The 2008 world champion’s strong early season form was finally rewarded with the win he craved as he kept his nerve admirably, making McLaren’s two-stop strategy work to perfection as he hunted down and overhauled Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in the closing stages.
There was the now familiar heart-in-mouth moment as McLaren’s pit crew fumbled Hamilton’s second stop but Hamilton was not to be denied,
putting in a succession of blistering laps to catch and pass his rivals.
His victory was made all the sweeter for the fact that Vettel and Alonso were also passed by Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Sauber’s Sergio Perez before the finish line, lending the podium a fresh look and making the day an extremely profitable one for Hamilton points-wise.
“Winner,” he screamed as he crossed the finish line, as if exorcising the demons which haunted him throughout last year.
“It’s still sinking in,” he grinned later of his first victory since Abu Dhabi last November. “This is where I won my first grand prix. I loved every single minute of it. I’m so grateful. It has been five years since I won here but it feels just as good.”
Hamilton’s mood was in stark contrast to that of his team mate Jenson Button, who started 10th and finished down in 16th, his title hopes now hanging by a thread. That may sound premature but with a deficit of 49 points to Alonso and five other people between himself and the Spaniard, it would take an almighty run of form to get back in the mix.
There is still time, with 13 races of the season still to run, but Button needs both his form and his luck to turn around fast. At least he has a fast car at his disposal, as Hamilton proved this weekend.
What a race. What a day. Despite the glorious sunshine, the day had started under something of a cloud with another 28 protesters arrested overnight on suspicion of trying to disrupt the race.
Students in the city have been demonstrating for months against rising tuition fees, and the week had been underscored by nightly clashes between protesters and riot police armed with tear gas and sound grenades.
Race organisers had been concerned enough about the “unspecified” threat posed by the students and anti-capitalist activists that they took the decision to cancel an open day for fans on Thursday, but a heavy security presence ensured all was calm for the race, with Montreal police reporting one unfounded bomb threat.
There was even a joke doing the rounds that the entire Canadian Air Force had been scrambled for the pre-race flyby. Both F18s were lovely.
Instead, the 100,000-plus crowed bathing in the sun on the Ile Notre Dame were treated to an enthralling grand prix; one which could not have been more different from last year’s wet weather epic.
All 24 cars got away cleanly, pole-sitter Vettel reaching turn one in the lead, closely followed by Hamilton and Alonso. Behind them everyone strung out in pretty much starting order.
It was only after the first round of pit stops between laps 16 and 19 that things started to happen. Vettel, who was starting to come under serious pressure from Hamilton, pitted first at the end of lap 16.
Hamilton made full use of his extra lap to bang in a quick one and emerge from his stop in the lead. But it was Alonso, who waited an extra two laps to pit, that benefited most, emerging in front of both of them.
The Spaniard was not able to hang on to his position, though, with Hamilton passing him in the DRS zone on lap 20 to reclaim the lead. He never looked back.
Although there was that moment of alarm during his second stop on lap 50 – Hamilton’s girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, watching from McLaren’s hospitality area, was seen banging the table with her fist in frustration at McLaren’s continued pit-stop woes – he emerged into fresh air and put pedal to metal.
Vettel and Alonso appeared to be going backwards so quickly did Hamilton catch up to them. Red Bull eventually conceded defeat, pulling Vettel in on lap 63, after he was passed by Hamilton, in order to avoid haemorrhaging further positions. Vettel recovered to finish fourth, with Alonso slipping and sliding his way back to fifth.
Credit, then, to Hamilton. And to McLaren who have taken their share of flak this year. “I’m massively proud of the team for continuing to push,” Hamilton said. “It feels great to finally be here on the top step. It feel like one of best races I’ve had for a long, long time.”
By Tom Cary