What would Formula One be without Montreal? Not so fun, as we learned last season when the Canadian Grand Prix was excluded from the calendar, much to the disappointment of racing fans worldwide. In the wake of the demise of the United States Grand Prix at the Indy in 2007, the cancellation of the round in the French-Canadian metropolis left North America outside the premier racing series entirely. But following the announcement of the American round's planned comeback - in Austin, Texas, of all places - F1 triumphantly returned to the Gilles Villeneuve circuit this weekend. And it couldn't have been a more exciting race. Follow the jump to read how it went.
As if the geographic return of the grand prix weren't exceptional enough for North American racing fans, this year's Canadian GP emerged with no shortage of surprises in its own right. Saturday's qualifying session held the first shocker of the weekend as, for the first time this season, Red Bull did not emerge on the pole. That went instead to McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who narrowly but sufficiently beat out both Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel with the fastest time of all at the last possible moment. Webber ultimately sacrificed his second-place qualification time in favor of a preemptive gearbox swap. The resulting bump down to seventh place on the grid promoted Vettel to second place, starting alongside Hamilton, Alonso to third beside Jenson Button in fourth, and Force India's wildcard Tonio Liuzzi to fifth alongside Ferrari's Felipe Massa in sixth. Renault's Robert Kubica, Force India's Adrian Sutil, Mercedes GP's Nico Rosberg, Williams' Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hulkenberg and Mercedes GP's Michael Schumacher rounded out the remaining top positions as the lights flashed green. Few were prepared, however, for the race that unfolded over the following couple of hours.
Action came no sooner than the first corner, where Massa and Liuzzi made contact, while behind them Renault's Vitaly Petrov and Sauber's Pedro de la Rosa followed suite. After a brief battle with a rival Williams, Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi collided with the wall and ended his day early while the rest raced down the straight and past the casino.
By lap 5, Webber had already diced his way up the grid and squeaked past Button for fourth place. The following lap, the first round of pit stops had already begun as the freshly-resurfaced tarmac proved devastating on the cars' Bridgestone rubber. Meanwhile, up ahead, a veritable battle royale broke out between Hamilton and Vettel for the lead.
Lap 8 saw Hamilton and Alonso pit simultaneously, nearly colliding as they exited their respective pit boxes. Alonso came out on top, grabbing eighth place in the racing order. While the two former champions duked it out in the pits, Hulkenberg (Williams) collided with one of the Force India cars, forcing both into the pits as well. All the while, Massa, fighting from the back of the field after his opening-lap collision, shocked with the fastest lap time thus far, a feat he would repeat later in the race.
Come lap 10, Vettel was in the lead with his Red-Bull-gives-you-wingman Mark Webber in tow, followed by Schumacher and – shockingly – Toro Rosso's Sebastian Buemi. These top four had yet to pit, however. Lotus' Heikki Kovalainen impressed at this point with his seventh-place (pre-pit) position, followed by post-pit Button, Kubica and Sutil to tenth.
The following lap, race stewards announced the first of two drive-through penalties that would be handed to Petrov, one for having jumped the start and another for causing the opening-lap collision.
With a baker's dozen laps completed, Kubica in the other Renault refused to give ground to Schumacher. Both went off the track and Schumi squeezed by, while Tonio Liuzzi closed in behind.
Exciting enough for you yet? The race wasn't even a quarter done at this point, when Vettel pitted from the lead, along with Webber and Schumacher, leaving Buemi to lead the pack for a single lap. With Alonso jockeying to pass, the Toro Rosso headed into the pits as well, as Hamilton passed for the lead and Alonso stayed glued to his tail.
After leading his former teammate for half a dozen laps, Hamilton pitted again on lap 26, followed by Alonso two laps later. When they re-emerged, Webber was back in the lead (but with only one stop behind him to his rivals' two), followed by Hamilton and Alonso, who would proceed to close the gap over the remainder of the race distance. Button was closing in behind them as well in P4, followed by Vettel, Buemi, Kubica, Rosberg, Schumacher and Toro Rosso's Alguersuari in the top 10.
Sauber's sober day turned even starker on lap 32 when their second driver, Pedro de la Rosa, blew his engine, joining his teammate Kobayashi on the pit wall for the rest of the race. Things were just getting exciting, however, for the impressive Force India pair of Sutil and Liuzzi, who were managing to keep Massa at bay in a three-way Ferrari-powered battle. The gap to his countryman Rubens Barrichello was so far, though, that when Massa hit the pits on lap 42, he re-emerged in the same 14th position and quickly regained ground to Liuzzi, passing him on lap 49. Alguersuari – in yet another Ferrari-powered car – followed Massa past Liuzzi as well. Up front, Hamilton passed Webber for the lead.
Riding on visibly damaged tires, Webber pitted at the end of the 50th of 70 total laps as Alonso closed in. The Red Bull re-emerged in fifth position, with Hamilton, Alonso, Button and Vettel in front of him, and Kubica, Rosberg, Schumacher, Buemi and Hulkenberg behind.
By lap 54, Hamilton finally managed to open up some distance between his car and Alonso's, which had been practically riding on his diffuser all along. In the second McLaren, Button was closing in fast, while further back, outside the points, Massa finally got past Sutil for P11.
McLaren's excellent form in Montreal became even clearer when Button got past Alonso for second place on lap 56 as the two jockeyed to negotiate Karen Chandhok in the HRT-Cosworth, running at the rear of the pack.
As the laps dwindled to a close, however, the excitement didn't abate as Buemi out-maneuvered Schumacher for P8. On the final lap, Schumacher would be forced to yield to both Force Indias as well, lending to speculation that something was malfunctioning with the seven-time world champion's Mercedes. Massa would prove less fortunate in his attack, however, as he damaged his front wing trying to pass his erstwhile mentor on lap 64. After a concerted battle to regain position the entire race, Massa re-emerged from the pits with a fresh nosecone in fifteenth place, far outside the points with precious few laps to go.
Hamilton ultimately claimed the checkered flag from pole, leading his jubilant defending champion teammate Button for an impeccable McLaren 1-2 finish. Alonso took third place to knock Red Bull off the podium for the first time in four rounds this season, as Vettel and Webber had to settle for fourth and fifth places, respectively. Rosberg finished a solid sixth place ahead of Kubica in seventh. Buemi, the shock of the day, finished eighth, and the Force Indias of Liuzzi and Sutil were nearly as impressive in ninth and tenth. Schumacher, Alguersuari, Hulkenberg, Barrichello, Massa, Kovalainen, Petrov, Chandhok and Di Grassi all finished outside the points, but no better off than Glock, Trulli, de la Rosa, Senna and Kobayashi who didn't finish at all.
The results leave Hamilton in the lead for the drivers' title once again with 109 points, just ahead of Button with 106 and Webber with 103. Alonso trails in fourth place with 94 points, Vettel in fifth with 90 and the rest following from there. The combined scores place McLaren clearly in the lead with 215 points to Red Bull's 193, Ferrari's 161 and Mercedes' 108. Join us again in two weeks for the European Grand Prix from the Mediterranean seaside resort of Valencia, Spain.