What an epic race the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix turned out to be! It included a red flag postponement for two hours and five minutes due to incessant rain and a final lap lead change handing victory to a guy who, just after half-race distance, was in last place. That’s right, Jenson Button (McLaren) could hardly believe his luck when he crossed the finish line in first place, upsetting what looked like being another Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing) demonstration event.
The race began under Safety Car conditions thanks to heavy rain and finally went green after five laps. Aside from some early pressure from Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) Vettel pretty much had the race to himself, despite the three further Safety Car periods and long rain delay which followed.
Button clashed with his McLaren teammate early in the race, forcing Hamilton to retire. Both men were investigated by the stewards after the race with no further action taken. On lap 37 Button made contact with Alonso, again the stewards were unperturbed, even though the incident ended the Ferrari driver’s race. With a puncture to his front left tyre, Button was able to limp back to the pits and rejoin the queue behind the subsequent Safety Car required to clear Alonso’s car. All told, the 2009 world champ had five pit stops for tyres and a drive-through penalty for speeding behind the Safety Car, as well.
Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing) was turned around by Lewis Hamilton after the first re-start and found himself down in fourteenth place. His struggles continued as pit stops didn’t work out his way meaning he spent more time mid-pack than hoped. Both Red Bulls were suffering intermittent KERS issues during the race also. In the closing stages, Webber was the first driver to fit slicks and following the final Safety Car found himself fighting for a podium in the middle of a scrap with Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) and Button.
Meanwhile, facing a nine lap dash to the end, Vettel was able to pull away from the fight behind him. Button pounced to pass a scrambling Webber and then used DRS to great effect to pass Schumacher; a feat Webber finally completed at his second attempt on his way to third. Once Button had clear air he quickly caught up to Vettel who was unable to respond. On the last lap the young German ran wide and gifted the lead to Button who capped off a remarkable race.
Comments from the first three drivers can be read after the break, with a sodden Canadian GP picture gallery to follow soon.
[Pic: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes]
Canadian GP – Conference 4
1 – Jenson BUTTON (McLaren)
2 – Sebastian VETTEL (Red Bull)
3 – Mark WEBBER (Red Bull)
Q: Jenson, an amazing race. Well worth waiting for the finish. You went from last to first. You collided with your team-mate (Lewis Hamilton) and Fernando Alonso. But what a race victory.
Jenson BUTTON: Yeah, I mean I really do not know what to say. It has been a very emotional three hours or however long it has been since the start. The incident with Lewis… I couldn’t see anything when he was alongside me. I couldn’t see anything in my mirrors. It was one of those things and I have apologised to him. Then, it was really a fight. I got a drive-through for speeding behind the safety car and I had to fight my way through about three times. Eventually, on the last lap I was chasing down Seb. He ran a little bit wide onto the wet part of the circuit and I was able to take the opportunity and take the win. But, for me, a fantastic race I think even if I hadn’t won today I would have enjoyed this race immensely. But, yeah, amazing win and possibly my best.
Q: Sebastian, another very high-pressure finish for you but this time it didn’t go your way. How disappointed are you feeling right now?
Sebastian VETTEL: Of course you are disappointed. I think it was a very difficult race from start to finish and we led every single lap except the last one. Or part of the last one. I was probably too conservative when I was in the lead after the last safety car and didn’t open the gap quite enough. I was trying to hold the gap to the cars behind. Then I saw Jenson coming through. I was pushing and I think it would have been enough to the end but obviously it was not as I did a mistake. It is clearly down to me. I locked up the rear a little bit and what you have to do then is open the car going a bit straighter when there is only one line. But I ended up in the wet and it was quite easy then for him to pass. Surely, I think it is a good day today. It was a difficult day, easy to do mistakes and we have seen a lot of cars not finishing so it is good points. But if you have got it in your hands and you give it away it is not the sweetest feeling, but all in all it was a good race for us.
Q: Mark, you were the first to go onto the slick tyres and then an unbelievable battle at the end with Michael Schumacher and Jenson.
