Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton won his sixth Grand Prix in Montreal to move within touching distance of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who has led the way throughout the 2017 season thus far.
For followers of Formula One, it seems incredible to think that it has been ten years since Lewis Hamilton stood on the top step of the Montreal podium for his first victory.
One race later saw the emergence of a young Sebastian Vettel, who claimed his first victory in Formula One at the Italian Grand Prix just a year later.
Between the pair of them, they have defined an era and yet have not properly competed against one another, with either one driver enjoying spells of dominance.
That was until this year, with the grip held by Mercedes over the sport loosening in some style by the challenge of a resurgent Ferrari, who have been so close in recent years and yet too far to make a proper challenge to the German outfit.
Finally, these two supremely talented drivers have been able to race each other in relatively equal machinery, with a gripping title battle the result. Before this race, Vettel had won in Australia, Bahrain and Monaco, whilst Hamilton had triumphed in China and Spain.
Poor showings in Russia and Monaco from Hamilton had been uncharacteristic and demonstrated that limitations do exist within Mercedes’ armoury. However, any such fears the team may have had were firmly dispatched in Canada on Sunday.
Away from the pair’s continued battle for what would be a fourth championship for Hamilton – a fifth for Vettel – and everything else this season appears something of a sideshow, with the driver’s Finnish teammates a considerable way away from the top two.
Although Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen have been able to match their peers on occasion, they lack the consistent brilliance of Hamilton and Vettel.
Yet with Vettel suffering damage at turn one, the main act of this championship tussle was not the one promised on Saturday afternoon. In qualifying, the pair had
been a class apart, with Hamilton out displaying one of his finest performances, beating his challenger by over three-tenths of a second and his teammate, Bottas, by seven-tenths.
The display meant that Hamilton had matched his hero, Ayrton Senna, on sixty-five pole positions; a rather apt feat in the circumstances, which was recognised with the gift of an authentic helmet from the Senna family to the visibly moved Brit.
A fierce battle was expected in the race, but such a prospect was eliminated when Vettel pitted early to replace his front wing, damaged by Max Verstappen’s daring sweep into the first corner.
If the Dutchman was lucky not to attain a puncture in the incident, he was less fortunate in losing his second position to a mechanical failure a few laps later, much to his irritation. This retirement led to what could only be considered a procession at the front: Hamilton, peerless in victory, had a comfortable twenty second lead over his teammate Bottas at the chequered flag.
Such was his comfort, he even managed to give the impressive Lance Stroll a thumbs up whilst lapping him. The Canadian managed to move through the field to ninth in his Williams, becoming the first Canadian driver without the surname Villeneuve to score points at the highest level and quelling some fears raised about his readiness for Formula One.
Further down the road, after an outstanding comeback, was Vettel in fourth. Despite an extra stop to replace weary tyres, the Ferrari driver managed to charge through the field. His incredible drive was characterised by a superb lunge past Esteban Ocon in the Force India late on, as he made light work of both the constructor’s drivers in pursuit of Daniel Ricciardo’s final podium spot.
Ocon himself must surely have felt aggrieved to not be standing on the podium with the two Mercedes drivers. Strong pace on older tyres and a good strategy raised hopes of his ‘pink panther’ Force India making the podium, yet teammate Sergio Perez was the one left to ruin the Frenchman’s progress by chasing third place for himself.
However, as Ocon acknowledged post-race, his time will come. A captivating battle for third during the race provided a humorous conclusion at its end, with Sir Patrick Stewart drinking champagne from Ricciardo’s boot during his podium interviews.
But despite Vettel’s best efforts to limit the damage caused early on, it was Hamilton who emerged from this race as the toast of the paddock.
This twisting, turning battle of two giants of the sport returns in two weeks’ time, with the Baku street circuit the centrepiece as Hamilton tries to cut into Vettel’s twelve-point advantage.
Hamilton will want to erase his bad memories of the circuit after a poor performance in the inaugural race there last year. Both, however, will likely take confidence from a weekend that demonstrated the pair as a cut above the rest once again.
Ten years on from the dawn of a new generation in the sport, it looks like the battle fans have always waited for might finally go all the way.