We reach the finale of the Top Ten series with the longest race in the sports history. With wet weather, multiple safety cars and stoppages and more pit stops and action than you can shake a stick at the Canadian GP had a lot going on and rightly takes the final spot in the countdown.
The teams arrived at the Montreal Gilles Villeneuve circuit for round seven of the season with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel already walking away with the drivers title. The German defending champion had already won all but one of the first six races and thus came into the weekend with a 58 point lead over McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, the only other race winner in China.
But the practice sessions seen the Red Bull driver join the list of former champions to crash and the infamous final chicane, the wall of champions claiming another victim. But he would recover from that mishap to qualifying on pole position from Ferrari duo Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. Hamilton was fifth while his team mate Jenson Button was starting seventh.
Race day brought heavy rain to the area and the race would eventually start under the safety car with all cars on full wets. Even a lower safety car speeds the cars were visibly struggling for grip on the soaking Montreal track. The safety car would pull off after five laps and the race would finally get under way properly with Vettel leading Alonso, holding off the Spaniard into the first sequence of turns. A bit back Mark Webber and Hamilton collided, dropping Lewis to seventh and Webber to fourteenth. Postion’s behind the top three changed over the next few laps, noticeably Hamilton losing sixth on a failed attempt to pass Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes.
This put Button ahead of Lewis before the 2008 champion attempted to pass on the pit straight, getting a better run out of the chicane. Button, unable to see in his mirrors in the spray, moved across taking the racing line but Hamilton was already there, the two McLaren’s colliding, Hamilton into the pit wall, the car beyond repair. The Englishman would continue till around turn five before pulling over and causing another safety car. Button would pit just before it came out and put in intermediates but would drop to the back of the field after getting a drive through for pit lane speeding, his second trip to pit lane so far.
Over the next few laps Vettel would extend his lead over Massa after Alonso pitted for intermediates as well as a host of other drivers. But the decision, although right initially, was to fail when torrential rain brought them all in for wets again. Button had made it back to eighth before making his third trip to pit lane of the day. The safety car was deployed again as conditions worsen and after six laps the race was suspended due to the conditions.
It was over two hours before racing could resume as the conditions failed to ease up enough to restart. The restart was under the safety car with the cars in the order they were at the point of suspension with Vettel leading Kaumi Kobayashi in the Sauber, Massa and Nick Heidfeld in the Lotus. Webber was seventh with Alonso and Button eighth and tenth respectively. The race re started on lap 35 with some cars having already pitted for intermediates as the track dried up quickly, including Button for his fourth trip down pit lane for the day. When Button came out of the pits he was alongside Alonso into turn three when the two drivers touched, pitching the Ferrari into a spin and beaching it upon the outside kerb. The collision caused a puncture to the McLaren and the safety car to come back out yet again. It was only out for three laps but in that time Button pitted for the fifth time and was in last place.
Despite being in last place it did not take the 2009 champion long to get back up the order, into 14th place within a few laps of the re start. This was lap 44 and it was only six laps later, and after much passing and a Di Resta front wing change and drive through for a poorly judged pass on Heidfeld, that the first driver pitted for slicks, that being Mark Webber. All drivers pitted within a few laps of the Australian, Button for a sixth time, and the order was mixed up massively during this period and when it settled down Vettel still led while everyone else battled for the remaining places. Massa had been running in the podium places but damaged his front wing after his stop and had to pit again, denying him any chance of a podium finish.
Button had risen to fourth behind Vettel, Schumacher and Webber and catching them quickly, his ability to find grip in damp conditions paying dividends once again. However on lap 56 the safety car came out again when Heidfeld collided with Kobayashi coming out of turn two, the impact broke the front wing which went under the car and the German went straight into the barriers at urn three. This was the sixth safety car period of the race.
The race re started on lap 61, only 9 to go. Within two laps Webber attempted, and succeeded to, pass Schumacher using DRS for second into the final chicane but cut across and had to give up the position. The following lap Button got past the Red Bull after he missed the chicane again before passing the seven time World Champion later in the lap. From being dead last and making six trips to the pits (five for tyres changes and one drive through) the Brit was now second and hunting down Vettel in first. And he was catching as well, setting the fastest lap of the race on lap 69. Webber also had got past Schumacher by this time for third and would take the final step on the podium.
Going into the last lap the Mclaren was less than a second behind the Red Bull. Heading into turn six Vettel lost control of the car, hitting a damp patch just off the racing line. He corrected the car and carried on but Button was already through and would take the flag for a most unexpected win and one he would class as ‘the best of his career’. A dejected Vettel took second with Webber behind in third. Button was delighted with the win and the race set many records.
The most obvious was the length of the race from initial start to finish at four hours, four minutes and 39 seconds. This led to a four hour limit being imposed on future races. The race also seen the most pit stops in six by a World Championship race winner and the most safety car appearances with six as well. The race is almost remembered for a poor marshal who during one safety car period took to the track to pick up debris, moved to go back over the wall and tripped in full sight of TV cameras and an approaching Sauber, thankfully without injury.
Despite the long race time it was definitely worth the wait with action throughout the grid. And with a last lap drama and pass it had all the ingredients of a recent classic and is still discussed even now. If only all races had this much action there would be no need to change the regulations every so often.
Photo Credits: Main: F1 Fanatic
Water Clearance: Wikipedia
Hamilton and Button collide: Daily Mail
Button passes Vettel: Daily Mail