Hamilton makes hasty exit

DEAN MCNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

MONTREAL -- It was a mistake that only a raw rookie should have made, not a 23-year-old superstar in the making who entered the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix on top of the world championship standings.

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, in what can be described only as a brain cramp, crashed into the rear of Ferrari rival Kimi Raikkonen while exiting pit lane yesterday, just 18 laps into the 70-lap race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

The young Briton's gaffe opened the door for Robert Kubica and BMW/Sauber to claim their first Grand Prix win.

Hamilton, who led the first 17 laps by up to five seconds at one point, was at a loss to explain how he could have missed seeing the red stop light that was flashing at the end of pit lane.

"I don't know really what happened," he said. "I saw the two guys (Raikkonen and Kubica) battling in the pit lane. I saw the red light. But by the time I saw it, it was too late.

"I apologize to Kimi for ruining his race. I would rather neither of us be out."

One has to wonder if such mistakes are Hamilton's Achilles heel, as similar unexplained errors in China and Brazil last season cost him the championship.

It certainly changed the complexion of the race and the championship battle, ending the 1-2 positioning on the track between Hamilton and Raikkonen, who were also 1-2 in the world championship coming into the race.

Hamilton also was hit with a penalty for causing the accident that will see him lose 10 spots on the grid at the next F-1 event, which is the French Grand Prix at Magny Cours.

On the bright side, the race on this picturesque track once again produced a first-time winner in Kubica.

And when his teammate, Nick Heidfeld, brought his car home behind him, it marked the first time since the old Jordan team did it in 1998, that a team posting its maiden win also finished second.

The most popular podium appearance yesterday, however, had to be the third-place finish of veteran Red Bull pilot David Coulthard who, at 37, is F-1's oldest driver.

For Kubica, 23, it was a near-miraculous return to Canada after a spectacular crash here last year when his BMW Sauber hit a concrete barrier at 300 km/h after becoming airborne at the hairpin.

Tears could be seen welling up in his eyes yesterday as the Polish national anthem played before a raceday crowd estimated at more than 110,000.

"It's fantastic day for me, the team, my country and my fans," an emotional Kubica said. "And winning in Canada where I had a big shunt last season makes it even better."

Vaults into first

Kubica's victory also vaulted him into first place in the world championship standings with 42 points, four more than Hamilton and Ferrari's Felipe Massa and it comes after many questioned his place on the team following a lacklustre rookie season in 2007.

"Last year, I struggled a lot," he said. "But I fixed some issues."

Kubica first took the race lead on Lap 43 and never gave it up, managing to hold off challenges from another first-time race leader, Timo Glock, and Heidfeld. His final margin of victory was an astounding 16.495 seconds.

It also marked the first time this season that a car other than a Ferrari or a McLaren has won an F-1 race.


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