Untouchable Vettel cruises to Canadian GP victory

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Sebastian Vettel has won the Canadian Grand Prix in emphatic style, only losing the lead during the first round of pit stops as he eased home to claim his first victory at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve by 13 seconds.

The defending world champion cruised home ahead of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, with the battle between Ferrari and Mercedes being the main source of action in the race. Mark Webber could not maintain his early pace and only finished 4th, whilst Nico Rosberg came home 5th ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne and Paul di Resta, both of whom will be delighted with their results. Kimi Raikkonen’s championship charge continued to falter as he could only finish P9 behind Felipe Massa.

The start saw Vettel hold onto his lead without coming under pressure from Hamilton, but Bottas was the big loser, falling behind Rosberg and Webber with Alonso following at the end of the lap. Kimi Raikkonen also struggled off the start, whilst Giedo van der Garde made up four positions on the first lap. The majority of the field elected to start on the supersoft tire, with di Resta, Grosjean, Bianchi and Chilton opting for mediums. Jean-Eric Vergne became the next driver to pass Bottas, but Adrian Sutil could not follow after making a mistake that saw him spin. Vettel continued to extend his lead at the front until the first round of stops with Hamilton and Rosberg unable to match the pace of the Red Bull. Further back, Pastor Maldonado received a drive-through penalty for an incident involving Sutil, dropping him out of the points.

Some of the drivers tried to make a one-stop strategy work, squeezing the life out of their tires and creating some action in the midfield. Jenson Button lost out to Sutil and Massa whilst Raikkonen was informed that he had to save fuel, pitting to release Vergne into 6th place. Webber continued to pressurize Rosberg, but he could not make it through and was soon fending off Alonso for 4th place. Eventually, with the aid of DRS, Webber and Alonso both passed Rosberg to sit 3rd and 4th respectively, with the Mercedes pitting for fresh tires soon after. Bottas continued to fall backwards, losing out to Perez but he did manage to keep 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen at bay for a few more laps until the Lotus passed under DRS. When lapping van der Garde, Webber made contact with the Caterham which had ignored blue flags, losing part of his front wing endplate in a clumsy incident for which van der Garde received a stop/go penalty. Alonso closed on Webber after the Red Bull made a mistake and passed him for P3 heading into turn one, maintaining his lead over the Red Bull into the second rounds of stops.

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There was no change of position at the front during the pit stops, with Vettel rejoining the race in the lead on the harder compound. Paul di Resta and Romain Grosjean ran deep into the race, optimizing their one stop strategies – something Mercedes failed to do with Hamilton, and he was soon losing time to Alonso in 3rd. After many laps of DRS and some great defence from Hamilton, the Ferrari finally made it through into second place. Hamilton was quick to get back on Alonso’s tail though, but the Mercedes just couldn’t quite find a way past. di Resta finally pitted on lap 57, with Rosberg and Vergne making a third stop to cover the Force India. For Sutil though, his weekend took another turn for the worse after receiving a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags, leaving him with a late battle with the McLarens, eventually finishing 10th. DRS was disabled late on which hindered Hamilton’s charge on Alonso, but Massa was able to make a late move on Raikkonen for 8th.

The win sees Vettel extend his championship lead over Fernando Alonso, and it hands Red Bull their first win in North America since they entered the sport in 2005. Alonso will be pleased to have finished 2nd after starting in 6th, but for Valtteri Bottas, 14th place will be a very disappointing result.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “