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Canada 2007: Joy of six for Lewis

10 June 2007

Lewis Hamilton overcame all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in what was quite possibly the most dramatic race in Formula One history to claim his debut grand prix victory at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal in only his sixth outing with the McLaren Mercedes team.

Despite four safety car periods, penalties, a massive crash for Robert Kubica and some strange strategies, the outcome may have been determined right at the start, when an error from Fernando Alonso – the Spaniard's second opening lap misdemeanour of the year following his overly ambitious attempt to pass Felipe Massa around the outside in Barcelona last month – saw him skate across the turn one run-off area as he endeavoured to brave it around the outside of team-mate Hamilton.

This not only safeguarded the Briton's advantage, but crucially also let the racy-looking Nick Heidfeld by into second place. The incident, which saw Alonso slither across the grass before rejoining across Hamilton's bows, began a miserable afternoon for the world champion, whose car looked to have suffered underbody damage as it persisted in taking to the scenery at the first turn.

Still, that was better than the fate that befell Jenson Button, whose Honda refused to leave the grid at all, the 27-year old's dreadful luck in 2007 continuing as he became the race's first casualty.

Elsewhere, the main candidates all seemed set to cause themselves maximum difficulty, with Felipe Massa getting the better of Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen into the opening complex of corners, only for the Finn to give the Brazilian a nudge, damaging his front wing. Further back, Mark Webber lost three places at the start, allowing Nico Rosberg into fifth as Raikkonen recovered from his error.

At the end of the opening lap, Hamilton had already stamped both his authority and intent on the race, crossing the line 1.5secs clear of Heidfeld, while Alonso, Massa, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Giancarlo Fisichella, Robert Kubica, Webber and Takuma Sato rounded out the top ten. Christijan Albers started from the pit-lane after suffering gearbox problems, but was not last following Button's problems.

Hamilton's lead grew by roughly a second a lap over the opening tours, with Alonso dropping further back and into the clutches of Massa's Ferrari. Webber, meanwhile, damaged his chances even further with a spin at turn one after ducking under Kubica, dropping to 14th behind Red Bull team-mate David Coulthard before mounting a recovery drive of sorts.

The first incident of what is traditionally a race of attrition befell Scott Speed, the American coming off worst in an optimistic pass on Alex Wurz into turn three. Not quite far enough alongside, the Toro Rosso ran over the right rear of its Williams rival, breaking its front left suspension and taking a chunk out of Wurz's rear wing endplate. Speed managed to get his car to a safe spot, thereby preventing the early appearance of the safety car, but the situation would not remain 'normal' for long.

Heidfeld, thought lighter than his rivals on the grid, was the first to pit for fuel and tyres on lap 20, ceding his early advantage for seventh spot on resumption, and his place as chief pursuer was taken by Massa, who had finally disposed of Alonso for third at turn one the previous lap. Again, the chance came as a result of another Alonso error, the world champion taking to the grass as he struggled with the handling of his McLaren.

Hamilton was next of the frontrunners to make his first stop, coming in two laps after Heidfeld. He received quick service from the efficient McLaren crew, rejoining in fourth, but appeared to have been dealt a bum hand as the safety car made its first appearance of the afternoon almost immediately, Adrian Sutil having planted his Spyker squarely into the wall at turn four and scattering debris across the road.

Alonso and Rosberg took the gamble of pitting at the end of the lap, before the field picked up the pace car, rejoining in seventh and eighth. However, the pair came under immediate investigation as it was alleged that they had contravened this year's new safety car rules, a necessity caused by being nearly out of fuel.

The pit-lane officially opened two laps later, once the field was stacked up behind the Mercedes pace car, and leader Massa took full advantage ducking in for his stop. Such was the pace of Ferrari's turnaround that the Brazilian and others were ready to rejoin before the snake had cleared turn one, with Massa and Fisichella appearing to pass the red light at the end of the pit-lane in their haste. Behind them, Kubica underlined their error by waiting for the all clear, precipitating a scramble down the exit road as the queue behind attempted to sort itself out.

The Pole was instrumental in the next turn of events, and not in a nice way as he barrel-rolled his way out of turn nine as the field raced towards the chicane on its first flying lap after the restart. Quicker than Jarno Trulli's Toyota into the quick left-hand kink, the BMW appeared to break its wing on the back of the red-and-white machine, leaving Kubica with insufficient downforce to make the turn. Hitting a bump on the grass, he was airborne by the time he hit the retaining wall - fortunately low enough to avoid clearing it and meeting those exiting the hairpin - rebounding into the pack before contact with tarmac launched him into a roll. The BMW continued its trajectory towards the outside wall before ending up on its side in the run-off area at turn ten.

The safety team was on the scene almost immediately, but took its time to assess the damage before removing Kubica from a still-intact safety cell. The trip to the medical centre was a short one, the unit being based at the hairpin, and initial reports suggest that the driver is lucid but suffering a broken leg.

