2011 Canadian Grand Prix 

Set your driver a series of impossible challenges to overcome in order to win a race. Six visits to the pit lane. A drive-through penalty. Contact with two drivers (one of whom is your team-mate) that results in the end of their respective races. Having to charge from last place at mid-distance, battling a two-hour mid-race stoppage, several safety car interruptions and a constantly evolving track surface that varied from flooded to near-dry.

Now combine all of those elements into a single 70-lap race, and you’ve survived all of these elements. It’s the final lap of the race, and Sebastian Vettel – winner of five of this year’s six races – is leading the race and set for win number six. Suddenly, he slides wide as he outbrakes himself into Turn 6. You take the gap and the lead of the race for the final half-lap of an epic race. This was Jenson Button’s day, and this is how he won an extraordinary Canadian Grand Prix.

Ever since the Formula 1 circus had arrived at Montreal, rain was always talked of as a possibility for Sunday’s race. Few, however, could have foreseen the drama and excitement that would grip the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve – already holding a great reputation for wheel-to-wheel racing, even in dry weather – in a race that finished over four hours after its 1pm start time.

With showers having soaked the track in the morning, the 24-car field would face the first wet-weather race in Canada in eleven years. Back then, that race saw Michael Schumacher take an excellent win, while others took the opportunity to put in some heroic drives in less-fancied machinery.

The FIA’s race director Charlie Whiting elected to start the race behind the Safety Car, which would land up being the first of five separate occasions that the silver Mercedes-Benz would lead the field.

The Safety Car was a regular feature during the race Lewis Hamilton turns Mark Webber around at Turn 1

After four laps at slow speeds, the race got underway with pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel defending his lead from the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa into Turn 1. Right behind them, Lewis Hamilton tapped the left-rear corner of Mark Webber as he attempted to pass the Australian into Turn 1, tipping the Red Bull into a lazy half-spin that cost Webber a bunch of places.

With Hamilton having been the subject of so much attention from the stewards in the last few rounds, it was almost ironic that he risked being examined again with the race barely ten minutes old. Webber had seen Hamilton coming and given him room at the apex of the corner, but equally Hamilton wasn’t able to control his McLaren’s understeer that led to the barest of touches between the two cars.

Hamilton’s race, however, wouldn’t last much longer. After quickly regaining the few places he had lost after turning Webber around, he closed back onto the tail of team-mate Button and challenged his compatriot as the two drew along the start/finish straight. Button held a conventional racing line – one that arcs across the width of the kinked pit straight towards the pit wall – but he failed to see Hamilton in his mirrors lunging for an ever-smaller gap.

The McLarens collide Hamilton's race was over after colliding with Button

Contact between the pair was as inevitable as it was clumsy and stupid, and Hamilton’s race ended with a broken driveshaft, damaged front wing and a left-rear puncture after he was pushed into the wall, scattering rival team members who were holding out their pit board signs for their drivers.

Button peeled into the pits as the Safety Car was deployed for Hamilton’s car to be picked up and removed from the track, and his afternoon’s woes were seemingly compounded when he was slapped with a drive-through penalty for speeding under Safety Car conditions.

By this stage, conditions seemed to have improved, and a number of drivers took the punt on switching to intermediate tyres, following Button’s move after his unscheduled pit stop. Button had proven particularly quick in the drying conditions, and the likes of Fernando Alonso thought the gamble was worth the risk if it meant getting ahead of race-leader Vettel.

But almost as soon as this round of pit stops had been completed, Mother Nature opened the heavens once again and the Safety Car came out again as those who switched to the intermediate tyres reverted back to full wets.

Others also took the opportunity to take on fresh tyres – including both Red Bulls – and after the latest round of shuffling, Vettel still led, this time with Kamui Kobayashi in second place (the Japanese driver having elected not to stop), and Felipe Massa in third.

