Montreal is unique. It's an island in the middle of a giant river with a volcano at its heart. It's the largest French-speaking city outside Paris, has the lowest legal drinking age anywhere in Canada (or the United States) and has a distinctly European feel for a North American city. But what really counts to car buffs and sports fans is that (pretty much) every year, it plays host to the Canadian Grand Prix. And for that reason alone the city stands as one of the great racing capitals of the world.
If that's not enough to endear Montreal to the hearts of racing fans around the world, this year's Canadian Grand Prix – the only one in North America and, together with the Brazilian Grand Prix, the only Formula 1 race in the Western Hemisphere – was one for the ages. Follow the jump to read how it went down.
The practice and qualifying sessions for this year's Canadian Grand Prix had their own share of action. Sebastian Vettel joined the ranks of his fellow world champions Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve and Jenson Button when he crashed into the "wall of champions" on Friday. Sergio Perez, still not fully recovered from his crash in Monaco, retired from the second practice session, bringing Pedro de la Rosa out from the McLaren garage to take his place on short notice.
Although Ferrari was in fine form, of course it was Sebastian Vettel who placed his Red Bull on pole once again. Beside and behind him were Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. Vettel's teammate Mark Webber lined up in fourth, ahead of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in fifth and seventh, staggering Mercedes GP's Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher in sixth and eighth respectively. Renault's Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov lined up ninth and tenth, followed by Paul di Resta (Force India), Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber), Adrian Sutil (Force India), Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso), Rubens Barrichello (Williams), Pedro de la Rosa (Sauber), Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso), Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen (Lotus), Tonio Liuzzi (HRT), Timo Glock (Virgin) and Narain Karhikeyan (HRT). Virgin's Jerome d'Ambrosio was the only driver who failed to meet the 107% qualifying threshold, but the stewards were lenient in allowing him to race regardless as he was driving a new car.
A deluge on Sunday forced the race to start, however, under the safety car. It would not be recalled until the start of the fifth lap, at which point Vettel held on to the lead, his Ferrari rivals unable to gain enough traction to mount an assault. With water standing around the track, Hamilton spun his McLaren after brief contact with Webber, dropping down in the order from fifth to eighth, only to go off again after bumping into Schumacher. Hamilton recovered and rejoined the field, but his third collision in as many green-flag laps saw his own teammate close the door on him down the front straight, putting Hamilton into the wall and taking his wrecked car out of the race in an incident that was to be investigated by the stewards after the race.
The safety car deployed once again and Button went in for fresh rubber. When the SLS AMG with the flashing lights was recalled again on lap 13, more laps had been completed behind the safety car than under a green flag. Vettel was still in the lead, followed by Alonso, Massa, Rosberg and Schumacher. Suffering mechanical issues, Webber had fallen to ninth, behind Koabayshi, Heidfeld and Petrov, with di Resta and Maldonado in tow. One of the few to have pitted this early, Button was down in twelfth, followed by Sutil, Barrichello, Buemi, Trulli, de la Rosa, Kovalainen, Glock, Alguersuari, Karthikeyan, d'Ambrosio and Liuzzi.
Just seven rounds of the Ile Notre-Dame circuit later, on lap 20, the safety car was brought out for the third time, this time for unsafe driving conditions due to the quickening pace of the deluge. And after another five laps, race officials waved the red flag for the second time in as many races to halt the action.
Another hour and a half later, the rain let up and the race got back underway, once more under the safety car. On lap 35, real racing finally resumed, and Massa didn't miss a beat, attacking Kobayashi in a battle that would last the rest of the race. A flurry of drivers headed for pit lane as soon as the race was back on, but the first real piece of action since the restart didn't happen for another couple of laps: taking the outside (read: wet) line on the chicane, Alonso collided with Button. The Ferrari was finished, and the McLaren limped to the pits to replace a punctured tire.
The ensuing safety car deployment lasted until lap 41. Two laps later, Schumacher passed Webber for sixth place, while Paul di Resta broke his front wing on the back of Heidfeld's Renault. Schumacher then passed Heidfeld, too, as Button moved past both Maldonado and Alguersuari for tenth place. Schumacher's brilliance shined through, however, when he closed in on Massa and Kobayashi and passed both to slip into second while the Brazilian and Japanese drivers were busy jousting.
Sutil joined the retirees on lap 52, as a chunk of the field went in for slicks as the track dried. That proved premature for Massa, who spun out on a wet patch but made it back to the pits to replace his broken nose cone before rejoining the race.
By lap 55, Vettel was still in the lead, with his longtime mentor Schumacher in second and Webber in third. Kobayashi followed in fourth ahead of Button, Heidfeld, Petrov, Barrichello, Alguersuari and Rosberg to tenth. Massa was down to twelfth on his out-lap.
The following lap, Heidfeld hit the back of Kobayashi's Sauber under breaking in the hairpin. The collision loosened his front wing, which then came off on the back straight, sending Heidfeld over the top and skidding into the run-off, ending his race. The safety car was deployed, then recalled five laps later with just nine to go.
With the race back underway Vettel wasted little time moving ahead of the crowd as Schumacher, Webber and Button ran in close proximity one after the other with the remaining field falling further adrift. After passing Schumacher, Webber cut the chicane, forcing him to concede position, then faltered on a wet patch as Button got by both him and Schumacher to move into second.
Paul di Resta retired his Force India on the penultimate lap, but it was on the last lap that the biggest surprise unfolded. Showing a rare error in form, Vettel skidded sideways on a wet patch and Button got by to take the win. A little further back, Massa finally passed Kobayashi by a nose across the finish line to contribute to one of the closest finishes at the end of an exciting, tumultuous race.
And so concluded the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, with Button taking his first win of the season on a podium alongside the two Red Bulls. Schumacher finished fourth in his best result so far this season, followed by Vitaly Petrov, Felipe Massa, Kamui Kobayashi, Jaime Alguersuar, Rubens Barrichello and Sebastien Buemi. Rosberg, de la Rosa, Liuzzi, Karthikeyan, d'Ambrosio, Glock and Trulli all finished outside the points, as di Resta, Maldonado, Heidfeld, Sutil, Alonso, Kovalainen and Hamilton watched on from pit lane.
The results leave Vettel still firmly in the lead with 161 points, but catapult Button into second with 101, ahead of Webber's 94 and Hamilton's 85. Red Bull likewise remains well ahead of McLaren in the constructors' standings with 222 points to 161 as Ferrari, which had shown promise in practice and qualifying in Montreal, trails with 93. The circus rolls into Valencia in two weeks for the European Grand Prix.