Canadian GP - Sunday - Race Report
Button wins Canadian epic
The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix will go down in history as one of the most amazing races of all time. Through it all -- all four hours, four minutes and thirty-nine seconds of it - Sebastian Vettel was almost wheel perfect. He led every lap apart from the last part of the very last one.
Somehow, Vettel was beaten by a man who pitted six times and was dead last with 30 laps to go! "I really don't know what to say..." smiled Jenson Button, and you couldn't blame him.
Montreal had every chance of being chaotic. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has close bordering walls and, for the first time since Pirelli became F1's tyre supplier, we had a wet race.
For practically everyone it was a venture into the unknown, with nobody having any substantial experience of the Italian company's intermediate or wet tyres. At least the first decision on tyre selection was removed when the FIA declared that the race would start behind the Safety Car, meaning that wets were mandatory.
After four slow laps the official Mercedes pulled in and we went racing. And immediately, Lewis Hamilton continued where he left off in Monte Carlo, assaulting Mark Webber's fourth-placed Red Bull in Turn 2 and spinning the Australian down to 14th place.
"I think Lewis thought the chequered flag was at Turn 3..." Webber said. Jenson, at this stage, ran seventh, where he qualified. That became sixth when Michael Schumacher nudged Hamilton wide at the hairpin.
Lewis soon wanted the place back and after a quicker exit from the final chicane, tried to go by Jenson before the right-hand kink in the pit straight. It looked optimistic and, sure enough, Button was having none of it. The official line was that Jenson had no idea Lewis was there.
The pair made contact and Hamilton was out of the race, triggering a Safety Car to remove the McLaren. Button immediately took the opportunity to pit for intermediates. He's devastating in such mixed conditions, with a finely-tuned feel for grip, but when it started to rain heavier again, it looked as if the gamble had backfired. He also attracted a Drive Through penalty for exceeding the speed delta behind the Safety car. He served it on lap 13 and then stopped again for a set of new Pirelli wets six laps later. Then came monsoon rain and, for the second time in as many races, a red flag.
After a delay of two hours, the race resumed behind the Safety Car once more, with Button 11th on the road, right behind Fernando Alonso's Ferrari. The big winners were those who stayed on their original wets, like Kobayashi, Heidfeld and Petrov, and got a free change of boots under the red flag conditions. Alonso, after Ferrari's best qualifying effort of the season had netted him a front row start, was not among them.
"We had no luck at all," the Spaniard lamented. And it soon got worse. When the Safety Car pulled in again after 34 of the 70 laps, Button was keen to be on the move but had a coming together with Alonso at the first chicane. The Ferrari pirouetted and became beached on the kerb. Fernando was out.
Button, who had made his fourth stop for used intermediates two laps earlier, was also damaged by the impact but managed to pit for the fifth time under the Safety Car caused by his own incident. He rejoined still on the lead lap and caught up the lost ground under the Safety Car. Had Alonso not been beached on the kerb, Jenson could not have won the race. Even so, he was 21st and last.
Jenson, driving superbly, was up to eighth with 20 laps to go, but still 28s behind leader Vettel. On lap 51 Button made his sixth and final pit visit to bolt on a set of supersofts. It was a good early call and by the time the rest of the field had done likewise, Jenson was up to fourth, behind only Vettel, Michael Schumacher and Webber with 15 laps remaining. He was still 6s adrift of the second Red Bull and needed another Safety car.
He got one. Kobayashi's Sauber was assaulted by Nick Heidfeld's Renault at Turn 2 and the resultant debris littered the racing line. Heidfeld crashed out when his damaged wing tucked under the car and launched him into the wall. The situation was exacerbated when a marshal, intent on brushing it up, fell over on the track just as Vitaly Petrov arrived on the scene! Disaster was averted but out came the official car once more.
It all came down to a final 10 lap sprint to the flag and by lap 65 Button had dispensed with Webber and Schumacher and was just 3s behind Vettel. The world champion had been lapping comfortably in the 1:20s but Button was in the 1:18s and soon dropped into the 1:17s.
Vettel responded but Button was threatening and got into the double DRS zone for the first time on the penultimate lap. It wasn't enough to get him by, but Vettel was very keen to make sure Jenson didn't have the benefits of DRS on the last lap. Trying to make sure he got to the activation zone with Button out of range, Vettel pushed too hard, put a wheel on the wet, lost the rear and Button was through.
"That was a very emotional four hours!" Jenson said. "Just a fantastic race. As we always say, the last lap is the important one to be leading. I enjoyed it very much fighting through the field -- that feeling of getting one up on someone. To fight from last position...it's definitely my best race. On the slicks the car felt fantastic and on the wets it didn't really work.
"I wouldn't have had a chance if we didn't have DRS here. If Sebastian didn't make a mistake it would have been tricky because I had DRS the previous lap but wasn't close enough. After Monaco to get some luck at the end, I think we deserved that."
Vettel was disappointed but magnanimous: "It's good points but if you've got it in your hands and you give it away, it's not the best feeling. All in all I think I can be satisfied but at the moment the freshest impressions are the ones I show -- disappointment."
Behind Webber, Schumacher was also disappointed not to score the first podium since his return but a good early switch to new supersofts and an opportunistic move when Kobayashi held up Massa and Michael nailed both of them, saw him score a fine fourth place. Petrov and a disappointed Massa beat Kobayashi to the line, with Alguersuari, Barrichello and Buemi claiming the final points places of a memorable afternoon.
The epic lasted about as long as Nadal versus Federer on clay. Button's winning average speed? Just 74.864kph. He won't care about that...