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GP Week : Issue 120
At four hours and four minutes and 39.537 seconds, Canada ’11 enters the record books as the longest Grand Prix ever. There were seven retirements, rain stopped play for two hours, and the Safety Car made five separate appearances. There was non-stop action up and down the grid, and lap charts were thrown into chaos as the drivers collided, the stewards penalised, and Pirelli’s tyres – wet and dry – proved their worth once more. But the real story came at the front of the pack in the final stages, with a five-way battle for the podium. Sebastian Vettel comfortably led the race for most of the afternoon, controlling the pack behind the Safety Car and getting away cleanly with every restart. But after an essentially error-free season, the current world champion was bound to slip up eventually. And slip up he did, slipping off the dry line on the final lap and allowing Jenson Button to slip past and take the lead with only a few corners remaining. It was a challenging afternoon for the McLaren driver, who was involved in the accidents that led to the retirements of both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso at different points in the afternoon. The Alonso collision forced Button into the pits for fresh rubber, and the Briton returned to the track in P21, last ... But that set-back set the scene for a glorious charge from the back of the pack. The Safety Car came out in the aftermath of Alonso’s retirement, and was on track until the end of lap 40. Racing resumed on lap 41, and in an instant Button had made the most of his fresh rubber and climbed up to P12. The next 10 laps saw chaos throughout the field. The FIA’s timing screens couldn’t keep up with the constant position changes, and Button made the most of his opponents’ decaying rubber, picking them off with ease. By lap 55, the McLaren driver was in P5, behind Vettel, Michael Schumacher, Mark Webber, and Kamui Kobayashi. The front- runners had swapped to slicks, the clock was counting down, there were 15 laps remaining, and the general consensus was that time would be called before all 70 race laps were run. The mood in the paddock was electric – was Schumacher on course for his first post-comeback podium? No. But Button was on fire, posting fastest lap after fastest lap before picking off Kobayashi. The Safety Car came out again on lap 57 and, when it returned to the pits at the end of lap 60, Button was breathing down the neck of Webber in P3. The Australian overshot an overtake on Schumacher into the chicane, immediately returning the position to the Mercedes driver, while keeping the adjacent Button at bay, at least for a few moments. A second chicane ‘moment’ saw Webber hand his position to Button, putting the McLaren driver into P3 and in the position to challenge for the win. With six laps remaining, Button passed Schumacher, and was closing the gap to Vettel at 2s per lap. With two laps to go, the gap between Button and Vettel was under a second, and the McLaren driver was within the DRS activation zone. But half-way round the final lap, Vettel ran wide, sliding off the dry line, allowing Button to pounce for the win. In post-race interviews, Button called the Canadian Grand Prix the best race of his career: “As we always say, its the last lap that counts,” the McLaren driver said. “A great race. To fight my way through from last position... It’s definitely my best race. “Definitely one of those grands prix where you are nowhere and then somewhere. The last one is the important one to be leading and I was leading half of it. “I enjoyed it very much coming through the field; fighting your way through the field is almost as good as winning the race,” Button enthused. “ That feeling of getting one up on someone. A great race for people who are sat here, to be on the podium is a pretty exceptional result and to fight my way through from last position...” Post-race, Button acknowledged that victory would not have been his had race control not enabled DRS. “I wouldn’t have had a chance if we didn’t have DRS here,” he admitted. Reflecting on his afternoon, Vettel rued his excessive caution after the final Safety Car period came to an end. “I could tell Jenson was quicker than us,” the Red Bull driver told the assembled media. “I should have pushed a bit hard to open up a gap after the Safety Car. I was too cautious. “It was a long race, with a long break,” Vettel continued. “All in all, I can be satisfied but at the moment the impression I’ve got is I’m disappointed. To make a mistake on the last lap is not very sweet. I have no problem to admit I went a bit wide, outside the dry line, I got away with second.” Button said he was confident the result would stand while the stewards huddled, watching the footage from his incidents with Hamilton and Alonso. When the news of ‘no action’ was delivered, though, he couldn’t help but grin even wider ... 24