With debris having been scattered over a wide area - and having already caused more than a few drivers problems as they negotiated flying parts - the safety car was a necessity for the next six laps, before Hamilton again leapt out to a big lead, The Briton had tailgated the Mercedes down the back straight and was already 1.9secs clear of Heidfeld as he crossed the line to complete the controlled period on lap 33.

McLaren's young protégé now headed Heidfeld, Alonso, Rosberg, Anthony Davidson, Ralf Schumacher, Webber, Massa, Fisichella and Sato in the top ten - the leading Super Aguri and Toyota yet to have stopped - but the order was about to be shaken up by the first wave of penalties as Alonso and Rosberg finally took their stop-go punishments, which had been confirmed but not permitted during the safety car period. The pair dropped to 15th and 17th respectively as a result.

Davidson's strong run came to an abrupt end as he pitted to find that his crew was not ready for him, probably the result of the Briton having decided to make his way to the stall after locking up at the chicane and running into the pit-lane. He dropped to the rear of the now 17-car field, following David Coulthard's gearbox-induced retirement.

Wile Alonso embarked on a recovery drive that would see him working his way rapidly through the midfield runners, Rosberg blunted his points challenge further by indulging in a spot of synchronised spinning with Jarno Trulli, having dived inside the Toyota into turn one. Both resumed, but the Williams star was badly delayed as he fished for first.

Alonso returned to the top ten on lap 40, passing the hobbled Wurz, but was a long way from being a threat to his team-mate, who was again building a comfortable advantage out front. Heidfeld continued to give chase, from Webber - who had used solid tactics to recover from his early spin - Massa, Fisichella, Sato, Raikkonen, Kovalainen, Albers and Alonso, the field still mixed up by wildly differing strategies.

Heidfeld and Hamilton again started the second round of stops a lap apart, but the Briton already had enough in hand over third-placed Webber to rejoin in front of the field, seemingly setting sail for the run to the flag, despite having to run the less competitive softer tyres for the last 22 laps.

By the time that Albers ripped the nose from his Spyker at turn eight, Alonso was up with old rival Raikkonen, but an error just as the safety car was being readied cost him the chance to pass the Finn before the pace was reduced again. Desperate to make up ground and limit the damage his team-mate looked set to inflict in terms of points, the world champion hit the kerb at eight and then had to negotiate the Albers debris from an awkward line, allowing Kimi to escape.

Sato pitted for the final time under the safety car, giving up a points position - and then appeared to have lost all hope of adding to his Barcelona score when the Super Aguri team again erred, stopping the Japanese driver from leaving despite being ready.

It was only now that the crimes committed by Massa and Fisichella at the first round of stops came under investigation, and if Ferrari and Renault thought they had escaped censure, they were to be proved wrong. And the penalty was hard for, instead of drive-thrus or the like, both drivers received instant black flags, removing two points candidates at a stroke.

The safety car allowed Alonso to close again on Raikkonen, and the pair chose to pit at the same time. The race then came down to their respective crews, with Alonso getting marginally the better service and beating his rival back on track, now into the final scoring position. Webber, however, threw away his chances of opening an account for 2007 by not pitting until the safety car came in, dropping him from second to the wilderness outside the top ten.

With 16 laps to run, Hamilton held the upper hand over Heidfeld, with Rubens Barrichello and Wurz next up, neither having made a second stop. Tonio Liuzzi, Trulli and Kovalainen headed Alonso, but the field was about to be brought under control once more, this time as Liuzzi caught Champions' Wall on lap 55. Before the Mercedes was deployed, however, one of those running its racing powerplants was in trouble, Alonso spinning again at turn one, allowing both Raikkonen and Ralf Schumacher past.

Trulli, having pitted, added to the retirement list by finding the wall at pit exit while attempting to catch the back of the train, but was the last to drop out, leaving the rest to battle it out to the flag.

Hamilton was again away and gone and, with Barrichello giving up Honda's first points with an essential second stop, Heidfeld was coming under pressure from Wurz, the Williams driver still overcoming the damage to his rear wing. Many believed the Austrian to also need a splash-and-dash, but Wurz proved them all wrong, tailing Heidfeld into the final stages.

Alonso limited his hit by passing Schumacher for sixth, but both were to come under pressure from a fired-up Sato, who claimed the German's seventh place on lap 63 and then homed in on Alonso. Although the world champion made it hard for the Super Aguri star, he did not resist in the braking zone, allowing Sato to sweep around the outside and into the team's best finishing position.

Out front, however, it was more serene, with Hamilton cruising to a victory that has been coming since he made his debut in Australia three months ago. The Briton had claimed that his maiden pole was 'better than sex', so the win will feel particularly special.


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