Lewis Hamilton borrowed both a phrase and a strategy for victory from the late Muhammad Ali on Sunday when he fended off Sebastian Vettel to deliver a memorable triumph at the Canadian Grand Prix.
In a race of drama and great skill, the defending three-time world champion recovered from a poor start to produce a perfectly judged, and determined, recovery drive for his 45th career win as he trimmed Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s lead in the drivers’ championship to nine points.
The German came home fifth, two places ahead of Aussie Daniel Ricciardo who was seventh for Red Bull after being victim of another imperfect pit stop. This time, he kept his composure and was still smiling afterwards.
“Not my best race, today, but fortunately in seven days we have another chance,” said Ricciardo. “I locked up and ruined one set of tyres… One of those days.”
On a day of menacing clouds and cold weather, it was hardly a ‘rumble in the jungle,’ but Hamilton again wrote the script as he recovered from a slow start from his fifth pole position at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to take full advantage of Ferrari’s mistake in switching early leader Sebastian Vettel to a two-stop strategy.
It was his second win in succession and fifth on his favourite track.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” said Hamilton on team radio during his slowing down lap. “That was for Muhammad, that was – that’s for Ali…”
Later, he dedicated his victory to the great boxer who he said had inspired him and so many other people “to believe in them-selves and be them-selves and not the person other people say they should be.”
Hamilton’s tyre-management and patience during a tense race enabled him to hide his true speed until the closing laps when he resisted the revived Vettel’s rampant Ferrari to claim his second win this year.
It lifted him to 107 points, just nine behind a grumpy Rosberg, who ran off-track in a scrap with Hamilton at the start, on 116. Vettel has 78. After four straight wins to score 100 points, Rosberg has now earned just 16 in his last three outings.
Vettel, who shot into the lead by passing both Mercedes men at the start, then made an early pit stop to switch to a two-stop strategy. It was costly and handed victory back to Hamilton as he was unable to make best use of his updated Ferrari power unit and fresher tyres as he came home second.
“I’m just overwhelmed with today,” a beaming Hamilton told Hollywood film star Michael Douglas in the podium interview. “I'm just overwhelmed with today. It feels just as great as my first win back then…
“Today, I had another really bad start, I’m not sure why - possibly I over-heated the clutch. I feel very grateful that Nico and I didn't damage our cars and then I had fun chasing down this guy (Vettel).
“We got the set-up right. I won my first Grand Prix here in 2007 and it feels such a blessing."
Vettel admitted that he did not have enough speed to win.
“Lewis was a bit too quick, that was the issue,” said Vettel. “But we had a great weekend – I had a fantastic start. It was very windy and maybe I struggled with the wind behind.
“We committed fairly early to a different strategy and probably Lewis's tyres lasted better than we expected. It was fun to see this car has performance and to unleash it.”
The four-time champion German gave Hamilton a battle all the way to the flag as they finished clear of a chasing pack led by Finn Valtteri Bottas, who repeated his third place finish of 2015 for the delighted Williams team.
The 31-year-old Briton, who ended seven winless months with victory in Monaco two weeks, has now cut Rosberg’s lead from 43 points to nine in the last two races to set himself up for a tilt at his fourth title.
Record breaking Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was fourth for Red Bull, finishing ahead of championship leader German Nico Rosberg who was fifth in the second Mercedes despite an off-track excursion on his final lap when he failed to overtake.
“I nearly ran out of fuel and that's why I couldn't attack Max at the end,” said Rosberg. “When I did, he defended really well. At the end, it went completely pear-shaped, but I managed to get it back. A very frustrating race."
Rosberg, who fell to 10th on the opening lap and later had a slow puncture and fuel problems, said he was forced off by Hamilton when they battled with Vettel at Turn One. “But that's racing,” he said. “It's my job to make sure I come out in front next time..."
Finn Kimi Raikkonen finished sixth in the second Ferrari, ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull and German Nico Hulkenberg of Force India.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz came home ninth for Toro Rosso and Mexican Sergio Perez was 10th in the second Force India.