x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Strategy goes Lewis Hamilton's way in the Canadian sun

Lewis Hamilton employed a two-stop strategy that delivered him to his first win on the season as the McLaren-Mercedes driver made it seven different winners in the opening seven races.

McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton, right, overcame bad pit stops to win for the first time on the 2012 season and make it seven different winners over the opening seven races.
McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton, right, overcame bad pit stops to win for the first time on the 2012 season and make it seven different winners over the opening seven races.

 

MONTREAL // Lewis Hamilton employed a high-risk pit-stop strategy to determinedly win the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday night and become the seventh driver in as many races to triumph in this remarkably volatile season.

The McLaren-Mercedes driver, in taking his first win since Abu Dhabi last year, waved the British Union Jack and thanked his team, but it was he who deserved the lion's share of the credit.

Were it not for his tenacity in the face of adversity at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, he could have been looking once more at the win that got away after slow pit-stops and unpredictable race strategies from his rivals.

"I never had a doubt in mind that there would not be a possibility to win," Hamilton said, despite having trouble at both his pit stops.

"This is one of the most enjoyable races that I've had until now. I couldn't believe it when I crossed the line. The feeling inside was like an explosion."

Sebastian Vettel, starting from pole for the 32nd time of his career, had shown no hint that gremlins from last year's uncharacteristic last-lap error had set up in camp in his cranium as the German enjoyed a clean getaway, extending his eight-metre advantage over second-placed Hamilton to a 1.1 second lead by the time he completed his opening lap.

Red Bull Racing's reigning world champion was not the only driver to experience a clean start.

In contrast to recent races, there was very little passing in the opening exchanges.

Only Felipe Massa, Ferrari's troubled Brazilian, looked to be ready to build on his improved showing in Monaco, but having overtaken Nico Rosberg to climb to fifth, he undone his effort by spinning out and returning to the field in 12th.

With the three fastest drivers in the sport starting in the front three grid positions, it was almost certain the rest of the field would struggle to maintain any sort of challenge and by the end of the 15th lap, the trio had pulled away.

Only 2.1 seconds covered Vettel, Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, but a gap of more than five seconds had squashed itself in between the Ferrari and fourth-placed Mark Webber.

Hamilton closed the gap on Vettel to 0.7 seconds after being given a motivational nudge from his team and when the two drivers pitted in quick succession, it was McLaren's 2008 world champion who emerged ahead, although Alonso - opting to stay out longer - had inherited the lead.

The Spaniard stopped for new tyres soon after and returned to the track ahead of Hamilton, but when he ran wide at the hairpin, Hamilton capitalised, pulling in tight behind, then deploying his speed-enhancing adjustable rear wing to propel himself into the lead.

The 2008 world champion set about building a comfortable gap, but his team employed a dangerous strategy by telling him to go hard on his fuel in the expectation the race would produce the safety car period it has in previous years. It failed to materialise, but at the half-way mark of the 70-lap race, more than three seconds separated Hamilton from Alonso.

Testament to the minuscule margins for error this season, both drivers - and Vettel - were clocking precisely the same lap time.

Hamilton, knowing the timing of his scheduled second stop was crucial, asked his team whether his rivals were definitely employing two-stop tactics.

"We are sure," came the response.

Only when the Englishman pitted in the 50th lap, he returned - following a team error with his rear right wheel - in to traffic and the news that his rivals may indeed be employing a one-stop strategy.

"It's not impossible they might stop only once," said his engineer.

"We have to keep pushing."

With 10 laps remaining, Alonso led Vettel by 2.3s with Hamilton a further two seconds back and driving with his fingers crossed.

As he prayed his rivals would experience extreme tyre degradation under the Canadian sunshine, his prayers were answered as he ripped his car around the circuit.

Immediately setting a new fastest lap, the 27 year old passed first Vettel and then, one lap later, Alonso.

As Vettel pitted, Alonso refused and when Lotus's Romain Grosjean and Sauber's Sergio Perez, having quietly climbed the field by only stopping once, appeared in the Spaniard's rear-view mirror, he was helpless and slipped down the field.

Vettel, on fresh tyres, passed him too, but the race belonged to Hamilton - much as it did in his 2007 debut season when he won his first race here.

"It's been five years since I won the first time here, but it feels just as good," Hamilton said.

"We never take it for granted, but this for me feels like one of my best races in a long time."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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