With conditions becoming impossible, the race was red-flagged as sections of the track became submerged with the circuit’s poor draining becoming readily apparent. The cars pulled up on the start/finish straight and the track crews set about trying to shift the abundant standing water all over the track.

Cars line up on the grid as the race is red-flagged The big machinery was brought in to clear the standing water

For nearly two hours, the race was held in suspension before the action got underway again behind the Safety Car, which would lead the field until race control declared it safe enough to race at full speed, which is did after nine laps.

Vettel again disappeared into the lead, while Kobayashi fended off the attentions of Massa for second place. Nick Heidfeld, Paul di Resta and Mark Webber completed the top-six.

More drivers peeled into the pits to switch again to intermediate tyres, and after exiting the pits from his stop on Lap 37, Alonso tried to pass Button around the outside of Turn 4. Squeezing Button onto the apex, the pair touched and the contact sent Alonso backwards into the wall and into his first retirement since last year’s Belgian Grand Prix. Button picked up another puncture and limped back to the pits, rejoining in last place.

Alonso was tipped into the wall after being tagged by Button A botched passing attempt on Heidfeld ruined di Resta's race
Alonso was tipped into the wall by Button, while di Resta destroyed his race with this clumsy move on Heidfeld

The Safety Car was out yet again, and the racing resumed on Lap 41. There was again plenty of action and changes in position, including a clash between Heidfeld and di Resta, the Scot having to pit for a new front wing. Heidfeld’s team-mate Vitaly Petrov was given a drive-through penalty moments later for having overtaken while the Safety Car was still on track.

Despite the track still being wet, the FIA elected to allow the use of the DRS for the first time from lap 45 onwards. The top three was continuing to run in good order, while Michael Schumacher had staged a rapid-fire charge to move to the dizzy heights of fourth place.

On lap 51, Webber became the first runner to gamble on a switch to slick tyres, while Schumacher passed both Massa and Kobayashi in a single move to leap into second place. This was vintage driving from Schumacher, who now set himself the task of closing down the ten-second gap to race-leader Vettel.

A lap later than Webber (already posting purple sector times), Schumacher and Massa pitted for slicks, while Vettel and Kobayashi followed suit a lap after that. Vettel rejoined still in the lead, while Massa made another trip to the pits when he broke his front wing, having aquaplaned into the wall on the back straight trying to lap an HRT.

The fifth and final appearance of the Safety Car came a few laps later when Nick Heidfeld wedged his front wing under his tyres and disappeared up the Turn 3 escape road after tagging Kobayashi’s Sauber at Turn 2. Pastor Maldonado also exited stage left after crashing his Williams as he exited the pits.

Racing resumed on Lap 62, and Vettel now found himself briefly being attacked by Schumacher before he started to edge away, while Schumacher found himself under attack from Webber and Button, who had now scythed his way up the field into fourth place.

Michael Schumacher was masterful in the conditions and deserved a podium finish

The next few laps were a testament to why Schumacher is still a master driver, even at the age of 42. Despite being at the wheel of an inferior car, he fended off Webber for a few laps while the Australian took every opportunity to use his DRS to attempt to pass the German.

But the end result was inevitable and a poor justification for why DRS was perhaps ever necessary at the very overtaking-friendly Montreal circuit. Schumacher was a sitting duck and completely defenceless against the much-quicker Webber and Button, and they soon breezed by him with little effort.

Button then quickly nipped by Webber when the Australian missed the final chicane, and he set about chasing down Vettel with five laps to run.

Vettel was able to resist Button’s efforts until the final lap, when he momentarily lost control of his car at Turn 6 and it was all the invitation Button needed to cap off a truly bizarre and entertaining race.

Webber completed the podium, finishing just metres ahead of Schumacher, whose fourth place was scant reward for what was easily his best drive since making his comeback to the sport.

Recovering from his drive-through penalty, Petrov finished an excellent fifth, while Felipe Massa overtook Kamui Kobayashi for sixth on the sprint along the start/finish straight.

