Kurt Verlin
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2019 Canadian GP: Vettel Victory Stolen by Stewards

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2019 Canadian GP Vettel Squeezes Hamilton
Photo: FORMULA 1 | YouTube

The 2019 Canadian GP was the most exciting race so far in the Formula One season, but perhaps not for the right reasons.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who had managed to stick in on pole with a sublime performance on Saturday, defended the lead from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton almost the entire race.

At first it seemed like a comfortable defense, but after the two drivers had completed their only pit stop and begun the long second stint, it was clear the Mercedes car ran better than the Ferrari on the hard-compound Pirelli tires, and Hamilton began to reel Vettel in.

What ensued was a proper duel between two titans of the sport, in which Vettel did everything he could to hold a slightly quicker car at bay. Both were frequently exploring the limits of grip and occasionally finding they had gone too far, and dramatically, the battle was of some greater significance to the sport as well.

Pit Stop: The best place to get your car serviced

Vettel hadn’t won a race since the 2018 Belgian GP, and Mercedes has so far taken the first-place trophy at every race in 2019. Since losing the Bahrain GP to a reliability issue, this was Ferrari’s best chance at putting a dent in the Mercedes armor.

But on lap 48 of 70, the back of Vettel’s car briefly snapped out of control in the bumpy, unsighted braking zone of the turn 3/4 chicane, forcing him to cut downhill through the grass. This allowed Hamilton to close the gap and get a run between Vettel, who had rejoined the track from the left, and the wall on the right.

However, Vettel placed his car — whether intentionally or unintentionally is not clear — in such a way that the door through which Hamilton intended to drive quickly closed, forcing him to back off to avoid making likely contact with the wall. Vettel had recovered from the small mistake with the skin of his teeth, and it had all happened within four seconds.

Nearly ten laps later, the stewards announced that Vettel would receive a five-second time penalty for making an unsafe re-entry and forcing another driver off the track. So while Vettel was able to hang on to the lead for the rest of the 2019 Canadian GP and passed the checkered flag first, he was nonetheless classified second, giving Hamilton his fifth victory of the season.

The response to this decision was almost unanimously negative. Former drivers and pundits, even the usually pro-Hamilton team at Sky Sports F1, condemned it for being anti-racing. These are, after all, the moments that motivate people to watch motorsports. To see elite drivers push their cars to the limits of speed and adhesion, and see what happens when they push a little too much. People want to see fierce wheel-to-wheel action and moments that make you think it could have all gone wrong if the drivers had been just an inch off.

Hugged The Wall Too Closely? This is where you should go after a collision

To give Vettel a penalty in that moment cheapened the sport at a time when it desperately needed a break from the monotony of Mercedes dominance. The penalty itself wasn’t even consistent with many previous incidents in which the driver ahead forced the driver behind to choose between backing off and crashing or going off-track (something Hamilton himself is very adept at doing) and doesn’t really seem to take into account that the moment Vettel’s rear stepped out, there was really nothing else he could have done bar crash and take Hamilton out with him. One could also argue that a seasoned driver such as Hamilton should have seen that the door was always going to close and taken a different line, or at the very least backed off earlier to avoid putting his car at risk. He may have even had a better shot at taking the lead.

It should be said that what ensued was pure entertainment, perhaps to the extent that the penalty might actually have increased F1 exposure rather than hurt its viewership. Vettel refused to comply with the traditional post-race procedure, skipping the parc fermé interviews and going straight for his garage. He swapped the 1st and 2nd-place signs in front of Hamilton’s Mercedes and his missing Ferrari to the deafening cheer of the crowd, and it’s been reported he would have skipped the podium as well if it weren’t for Ferrari forcing him to attend (the team was fined $1m in 2002 simply for messing with podium procedures).

Besides the drama, the 2019 Canadian GP was a fairly good race. Renault hauled in a nice chunk of points but unfortunately had to resort to team orders to keep Nico Hülkenberg behind Daniel Ricciardo. Stroll did a fine job to get himself into the points from way back on the grid, and Max Verstappen once again completely outshone his teammate. Even in arguably the most boring era in F1 history, Montreal continues to deliver.

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2019 Canadian GP Championship Standings