Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hamilton Wins Amazing Race at Canada

The Canadian Grand Prix often provides a good race, but to say this one was remarkable is an understatement – the best scriptwriters in the business could not have written it. In fact, what did not happen in Montreal today very probably does not exist, for we had it all: a new winner, four safety cars, black flags, spectacular accidents, a giant killing performance of astonishing proportions – what else could one possibly ask for?I would like to begin by heralding Lewis Hamilton’s first win as the motor racing equivalent of opening the flood gates, but feel compelled to deal first with the terrifying crash endured by Robert Kubica just after the first safety car period. The popular Pole appeared to make contact with one of the Toyotas and was launched – literally – across the grass to the right of the circuit leading up to the hairpin. At over 170mph the car slammed nose first into the wall, shedding everything but the driver safety cell, and barrel rolled across the track, coming to rest after hitting the wall on the opposite side of the track. For a few laps the medical team dealt with him at the scene, before removing him to the medical centre, and then to a hospital in Montreal. He has a broken leg. That is, in truth, quite astonishing, for this was a crash of incredible force, and the worst of the ilk that I have seen for a long time. We wish Robert a speedy recovery.Back to the race itself, and we lost Jenson Button at the start when the Honda refused to co-operate. The mechanics tried to get him away but to no avail. Scratch one very unhappy Button from the race.The start itself was a clean affair from Lewis Hamilton’s point of view, the young Englishman leading away from pole position without a problem. Not so, though, for his team mate Fernando Alonso, who tried to take on the other Mclaren around the outside of the first corner, but failed miserably and lost a couple of places through cutting across the grass. It would not be the last time the Spaniard looked decidedly desperate today.Nick Heidfeld got the full benefit of Alonso’s mistake and slotted the BMW into second, with Felipe Massa just behind Alonso and Nico Rosberg having made a flying start in the Williams in fifth. Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen were the losers as the lights went out, both dropping a couple of places.Webber was the focus of the next thing of interest when he overcooked it attacking a Toyota; this dropped him down the field and we enjoyed watching him fighting his way back up, particularly in a frantic scrap with Tonio Liuzzi in the Toro Rosso.Approaching the pit stop window Alonso again got onto the grass and lost some more time, and on lap 20 the first of the expected stops gained our attention as Heidfeld came in from second place. He took on a fair amount of fuel and re-joined in tandem with team mate Kubica at the lower end of the top ten. Hamilton stopped the next lap with a typically faultless Mclaren turnaround, and came out in fourth.At this point Adrian Sutil slid wide in turn four and slammed his Spyker hard against the wall, and the Safety Car was immediately deployed in order to remove the stricken car from a dangerous position.And this is where we gained up a couple of controversial incidents, as almost at the same time the Safety Car was deployed both Alonso and Rosberg dived into the pits. It was touch and go, but the rule states the pit lane is ‘closed’ until the safety car has completed at least one lap. Both refuelled and took on new boots, and rejoined the train behind the Mercedes with the flashing lights. The second controversy came when the remaining cars made their stops a lap later, after the pit lane was declared open. Emerging from the pit lane Robert Kubica found the red light at the exit was on – a sign that the crocodile of cars is passing the point where the cars rejoin – and duly halted. Fisichella and Massa, pitting at the same time, ignored the light and rejoined the track; the consequences of both this action, and those of Alonso and Rosberg, would come later on.No sooner had the safety car peeled off and racing resumed – with Hamilton getting a great jump on a sleepy Heidfeld – than we witnessed the appalling sight of what had been Kubica’s BMW tearing across the track, just missing the Liuzzi in the process. The Safety Car came out immediately, and we watched as the medics worked in a superb and orderly fashion to stabilise Kubica. It was a merciful moment when the camera picked up an empty cockpit, and we learned that he was in the medical centre and talking.At this point the race director issued the instruction that Alonso and Rosberg were to take ten second stop and go penalties for the earlier infringement. Alonso would provide entertainment storming back through the field, while Rosbergs race was done from that point.With the debris cleared the race resumed again we watched as Anthony Davidson who, thanks to the incidents was running in the top six, pulled up at his pit only to find nobody at home. The Keystone Cops routine that followed was amusing, but hardly so for Anthony who most likely lost a decent points haul there and then. There was more to