MONTREAL // It was a game of vulcanised chess, nothing more, nothing less. The 2010 Canadian Grand Prix might not have featured any of the safety car interruptions that have become its trademark, but that did not stifle its customary unpredictability. Astute tyre management was the essential factor - and McLaren-Mercedes got their sums right. It was a hard race for Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, but they swept through to take a one-two finish.
Many believed McLaren had made the wrong call by qualifying their drivers on the super-soft Bridgestone tyre, which had a relatively short life cycle given the fierce acceleration and braking Montreal demands. The choice had enabled Hamilton to take pole position and the team received another boost before the start when Mark Webber was relegated from second to seventh on the grid in the wake of an unscheduled gearbox change.
McLaren had been fined US$10,000 (Dh36,700) on Saturday, because Hamilton failed to complete his post-qualifying lap within the prescribed time after heeding McLaren's instruction to switch off his engine. Hamilton got away well at the start to hold Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso at bay, but he led for only seven laps before wilting tyres obliged him to make his first stop. Alonso pitted at that point, too, and the two cars subsequently raced side by side down the pit lane to Turn One, where the Spaniard edged ahead after claiming the inside line.
That left Vettel in the lead, on the theoretically favourable medium tyre, but that, too, was suffering as the track temperatures nudged 40°C. Vettel and Webber pitted on laps 14 and 13 respectively - and the team adopted split strategies, sending Vettel out for a short stint on super-softs and keeping Webber on mediums. Ultimately, the first tactic worked best: Webber would lead for a considerable period during the middle part of the race, but there wasn't yet enough rubber on the track to keep his tyres in good condition and he faded to finish fifth, just behind his teammate.
At the front, the leaders were constantly tripping over lapped cars and Hamilton capitalised at the end of the 15th lap, passing Alonso into the chicane to reclaim the lead. Alonso continued to apply pressure, however - and later in the race Hamilton had to deal with teammate Button. The defending champion vaulted Vettel after an early tyre stop, nursed his tyres through the middle of the race and passed Alonso on lap 54 after the Spaniard was forced, once again, to back off to accommodate a lapped car.
Button immediately began to close on the leader, but Hamilton had extra performance in reserve and responded in kind. His second successive victory moves him into the championship lead for the first time this season. "It was an interesting race," he said. "It was hard to know how much to save your tyres and how much to push. It was probably the most challenging race of the year so far." Button - now three points behind his teammate and three ahead of Webber - was relieved to be closer to his teammate than he had been in qualifying, while Alonso was just relieved, full stop.
"In Turkey we finished 50 seconds behind the McLarens," he said, "but here we were able to fight for victory - and if I hadn't twice been held up I might even have won. I believe we are still very much in the title fight."