McLaren’s Jenson Button led for just seven corners of the Canadian Grand Prix – but they were the seven corners that mattered most after the Englishman swept past Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel on the final lap to record a spectacular victory in Montreal.
A chaotic rain-interrupted race had ticked past the four-hour mark as the 70th and final lap commenced with Button hunting down Vettel, who had led from pole for the entire race.
The championship leader, who had won the previous three Grands Prix, finally made a mistake under pressure, sliding wide at the Turn 6-7 chicane.
Button seized the chance to slip through into the lead and take a win that few imagined possible after he was 21st and last at the halfway stage and had made six visits to the pits, including one for speeding under safety car conditions early in the race.
Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix had a little bit of everything and a whole lot of rain as a torrential downpour soaked the circuit and caused the race to be suspended for two hours after 25 laps.
Vettel had led from the start as the field commenced behind the safety car for the opening five laps on a wet track, and as the rain worsened on lap 20, the German told his pit crew that parts of the track were “undriveable”. The stewards agreed, red-flagging the race as the inclement weather forced a delay of some 124 minutes.
Fortunately, for the fans at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and the millions watching on TV around the world, the wait was well worth it.
Soon after the re-start, Button clashed with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso at the first chicane after both cars had pitted for intermediate tyres on the drying track. The McLaren driver limped back to the pits for a fresh set of Pirellis and was at the tail-end of the field, but his race really came alive after the fourth and final appearance by the safety car when Renault’s Nick Heidfeld crashed on lap 57.
Lapping two seconds per lap quicker than the cars in front of him, Button passed Red Bull’s Mark Webber at the final chicane for third with seven laps remaining, and then overtook Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher at the same corner on lap 65. He then took off after Vettel, but seemed to be running out of laps to catch the championship leader before the German’s last-lap gaffe handed Button his 10th Grand Prix win.
“An amazing win, and (it was) possibly my best,” Button said.
“The last (lap) is the important one to be leading, and I was leading half of it. An amazing day; I don't know what else to say.”
Vettel managed to recover to the circuit on the final lap to finish two seconds adrift of Button, while Webber made it two Red Bulls on the podium after a eventful race where he was on the back foot right from the start.
Coming into the first turn on lap five, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton clattered into the side of the Australian, the resultant spin pushing Webber back to 14th.
He’d recovered to seventh before the lengthy red flag period despite downshift problems with his steering wheel, which had to be replaced in a pit stop on lap 20.
Webber leapt up the order from lap 51 when he was the first of the pace-setters to pit for slick tyres on a partially wet track. He had a spirited fight with Schumacher for second place in the latter stages, was passed by the fast-closing Button for third, and then took the final podium position from seven-time world champion Schumacher on lap 67 into the final chicane.
“I decided to roll the dice, decided to put the dry tyres on,” Webber said after the race.
“I knew parts of the circuit were going to be tricky, and then if you get on grass it is all over. I arrived on the back of Michael (and) we had a reasonable battle getting the dry line in the last chicane.
“Eventually we got it but ‘JB’ (Button) arrived and he was very, very quick. I think ultimately even if I had got Michael earlier, he (Button) would have got me as well.”
Schumacher’s fourth place came after what was undoubtedly the strongest drive of his ‘second’ career, while, almost forgotten in the post-race euphoria of Button’s victory, was the early demise of his teammate Hamilton.
After hitting Webber at the first corner, Hamilton then clashed with teammate Button as the pair headed side-by-side down the start-finish straight on lap eight, with Hamilton breaking his suspension and retiring.
The next race is the European Grand Prix in Valencia in a fortnight, by which time the Formula One teams and fans might just have caught their collective breaths after one of the craziest – and certainly the longest – Grands Prix in recent memory.
1. Vettel 161 points
2. Button 101
3. Webber 94
4. Hamilton 85
5. Alonso 69
6. Massa 32
1. Red Bull Racing 255 points
2. McLaren-Mercedes 186
3. Ferrari 101