come, however, from the other Super Aguri later on.An interesting interlude came when Rosberg and Jarno Trulli entered a corner together and pirouetted in tandem without ant contact whatsoever, and while all this was going on Hamilton raced serenely on at the front, extending his lead over Heidfeld by a little every lap.David Coulthard pulled into his garage on lap 36 with a gearbox problem, adding to what was already a race of attrition; by this point we had lost Button, Sutil, Scott Speed and Kubica in addition to the Scot.Behind Heidfeld in third place was Mark Webber, the Australian having gained greatly from the incidents around him although now one pit stop behind.It was around this time that we heard of cars three and five being ‘under investigation’ – roughly translated we knew that meant Massa and Fisichella were about to be punished for ignoring the red light. Before any action was taken, though, we were treated to the sight of the silver Mercedes leading the pack around again after Christijan Albers had brought an end to Spykers day by bouncing across the grass. Remarkably he had been running ninth at that point, and the debris left behind was deemed worthy of clearing.Hamilton and Heidfeld had already pitted prior to this, and would not lose any places as Massa and Fisichella were shown the black flag. There remained no option for the pair who duly parked up and watched the rest of the race from the garage.Webber lost a fine third place when the team opted to bring him in following, rather than during the safety car period, and Barrichello -running fourth at the time – also suffered from a similar rather curious tactical decision.Alonso looked very determined to make up places when the race resumed and promptly messed up – again – when tackling Jarno Trulli, a move that left him back in ninth with work to do, but the work of Mr Maylander was not over yet, for with sixteen laps left Liuzzi took a trip into the wall, and the flashing lights came on again.This stint would probably have been a couple of laps shorter had Trulli not binned his Toyota while exiting the pits, but we were finally given green lights with ten laps left.By now the order looked decidedly odd, with only the front two – Hamilton and Heidfeld – predictable. Behind these two came Alex Wurz, the Austrian having driven a clean and sensible race on a one stop strategy from well back on the grid, and Heikki Kovalainen, a similar effort from the Finn bringing him from the very back.Next came Raikkonen, who had been oddly quiet all race perhaps thanks to a damaged front wing he collected when he nudged Massa at the first corner, and Alonso, with Ralf Schumacher having been picked off by the flying Mclaren of Alonso by now.Behind Ralf was the story of the last few laps, the truly remarkable Takuma Sato. The Super Aguri was looking very racy indeed as the laps reeled off, and Taku did for Schumacher with relative ease. He promptly set about Alonso, and began to reel in the world champion at an alarming rate. It should be said that we had already seen Sato get by Raikkonen at an earlier stage of the race, but none would have expected him to tackle Alonso with points already in the bag.He did though, and in some style. The little Japanese in the Honda powered SA07 tackled Alonso down the outside into one of the heavy braking points, and pitched the red and white car perfectly into the corner leaving Alonso with no answer. A fine sixth place, and a few notable scalps for the friendly little team.The only other finishers were Webber, Rosberg, Davidson and Barrichello.We have not said much about Lewis Hamilton, but then there is little left to say. His performance was sublime under pressure, on a day where it seemed outside forces were determined not to let him keep any advantage he could build, and he did not put a foot wrong where others frequently did. The whoops of joy over his in car radio after the finish were deserved, and this will surely be the first of many wins for this remarkably assured young man. Far removed from the controversy of Monaco, this was Lewis Hamilton’s day – he was untroubled, untouchable, and in command.Full marks to Heidfeld, too, for the Germans race was also played to perfection, and fantastic results – probably much needed – for Wurz and Kovalainen in third and fourth.Not much can be said about Raikkonen – he did his best in a Ferrari that simply did not have the level of performance of the McLaren – but that one feels he really should be finishing ahead of, at least, the Williams and the Renault.Hamilton now leads the title race by eight points from Alonso, and will go to Indianapolis next week on a high. It is not unusual for a driver to follow up his debut win with another, and few would bet against Lewis Hamilton to be in the thick of it at the Brickyard.The enduring image of the day is that of the destroyed BMW tumbling across the circuit, and of Kubica, motionless in the cockpit afterwards. Twenty, maybe less, years ago I have no doubt he would not have emerged from that alive. That he suffered only a broken leg is testament to the superb advances we have made in such a short time where safety is concerned.A first, memorable win for Hamilton, then; the young star simply goes from strength to strength.