MONTREAL: Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s duel has turned this season’s title race into one of the most keenly-anticipated - and most difficult to forecast - in decades.
Not since the heyday of Hamilton’s childhood hero Ayrton Senna’s intense rivalry with his McLaren team-mate Alain Prost nearly 30 years ago has a battle for glory so comprehensively captured the imagination.
Hamilton and Vettel’s razor-sharp competitiveness has lifted performance levels to such a high that veteran paddock observers were left stunned at the Canadian Grand Prix.
London bookmakers have also reflected the close nature of this phenomenal scrap and on Monday installed the pair as joint favourites to win the drivers’ championship at 10/11, Hamilton’s odds having been cut from 6/4 thanks to his masterful triumph at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff admitted to feeling “great” after seeing how Hamilton had inspired his team to claim a one-two triumph - their first this year – that erased the lingering feelings from last month’s dismal showing at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Valtteri Bottas followed Hamilton home ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, of Red Bull.
The Australian’s team-mate Max Verstappen was forced to retire due to electrical problems after snatching second with an aggressive start that saw him brush with the luckless Vettel, who was forced to make a belated early pit stop for a new front wing.
He came home fourth after a surging drive.
Hamilton’s victory, built on an equally outstanding ‘Senna-esque’ lap for his 65th pole position on Saturday, lifted him to within 12 points of Vettel in the drivers’ championship while Mercedes regained the lead in the constructors’ contest, eight points ahead of Ferrari.
“We have finally taken a 1-2 finish and done so at a track that we expected would be difficult for us - and which certainly was for us last year,” said Wolff.
“Lewis delivered a stellar performance this weekend – a pole lap that was almost scary, when you watch the on-board, then a totally dominant race.
“Valtteri struggled in qualifying, but he got everything right in the race to complete a perfect day.”
Wolff praised the entire Mercedes team both in Montreal and back at their factory in Brackley, in England, where staff worked tirelessly in a 24/7 effort to solve the problems that had enabled Ferrari to outclass them and score a 1-2 in Monte Carlo where Hamilton was seventh.
“Ever since Monaco, the guys and girls in the factory have been flat out,” he said. “We ran the simulator 24/7 for 10 days in a row. Nobody took a weekend off in that group and there are no silver bullets in the sport.
Hamilton, too, was full of gratitude for the team effort and behaved, in Montreal, in a manner that endorsed the view that he has developed into a team-orientated driver, rather than a ‘lone wolf’, to more than fill the vacuum created by the retirement of 2016 champion German Nico Rosberg.
“This is the time to keep our feet on the ground, keep working hard and take it one race at a time,” added Wolff.
“We saw some encouraging signs, but we need to work in just the same way to translate them into more success in Baku.”
His reference to the upcoming race in Aberzaijan, where Hamilton endured a nightmare weekend last year, should keep Mercedes’ men focused ahead of another challenge where Vettel and Ferrari will hope to bounce back.
“To have come away from Monaco, really with everyone scratching their heads and wanting to work and pull together, and we did....
“In these five years [with Mercedes], I’ve not seen the team pull so well together and work towards the same cause, to understand the car and come here and deliver what we delivered - a great blow to Ferrari.”
For Hamilton, individually, it was a weekend of monumental achievements - his 65th pole with a record lap, his sixth win in Canada and the 56th of his career - and also one that signalled at a depth of raw talent that puts him among a handful of the sport’s greatest drivers of all time. --AFP