern of the race.
In many respects, the innocuous retirement of Button (he pulled over to the side of the track around lap 6 or 7, his engine spitting flames) didn’t look like it would be a pivotal moment, but the virtual safety car was deployed briefly whilst his car was pushed through the barriers, and Ferrari made the decision to pit Vettel and Raikkonen, switching from the expected one-stop strategy to a two-stop race. The virtual safety car period ended just as Vettel was already into the pits – he and the team already committed. Hamilton took the lead, though he would lose it when he made his stop, ending up around 13 seconds behind Vettel. For his part, Vettel needed a gap of around 19 seconds if he was to pit again and retain the lead. Instead, Hamilton was able to squeeze the gap to around 10 seconds.
When Vettel finally did pit, he began charging after Hamilton, and with 20 or so laps to go he was reeling the Mercedes in, but twice during that final spell he would miss the final chicane, costing him valuable time and preventing him from challenging Hamilton (in fact, Vettel would get caught out by the chicane three times in all). Hamilton’s victory marked his second of 2016, and the momentum is now with him.
Rosberg, for his part, pulled off arguably the move of the race when he dived down the inside of the final chicane to pass Raikkonen. Unfortunately lightening would not strike twice for him. Whilst chasing down Verstappen for fourth place on the penultimate lap (Verstappen incidentally, demonstrated some superb defensive driving), Rosberg would surge by the Red Bull, only to lock up his rear tyres and spin off. He did well to keep the engine running and still claimed fifth, but the outcome is such that Hamilton is now just nine points behind Rosberg.
Next up is a new circuit, the street race in Baku. Who will master it first?