Mark WEBBER: Yeah, I had to roll the dice a little bit. It was very hard to clear some of those guys with the dry line when you were trying to come through and it is such narrow window to get down the inside of people. Obviously, you have got the experienced guys like Michael and (Nick) Heidfeld and those guys they know what they are doing. I thought I would roll the die. I was happy to see not everyone taking the next lap after me as I thought they would be so the two laps were enough to bring me back into the game for the podium. Then it was a pretty good fight with Michael. Again it was difficult, as we both wanted the same bit of track for the main braking point for the chicane. In the end got there, but when JB arrived he was absolutely flying and I was trying to be, we were all trying, to be as fair as we could. I passed Michael through the chicane so I had to give the position back. In the end these are the results we all deserve today. JB drove a great race. Seb did a phenomenal job but obviously it is easy to make a mistake in those conditions. I think third was the maximum i could get today after the first lap with Lewis.
Q: Jenson, are you off to have a chat with Lewis and Fernando after this and how will you be celebrating tonight?
JB: I have already spoken to Lewis and we both agree it was just one of those things. I am sure I am going to have a busy afternoon here at the circuit then I am definitely going to go celebrate. I am going to enjoy Montreal with some good friends whose birthday was yesterday and also Jessica (Michibata) is here and my old man, so I am looking forward to it. Mikey (Muscles) Collier, my physio is here as well, so hopefully we will have a good night tonight and enjoy what we achieved today. It was an immense battle and a great result. I have got to say a big thank you to the whole team and the work they have done. I think I must have pitted eight or nine times in this race and they did a great job every time so thank you very much.
Q: Jenson, I don’t know if it was as incredible inside the car as it was outside but that was one hell of a race.
JB: It had its ups and downs, let’s just say that. Definitely one of those grands prix where you are nowhere, then you’re somewhere, then you’re nowhere and then you’re somewhere. As we always say the last lap is the important one to be leading and I was leading half of it. Amazing day. It really is an amazing day and I don’t know what else to say really.
Q: The count was five pit-stops and a penalty just in case you thought it was nine stops or maybe you felt like it was?
JB: It felt like I spent more time in the pits than on the pit-straights. The guys did a great job of calling the strategy. At some points we definitely lucked out on the strategy, especially when the red flag came out but we called it very well going to slicks. The car was working really well in these tricky conditions, so I enjoyed it very much coming through the field. Fighting your way through the field is almost as good as winning a race: that feeling of getting one up on someone. A great race I think for the people who are sat here. To be on the podium was a pretty exceptional result and to fight my way through from, I think, last position… yeah, it’s definitely my best race and I want to say a big thank you to the whole team for staying calm in some very difficult circumstances, especially when I damaged the front left and the front wing. But we came away with the victory, so thank you very much.
Q: The calls must have been incredible. They must have been the right calls. A great contribution from the team?
JB: Yeah, I think strategy-wise, obviously we sometimes get it wrong but a lot of the time we get it right. Moving onto intermediates in the first race and then moving to intermediates in the second race was the right call. The car on the intermediates and the slicks felt fantastic. On the wet tyre it didn’t really work. Yeah, a very special race to win from where I was and I will remember this for a long time. I am sure I am going to have a busy afternoon here at the circuit. I have got to go and see the stewards and we will see how that goes but at the moment I am really enjoying this moment as I feel that I did the best job I possibly could.
Q: You came down the stairs just now with… I think Fernando was there as well. Was there any talk between the two of you just now?
JB: No, I didn’t see him. He was in the front.
Q: DRS right at the end there on that last lap.
JB: Yeah, I wouldn’t have had a chance if we didn’t have DRS here. If Sebastian didn’t make a mistake it would have been very tricky but it was getting very close to making the move because of the DRS. The previous lap I got DRS and I wasn’t really close enough to make a move but I felt I was creeping closer and it could have been one of those moves on the last lap into the last corner but it didn’t go that far because Seb put a wheel onto the wet surface and ran wide. I will take that. I think after Monaco, which again was a great race for me, to get the win here and get some luck in the end I think we deserved that.
