Button snatches Canada win from under Vettel’s floorboard

Four safety cars, four hours, and one hell of a race can be taken away from yesterday’s Canadian Grand Prix. The Gilles Villeneuve Circuit is one of my favorite’s on the calendar because of its nature – never failing to deliver an exciting race. Vettel was on pole and the Ferrari pair were in second and third on the grid, having looked strong all weekend. The McLaren’s had struggling in qualifying and simply couldn’t match the pace of the top three. They started 5th and 7th. What was naturally meant to take up two hours of our lives went to double that time with many waved flags along the way.

First off, it was shocking to see the race begin behind the SC. You can argue both ways:

One: These F1 drivers are the greatest in the world and should be able to handle the wet level of the track at the start of the race

Or the other: No matter how great a driver is, it all comes down to visibility. If a driver cannot see out of his helmet and his rear-view mirrors then conditions are unsafe.

Just recently, the GPDA addressed safety concerns to the FIA. They requested that the FIA not wait for an incident to happen before deploying the SC but rather stop such an incident from taking place by deploying it. For that reason, Charlie Whiting, FIA’s Race Director, decided to start under the SC.  Drivers do not fear wet conditions because of grip or the ability to race but rather not being able to see racing lines, standing water, and braking points. When all that disappears, accidents happen. Another reason why the race started under the SC: this is the first time the drivers ran on the full wet Pirelli compound and the first time Pirelli ever had to develop it for F1.

“What is he doing?” Jenson screamed into the radio. Hamilton tried to overtake Button on the pit straight but, because Button couldn’t see well out of the rear mirrors,  the overtake failed and they hit causing Hamilton to retire. If you take a look at the replay, however, you could tell Button knew Hamilton was coming (due to his helmet movement towards the left rear-view mirror). I guess he couldn’t judge how close Hamilton was at certain points. While looking at Hamilton’s car, the rear-tire puncture looked so severe (because the rim had almost come loose) that the damage looked more like suspension damage than anything else. McLaren radioed in to Hamilton with the suspension news and he parked it. As he emerged from the car, he realized it was just a puncture. Strange.

Drive through penalty for Jenson Button for exceeding speed limits under the SC (Hamilton had also exceeded the speed limit but was already out of the race). Jenson took the penalty immediately – the drive through the pit cost him approximately 20 seconds. As he settled in, his intermediate tires were the way to go – he was flying. On lap 17, Button was a full 4 seconds quicker than the leaders. On lap 18, Di Resta on intermediates had set the fastest first sector of the race – obviously evidence that the track was ready for inters and not wets. Do teams choose to gamble with the wet tires for as long as possible and hopefully go straight to slicks? Or go from wet to inters to slicks? The problem with them is that they drop out of the warm temperature window and are incredibly difficult to warm up. On lap 20, the rain hit hard, the SC was deployed, and Alonso and Button both pit onto wets again.

“From Turn 9 to Turn 13, the track is un-drivable,” says Vettel.

The race stood still for an hour and a half shortly after that radio transmission. The race was red flagged on lap 25 due to un-drivable wet conditions and many were confused of the rules and regulations at this point.

According to Article 41.4 (Whilst the race is suspended), ‘neither the race nor the timekeeping system will stop, however, in accordance with Article 5.3 (page 2 of the 2011 F1 Sporting Regulations) the length of the race suspension will be added to the maximum two hour period.’

With two safety car restarts after the red flag, driver’s needed to stay behind the leading car (Vettel) until the first SC line. Once they passed that line, drivers were allowed to pass one another. The first SC line in Canada was the line just before the last chicane onto the start-finish line.

Article 40.7: “…no car may overtake until it has passed the first safety car line for the first time when the safety car is returning to the pits.”

On lap 38, Button and Alonso collided, sending Alonso into a spin and into the barriers. His race was over.

As the final safety car of the day was deployed, Schumacher was sitting in second place. As Vettel restarted, Schumacher tried desperately to keep the distance between them as small as possible. The other problem was Webber’s Redbull behind him. At the beginning of a race, DRS is not activated until the first two laps are completed. The same rule applies for restarts. Good for Schumi, DRS was not activated until two laps in. At the same time, all drivers were on slicks and the racing line was the only dry area suitable for dry tires at that time. Any slight lingering onto the damp areas would be deadly. Because of those factors, Schumi was able to hold Webber off for several laps. In no time, Button caught up and was right up the back of Webber, obviously quicker than the pair of them. It was great to see Schumi defending a second place. It took all his fans back to the day they loved most. He still has the drive in him. It’s the car that is not delivering as it should. Eventually, DRS was activated and Webber attempted to pass. Schu closed on him nicely and at the same time, Webber lost control slightly in the damp area of the track causing Button to take advantage and jump into third. From then on, Button passed Schu quite easily and so did Webber after that. It could have been the wet conditions and the luck Schu had to place him in second, but whatever it was, Schumacher was back, even if it was brief.

With less than ten laps to go, Button caught up to the back of Vettel but couldn’t seem to overtake him. It’s easy to fly with no traffic and clean air in front of you. The moment you end up behind a rival, their dirty air will be the only air you’ll be able to feed into your car. Because of that, Vettel looked set to hold Button off for the win. He had led almost every single lap of the race and with half a lap to go, made an error into a left hand turn. His slight oversteer gifted Button the lead and the victory – possibly his greatest win ever.

Button is now Vettel’s closest rival, trailing him by 61 points.

Next up: Valencia June 26th, 2011.

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