Lewis Hamilton has seized back momentum in the 2017 Formula One season with a decisive win at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
In commanding style Hamilton led the race from lights to flag, deftly fending off an aggressive getaway from Max Verstappen, who leapt from fifth to second by the first turn, to cruise to an easy win.
Sebastian Vettel, who started alongside Hamilton from the front row, became collateral damage of the Dutchman’s sizzling start, losing part of his front wing when Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing car chopped across his bow to take the corner.
Vettel was forced to stop for a new nosecone on lap five, which dropped him to eighteenth and last, but a strong fightback with an unlikely two-stop strategy moved him back up to fourth place by the chequered flag in a superb example of damage limitation.
The German rescued 12 points from his initial 25-point title lead in an afternoon of skilful and aggressive driving — but even without the first-lap collision it would be hard to imagine anyone but Hamilton climbing onto the top step of the podium.
The Briton has made the North American race his fortress since claiming his debut Formula One victory in Canada in 2007. His win on 11 June was his sixth at the circuit, making him the second most successful driver in the event’s history.
By Hamilton’s hand it was a weekend for the history books. His pole position on Sunday — earnt with a scintillating new lap record that put more than 0.33 seconds between him and Vettel on the front row — was the 65th of his career, putting him equal second with childhood hero Ayrton Senna in Formula One’s all-time pole tally.
To commemorate the milestone the Senna family gifted Hamilton one of Ayrton’s helmets, which was presented to the Briton in front of the grandstands immediately after qualifying.
“I’m shaking,” said the visibly emotional Hamilton. “I’m speechless.
“He was the one who inspired me to be where I am today. To match him and to receive this is the greatest honour.”
Hamilton is now just three pole positions away from seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher’s 68-pole record, meaning the Mercedes driver is likely to become Formula One’s most decorated qualifier by the end of the season.
It was a crucial victory for the championship fortunes of Mercedes — which scored its first one-two of the season with Valtteri Bottas in second — and Lewis Hamilton, with the team at sea at the preceding Monaco Grand Prix with tyre usage and car set-up.
“We need to find a solution for the tyre window,” non-executive director Niki Lauda told the Austrian media before the race weekend. “Ferrari has got a momentum going. If it stays like this the gap will become huge, alarming.
“And one thing is clear: Vettel needs to retire at least once, otherwise it’s over.”
The team delivered on Lauda’s call to action. A group of engineers worked in 24-hour shifts for 10 days to identify and rectify the problems experienced in Monte Carlo, and the Silver Arrows was able to reap the rewards on a weekend Ferrari struggled.
Vettel’s fourth-place fightback, though not as severe as Lauda’s wished-for retirement, was compounded by severe brake problems on Kimi Räikkönen’s car that consigned the Finn to seventh, meaning Mercedes outscored its rival by 25 points and resumed first place in the constructors standings with an eight-point buffer.
The 2017 season continues to defy expectations, and with both teams remaining so evenly matched, to venture a favourite for the upcoming Azerbaijan Grand Prix on 25 June could only be foolhardy.