Q: Sebastian, obviously disappointed to be second after being in the lead for so long and five safety car starts, each of which you seemed to get right. Tell us about it. You seemed to be dominant up until that last lap.
SV: Yeah, I think it was a long race. Obviously, a long break in between but very difficult conditions. It was quite tough and I think one of the most challenging races we have had this year. All in all, I think I can be satisfied but at the moment the freshest impressions I have are the ones which I probably show at the moment. Of course I am disappointed. Being in the lead for all the race and knowing that it was so difficult. It was a tricky race. The safety car never helped us but we did the best we could. It is good points today. I can see that. It is important to finish, especially in a race like that, but to do the mistake in the last lap, which was probably only the real mistake I did in the whole race, at the moment it is not very sweet. But that’s how it goes. I think we are all pushing very hard and sometimes do mistakes. I have no problem to admit that I went a little bit wide and if it would have been dry there would have been no problem. But like this it was wet and outside the dry line and very costly. So in the end I got away with second.
Q: You just went off, do you remember why exactly?
SV: I was a little bit late on the brakes. Obviously I could feel Jenson was a little bit quicker than us. I should probably have pushed much harder initially after the safety car, after the re-start. I was building up something like a four second lead and then I thought that the people behind would run a similar pace so I wasn’t trying to pull away too much because I don’t know what might happen afterwards with tyres or another safety car phase. I was probably a bit too cautious there. If I would have pulled away by six or seven seconds then it would have been a different story, but like that, at some stage, it was only three. It was a difficult finish to a hard race. I could see that especially in the last sector, Jenson was coming very close and catching up a lot.
Q: Mark, it actually started for you right at the second corner…
MW: Yeah, at one o’ clock. Yeah, I think Lewis thought the chequered flag was in turn three. We made contact, I tried to give him some room. I know it’s easy to clip someone but I think it was a bit clumsy that early in the race. So I lost a lot of positions. I managed to get them all back, pretty much, and then we decided to pit, obviously just to put another set of full extremes on before the suspended race. Then obviously Kobayashi and the two Renaults and di Resta – the guys that I passed already – they got me with the free pit stop, basically under the suspended race with the new set of tyres. So I had to get back past those guys which wasn’t too bad but when a dry line started to appear, it’s actually difficult to pull moves off because there’s not much room to get down the inside. I think I decided to roll the dice a little bit and pop some dry tyres on. It was very much on the edge. I knew parts of the track were going to be tricky initially, and if you get on the grass, obviously, it’s all over. So that tended to work out for me, gained quite a few seconds with that and then arrived on the back of Michael and we had a reasonable battle, same thing, trying to get that dry line in the last chicane. Eventually we got him, but JB arrived, he was very very very quick and I think he would ultimately – even if I got Michael early – JB would probably have picked me off as well. It was very easy to be in the wall today, make a mistake. It’s very satisfying to be here, a very testing Grand Prix for all of us: mixed conditions and obviously with a bit of stress here and there, hard visibility, tear-off visors – the whole thing. Everything was thrown in there today, it was a tough Grand Prix for all of us. Clearly it’s Jenson’s day, he deserved the win and great points for us as a team in the Constructors’ championship. I’m sure it was a good race for the neutrals watching at home but a few grey hairs for us.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Mattias Brunner – Speedweek) For all of you: the safety periods, suspending the race, was everything in order from your perspective?
JB: For Seb, I’m sure it was easy, sat behind the safety car, but for me, back in the pack, especially when it was very very wet, it was good to have the safety car out because I couldn’t see in front of my visor. I think they timed it pretty well. I think they’ve got it down to a T now with understanding how long the safety car should be out, so yeah I think they did a good job.
SV: I think it was fine. Obviously they need to make the decisions for all of us, not just for one team or one driver only. It’s difficult here to access the track when you have a car crashed or parts on the track which we had in the end. I think they kept everything under control and safe for us.
