MONTREAL — Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton didn’t think it was a gamble for his McLaren Mercedes team to start Sunday’s Formula One Canadian Grand Prix on softer option tires.
Few believed him, but at the end of 70 laps at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve it was Hamilton and his McLaren Mercedes team that held all the aces and the giant’s share of the pot from F-1’s only visit to this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
He crossed the finish line a full 2.2 seconds ahead of teammate Jenson Button to give the British-based team a 1-2 result.
Hamilton was 9.2 seconds in front of third-place finisher Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari.
Sebastian Vettel, who before the race had criticized McLaren’s decision to run the Saturday qualifying laps on the option tires, was fourth for Red Bull with teammate Mark Webber rounding out the top five.
To many among the 110,000 sold-out crowd at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, however, it looked early on as if Hamilton had lost his gamble when he pulled into the pits under green flag conditions to change to the harder compound tires after just eight laps.
But as the race wore on Hamilton reeled in first Vettel, then Webber, then Alonso to take control. It marks the second win in Canada for the 25-year-old Hamilton.
The victory also lifted Hamilton to the top of the world championship with 109 points, three ahead of Button and six ahead of Webber, who had held the lead going into the Canadian GP.
Hamilton called his win the toughest of his career.
“It was the toughest race I’ve ever been in,” he said. “We had great pace all the way through but we had to fight traffic all the way as well. So far this season, I would have to say it was the ultimate challenge.”
There was one moment, however, that could have ruined Hamilton’s day. On exiting after his first pit stop, he came close to locking wheels with Alonso.
“On our in-lap to change tires, I was ahead of Alonso but he had some problems and ended up coming out beside him,” he said. “He was in my blind spot, but he managed to race us to the end of pit lane and got out in front of us.”
From that point on, Hamilton said, the race was hard fight for every turn on every lap. But he added, the hard fighting made his win all the more satisfying.
“It has been a tremendous weekend, it has been fantastic,” Hamilton said. “I got here on Wednesday and things have gone so well. I’ve had incredible support from the fans.”
Button, the defending F-1 champion, heaped praise on his younger teammate, calling his race phenomenal.
“This guy (Hamilton) was phenomenal,” Button said. “It is good to finish close to (him) and good to get some points.”
Alonso complained, however, that it was the traffic, and not Hamilton’s faster McLaren Mercedes that cost him the win on Sunday.
“We went from getting 25 points (for the win) to 15 points (for third) because of traffic,” he said. “Ferrari is moving in the right direction but today we kept being held up (by back markers).”
Late in the race — on Lap 62 — the McLaren engineers were urging Hamilton to ease up in order to save his tires, which were beginning to show some severe wear.
But on the very next tour of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve’s 4.61 km loop Hamilton responded with a time of one minute, 18.025 seconds — the fastest lap of the day of any of the 2X starters on the grid.
With three laps to go he had increased his lead over Button to 3.5 second before finally heeding his team’s pleas to lift of the gas, at least a little bit.