It should have been Lewis Hamilton's day. The young McLaren-Mercedes driver, who claimed his very first Formula 1 victory at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2007, looked poised for a repeat. Indeed, the last-second panache of the young Brit enabled him to dramatically snatch the pole position away from the BMW-Sauber of Robert Kubica.
As the sun rose over Montreal on Sunday, it was beginning to look as though Lewis might be returning to his season-opening form, of which he'd been struggling to chase since.
The Goddess of Speed can be a cruel mistress with an awful sense of irony. She giveth and she taketh away.
Last year at this very circuit it was Robert Kubica who was under her destructive heel, taking his BMW-Sauber airborne after hopping the curb just before the turn 10 hairpin and violently slamming into the wall at more than 200 kph.
Despite the complete destruction of the BMW and the almost sickening scene of Kubica's head lolling around in the cockpit like that of a rag doll, the Polish driver was able to figuratively walk away with only a sprained ankle. It was a testament to Formula 1's commitment to driver and spectator safety, but a result Kubica was reluctant to repeat this time around.
Each stop of the F1 circus is challenging, some more renowned than others. Monaco certainly has a reputation for some of the slowest corners on the calendar and track widths barely adequate for the cars themselves to pass through. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve could be considered the near polar opposite of the famed circuit at Monte Carlo.
The highest speeds of the year are achieved here, and the aerodynamic down force enhancements are kept at a minimum. The flip side is that the hardest braking areas of the year reside here. By race's end, there are nearly 20 sets of destroyed brake systems.
Indeed, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve presents a veritable cornucopia of potential issues, which includes a quickly degrading section of track at the bottom of the hairpin at turn 10.
Just how badly degraded is it? It had corroded so much during qualifying on Saturday that crews had to spend that evening resurfacing the entire corner. With so much margin for error, it's surprising that the results weren't dictated by high-speed physics or a crumbling track, but rather the simplest of driver's errors.
As the race started, Hamilton, Kubica, and Raikkonen were absolutely adamant about not losing any ground in that all-important dash for the first corner. Once there, however, it quickly became all about Lewis Hamilton. The Brit immediately set about crafting himself a beautiful lead, picking up seconds per lap over the blue and red BMW of Robert Kubica.
Kubica, in his own right, found it rather easy to hold off the charging Ferrari of reigning champion Kimi Raikkonen, but couldn't overcome tire pressure woes to properly take the fight up front to the McLaren-Mercedes.
By lap 15 it appeared that Lewis had returned to the form exhibited at Australia at the season opener, when Adrian Sutil's transmission woes caused the Force India to stall out, smoking, after turn 10. With the top drivers still on qualifying fuel, it was an ominous sign to see the safety car make its appearance while Sutil's VJM01 was removed from the track.
For more than three minutes and two laps the safety car lead Lewis, his carefully-crafted lead now nullified, and company around the course. When the safety car finally made its way back into pit lane the top cars dove in after it. Lewis Hamilton, Robert Kubica, Kimi Raikkonen, and Nico Rosberg were among those who made the initial charge for more fuel.
Raikkonen and Kubica were first out, with BMW-Sauber being recognized as the hands-down best team during pit stops, but found that the light at the end of pit lane was lit red. As Lewis Hamilton made his way out of pit lane he failed to see the stopped Ferrari and BMW. The resulting wreck destroyed the rear of Raikkonen's Ferrari and stalled the McLaren-Mercedes of Hamilton.
A split second later saw Rosberg's Williams-Toyota careen into Hamilton. The Goddess of Speed can be a cruel mistress, indeed. In the blink of an eye, Lewis Hamilton's hopes of winning (or even finishing) the Canadian Grand Prix were dashed, and Robert Kubica's were suddenly elevated.
From that point forward Robert Kubica neglected to put a wheel wrong, as BMW-Sauber delivered a driver's clinic. Nick Heidfeld, long thought to be the leading man at BMW but struggling as of late, returned to his previous form of solid and consistent driving. Following the spin of Renault's Fernando Alonso, Quick Nick found absolutely no resistance in helping to secure two spots on the podium for BMW-Sauber's thrilling maiden win.
BMW-Sauber's Director of Motorsports, Dr. Mario Theissen, was quoted in 2006 as outlining 2008 in which to expect the team's first victory. As he, Nick Heidfeld, and Robert Kubica took to the podium, Theissen flashed a smile rarely seen on his mustachioed face, and was visibly shaken as he hefted the Constructors trophy above his head.
It can only be surmised the feeling of not only achieving that which he set out and boldly proclaimed to do, but also that in that moment of victory the best possible result was achieved. A truly epic day for the young team.
Despite BMW-Sauber being the story of the day, one would be remiss in not mentioning the brilliant drive of Red Bull-Renault's David Coulthard. The most senior driver in Formula 1 (he's 37 years old) finally returned to the podium after a long drought of mechanical unreliability and non-fault accidents by climbing up to third place.
And so it was that parc ferme, for the first time, was host to two BMW-Saubers and a Red Bull-Renault. Not to be completely counted out, Ferrari fought back after the demise of Raikkonen, with Felipe Massa handing in a brilliant race. The Brazilian simply outdrove the middle of the pack after a fuel-delivery issue put him at the back.
Following a plethora of replay-worthy moves, including a double-pass at turn 10, and the out-and-out trouncing in the straightaways following, Massa was able to secure a fifth place finish for the Scuderia.
Consequently, both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have been penalized ten places at the coming French Grand Prix for their roles in the pit lane stop light debacle.
Regardless, the day belongs to Robert Kubica, Nick Heidfeld, Dr. Mario Theissen, and the team at BMW-Sauber for their first win in Formula 1. Congratulations.
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