MW: I think they deserve huge credit. When they get it wrong, everyone kills them but today they did everything perfectly, virtually within a lap. They didn’t mess around, they got on with it, did a very very good job for all of us. They had a very good understanding or feeling of the car so bloody good job from the guys up there to help us out today and yet still have a good car race, so they did a good job.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado do Sao Paulo) Jenson, it’s important to hear your point of view about the incident with Alonso and Hamilton.
JB: It is but I need to speak to the stewards first. I will be going to see the stewards after this so I think it’s best if I wait until I see them before I give an opinion.
Q: (Mark Shalhoub – CJAD 80DRadio) Jenson, did you feel like you had a bullseye on your car out there with those two incidents or was it just circumstance?
JB: No, I think there were lots of incidents today. It’s a very very slippery circuit here, especially with the wet tyres, the first time that we’ve driven here in the wet for many years; I think 2003 was the last time. It’s a very very slippery surface here, and a lot of people were finding it difficult to judge braking and also it’s impossible to see in your mirrors when it’s wet. I think there were incidents that you don’t like to see, obviously, but sometimes it just happens.
Q: (Michael Schmidt – Auto, Motor und Sport) Jenson, how much of a help was it that you had this big wing on and why did you benefit more in the dry at the end? You would think it was a bigger benefit in the wet.
JB: I don’t personally think that we had a big wing on, compared to other people. I think that we have a very good car mechanically, which works in these conditions, but I personally don’t feel that we had a big wing on compared to other people. I think that some other people have got a more efficient DRS system in qualifying spec, but in race spec I think our rear wing is more efficient than theirs because that’s the trade-off you have with the rear wings, with the DRS system. But as I said, mechanically our car is very good and we proved that in Monaco and we see that again here, especially when there’s low grip on the circuit.
Q: (Dominic Fugere – Rue Frontenac) Jenson, we heard someone on your channel saying ‘alright, let’s go, we’ve gotta go win this race.’ Was that you, somebody in the pits?
JB: It was Dave, Dave my engineer, Dave Robson, Comedy Dave – we’ve stolen that (name) from Radio One in England. Yeah, it’s the first race we’ve won together, because last year we weren’t working… well, he was actually working with me but as the second engineer, the data engineer, so this is the first race we’ve won together as chief engineer on my car. So yeah, a tough day for him, with all the different calls and what have you. He was obviously very hyped up. I wasn’t going to say that on the radio. I don’t say that until I’m across the finish line. It was nice for him to say and I think it was just to rev me up a little bit, not that I really needed it in the race today.
Q: (Pino Azzurro – Corriere Italiano Montreal) Jenson, you won a fantastic race, how would you rate this win among all your wins?
JB: The most action I’ve had in a Grand Prix, probably, and come away with a win. My first Grand Prix win was pretty special as it always would be and it was a very similar situation with the weather but I would personally say this – I’m going to say that because I’m emotionally attached to this win because it’s just happened – but I would say this race is the best one I’ve had in my career.
Q: (Pino Azzurro – Corriere Italiano Montreal) Sebastian, in the last five laps of the race, Jenson was gaining a second and a half on you. You gave us the impression that you were basically saving your tyres or your car. Any issues with the tyres at all?
SV: No issues. As I said earlier, as I touched on, after the safety car I probably wasn’t aggressive enough because to me initially, there was no need. As it turned out, I would have been much better off. After that, when I saw Jenson behind, I kept him fairly close and yes, he was very quick, I’m not saying that, but it wasn’t a second per lap any more. I think it was then within a couple of tenths. It would have been very close but with the mistake I made, it was not.
Q: (Jeff Pappone Globe and Mail) Jenson, you mentioned earlier you’re going to enjoy this moment and then see what happens; how concerned are you about the meeting with the stewards later?
JB: I’m not concerned at all because personally I don’t feel that I’ve done anything wrong. I’m not concerned but you never know what the outcome is going to be.
Q: (Mattias Brunner – Speedweek) For the Red Bull drivers, how was KERS this afternoon?
MW: One and off.
SV: Yes, it was in the car. On and off.