Kobayashi could be disappointed to not have achieved a better finish, but it was a case of a few poorly-timed pit stops that ultimately let him down. However, the Japanese driver is proving one of the year’s most consistent performers, racking up his sixth successive points’ finish. Stand-in team-mate Pedro de la Rosa had a quiet race to finish 12th, but expecting any heroics from him in an unfamiliar car would be asking far too much.Jaime Alguersuari finished in the points for the first time in 2011

Both Toro Rossos finished in the points for the first time since the 2009 Australian Grand Prix, with Jaime Alguersuari delivering a measured performance to finish eighth, while team-mate Sébastien Buemi finished tenth. They were split by Rubens Barrichello, who took back-to-back points’ finished in his Williams.

Nico Rosberg finished out of the points after a scrappy weekend, crossing the finish line in 11th minus his front wing. His team-mate Schumacher has now drawn level with him on points this season, and the young German’s cage is starting to look a little rattled after two frustrating weekends.Vitantonio Liuzzi

Vitantonio Liuzzi created waves for Hispania Racing with an outstanding 13th-placed finish that put the HRT team ahead of rivals Virgin Racing in the Constructors’ Championship standings. Team-mate Narain Karthikeyan finished 14th on the road, but was given a post-race time penalty for cutting a chicane and dropped to 17th.

The Virgin Racing team brought plenty of A-list celebrities to this weekend’s event, but this did nothing to turn around the team’s rubbish results, although both cars did make it to the finish.

Team Lotus didn’t enjoy quite that level of success, with Jarno Trulli finishing last on the road after a troubled race, while team-mate Heikki Kovalainen retired mid-race with a driveshaft problem.

After a race which promised much for Force India, the Silverstone-based team suffered an embarrassing double retirement for Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta; the Scot had run as high as fifth before taking a penalty for contact with Nick Heidfeld. He finally crashed at Turn 9 in the late stages of the race, while team-mate Sutil had retired with self-inflicted damage to his VJM03. The team has been bumped down behind Toro Rosso in the Constructors’ Championship, and it needs to do a better job in taking advantage of these rare opportunities to surprise the more-fancied runners.


2011 Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (70 laps):

Driver Team Laps Result
1. Jenson Button GBR Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 70 4:04:39.537
2. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7 70 + 2.709
3. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7 70 + 13.828
4. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02 70 + 14.219
5. Vitaly Petrov RUS Lotus Renault GP R31 70 + 20.395
6. Felipe Massa BRZ Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia 70 + 33.225
7. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30 70 + 33.270
8. Jaime Alguersuari ESP Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6 70 + 35.964
9. Rubens Barrichello BRZ AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33 70 + 45.117
10. Sébastien Buemi SUI Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6 70 + 47.056
11. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02 70 + 50.454
12. Pedro de la Rosa ESP Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30 70 + 63.607
13. Vitantonio Liuzzi ITA HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111 69 1 lap behind
14. Jérôme d’Ambrosio BEL Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth 69 1 lap behind
15. Timo Glock DEU Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth 69 1 lap behind
16. Jarno Trulli ITA Team Lotus – Renault T128 69 1 lap behind
17. Narain Karthikeyan* IND HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111 69 1 lap behind
18. Paul di Resta GBR Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04 66 Accident
DNF. Pastor Maldonado VEN AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33 61 Collision
DNF. Nick Heidfeld DEU Lotus Renault GP R31 55 Accident
DNF. Adrian Sutil DEU Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04 49 Damage
DNF. Fernando Alonso ESP Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia 36 Collision
DNF. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Team Lotus – Renault T128 28 Driveshaft
DNF. Lewis Hamilton GBR Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 7 Accident
  FASTEST LAP        
  Jenson Button GBR Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 69 1:16.956

* Narain Karthikeyan was awarded a 20-second time penalty applied post-race for missing a chicane and gaining an advantage

Click here to view the current Drivers’ and Constructors’ championship standings.

[Images via Formula1, LAT, Sutton Images]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.