Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight victory of the season and his fifth on his favourite circuit on Sunday when he revived his title defence with a memorable triumph at the Canadian Grand Prix.
The 31-year-old Briton, who ended seven winless months with his victory in Monaco last month, delivered a gutsy and well-judged drive in his Mercedes to recover from a poor start and finish ahead of Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.
Finn Valtteri Bottas repeated his success of 2015 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve when he claimed the Williams team’s first podium finish of the season in third place.
Hamilton has now cut teammate Nico Rosberg’s lead from 43 points to nine in the last two races to set himself up for a tilt at his fourth title.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. That was for Muhammad” said the Englishman in tribute to the late Muhammad Ali as he drove his slowing down victory lap.
Record breaking Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was fourth for Red Bull, finishing ahead of championship leader Rosberg who was fifth in the second Mercedes after a last lap spin.
Kimi Raikkonen finished sixth in the second Ferrari, ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull and Nico Hulkenberg of Force India.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz came home ninth for Toro Rosso and Sergio Perez was 10th in the second Force India.
Rain swirled as the drivers prepared for the start on a ‘cold’ track measured at 24 degrees Celsius. The air temperature was barely 12.
When the lights went out, Vettel switched on with a vengeance and, from third on the grid, found the speed in his Ferrari to swerve left and pass both Mercedes as they started together off the front row.
It was a stunning move. Hamilton did his best to hang on to the Ferrari and, in the process, squeezed Rosberg inside him and the German went off, rejoining in the pack and falling to 10th by the end of the opening lap.
It stayed that way for the opening six laps with Hamilton moving within a second of Vettel at the front and Verstappen third, five seconds adrift, ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Ricciardo.
Hamilton, however, was unable to find the pure power to catch and pass Vettel, clear proof that Ferrari’s updated turbo had given them an engine to match the Mercedes.
- Button blaze -
The position changed on lap 12 when, as a Virtual Safety Car spell -– used because of a blazing Honda engine failure for Jenson Button’s McLaren -– came to an end, Vettel pitted for ‘super-soft’ tyres and Hamilton took the lead.
Vettel rejoined in fourth place, behind the Red Bulls and 11 seconds down on Hamilton. The German was clearly relishing his car’s potential and, after a furious attack, passed his former team-mate Ricciardo in the hairpin and then Verstappen to take second.
By lap 22, Hamilton’s lead was down to eight seconds, but he knew Vettel had to make a further pit-stop for the mandatory yellow-walled ‘soft’ tyres, as he did.
Hamilton pitted at the end of lap 24, his lead trimmed to five seconds. He emerged in second place, 12 seconds behind Vettel, but knowing the German still had to pit again.
For Hamilton, with 45 laps remaining, it was all about preserving his tyres for the anticipated final scrap. For Rosberg, it was a battle for position as he chased Bottas for sixth.
As Vettel gave vent to his frustration at back-markers, by shouting on team radio to ‘get them out of the way’, Hamilton steadily trimmed his lead. From 13 seconds, it was 9.9 and then, after 37 laps, Vettel pitted.
With 32 laps remaining, Hamilton led Vettel by 7.8 seconds, but the Ferrari was rampant, cutting it by half a second immediately and then to 6.6 one lap later.
Hamilton responded, but with tyres that were 13 laps fresher, Vettel kept charging.
A series of fastest laps from Vettel trimmed the lead to five seconds before Rosberg, with a slow puncture, made an enforced second stop. He rejoined seventh on fresh super-softs and soon passed Ricciardo for sixth and then Raikkonen for fifth.
By lap 57, Vettel was showing some stress, locking up and missing the final chicane -– losing 1.4 seconds in the process -– and then finding it more difficult to catch the Englishman who enlarged his lead to 5.9 seconds with 10 laps remaining.