Hamilton fends off Vettel to clinch Canadian GP victory

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Lewis Hamilton stormed to his fifth Canadian Grand Prix victory on Sunday after fending off Sebastian Vettel in a race-long fight at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Pole-sitter Hamilton lost the lead to Vettel at the start, but perfected a one-stop strategy to defeat the two-stopping Ferrari driver by five seconds.

The result saw Hamilton cut Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg’s drivers’ championship lead to nine points after the German driver could only finish fifth, fighting back from an off-track excursion at the start.

From third on the grid, Vettel made a rocket getaway to sweep into the lead at the first corner as Hamilton focused on Rosberg in the sister Mercedes. Refusing to give up second position, Hamilton squeezed Rosberg onto the grass, causing the German to drop all the way down to P10 by the end of the first lap.

Vettel managed to forge a one-second lead over Hamilton in the early stages, but the Briton soon found his feet and began to reel the Ferrari driver back in. Further back, Rosberg’s fightback got underway at the expense of Fernando Alonso, but he was not able to close on Hulkenberg in eighth as quickly as he would have liked.

The race was neutralized behind the Virtual Safety Car on lap 10 when Jenson Button suffered an engine failure, forcing him to park his car up at the side of the track. Ferrari took advantage of this to bring Vettel into the pits and switch him to the super-soft tire, meaning he only lost 11 seconds through the pits as opposed to the usual 16. However, the move did commit Vettel to a two-stop strategy, and with Hamilton now in clean air, Mercedes now appeared to be in control the race.

Vettel soon put his super-soft tires to good use, quickly catching the Red Bull pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Verstappen was given the call to not hold Ricciardo up, but did enough to keep his teammate at an arm’s length. Vettel was able to ease past them both before Red Bull brought its drivers in, switching them to the soft tire that would last them to the end of the race.

Hamilton was the last driver who started on ultra-soft tires to pit, coming in at the end of lap 24 after seeing his lead over Vettel dwindle to just five seconds. He emerged in clear air in second place, 13 seconds down on Vettel at the front but safe in the knowledge his rival had one more stop to make.

In the race to complete the podium, Ricciardo found himself losing more ground on Verstappen after making the switch to soft tires. The Australian emerged from the pits behind Kimi Raikkonen – who was on an identical strategy to Vettel – and struggled to pass him, allowing Verstappen to escape up the road.

Ferrari had hoped that Vettel would build a gap over Hamilton before making his required second stop, but soon saw his advantage falling. Hamilton was able to produce a set of fastest laps as Vettel’s super-softs began to wear, allowing him to cut the gap to less than 10 seconds. Ferrari eventually admitted defeat, bringing Vettel in at the end of lap 37 for soft tires. The German emerged from the pits six seconds behind Hamilton and with 32 laps to catch him.

Vettel soon began to carve into Hamilton’s lead at the front, reducing it to around six seconds. The two drivers exchanged fastest lap times as the gap swung back and forth as teams began to grow concerned about the life of their soft tires. Red Bull moved both of its drivers onto two-stop strategies, while even Sergio Perez was unable to make his super-softs last to the end as planned. Would Hamilton be able to make his tires last to the end?

Rosberg’s difficult day took another turn for the worse when he suffered a slow puncture on his right-rear tire with 20 laps to go, forcing Mercedes to bring him in for a second time. The German emerged back out in seventh place with soft tires, leaving the race for P3 to Bottas and Verstappen, the latter now running on ultra-soft tires again.

Hamilton and Vettel’s battle had raged on all the while, the gap dropping to just 4.4 seconds. However, a mistake from Vettel on lap 56 saw him run wide at the final chicane, causing the gap to open up to almost six seconds once again with 14 laps to go.

Hamilton was able to manage the gap in the closing stages before crossing the line five seconds clear of Vettel to secure his fifth victory in Canada and the 45th of his F1 career.

Vettel was left to settle for second place after what was arguably Ferrari’s best performance of the season so far, perhaps ruing the decision to commit to a two-stop strategy early on and give up track position to Hamilton. Nevertheless, it was a sign that Ferrari can compete with Mercedes.

Valtteri Bottas did enough to score Williams’ first podium finish of the season, continuing his impressive record at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Verstappen put up a feisty defence in the closing stages to keep a charging Rosberg back, securing P4 for Red Bull. Rosberg had closed on the penultimate lap, only to spin at the final chicane, blowing his chances of getting ahead and leaving his championship lead at just nine points heading to Baku.

Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo were both left disappointed in P6 and P7 respectively, failing to match the pace of their teammates despite running identical strategies. Force India picked up another double-points finish as Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez finished eighth and 10th respectively, the duo split by Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr.

Following Button’s retirement, Fernando Alonso was the sole McLaren to finish in P11 despite requesting to retire with a handful of laps to go. Daniil Kvyat followed in P12 for Toro Rosso ahead of the Haas duo of Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean, both of whom finished two laps down.

Marcus Ericsson had a quiet race en route to 15th for Sauber ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Pascal Wehrlein, while Felipe Nasr and Rio Haryanto were the last classified finishers in P18 and P19 respectively.

NHRA: Steve Torrence’s 2nd Top Fuel title was emotional roller coaster day

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There’s no question Steve Torrence is a proud Texan. When he’s not strapping on his racing helmet, the Kilgore, Texas resident proudly wears a black cowboy hat and shiny boots practically everywhere he goes.

It’s just part of who one of the Lone Star State’s favorite sons is.

Torrence also has a great deal to be proud of after winning his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in Sunday’s NHRA season-ending national event at Pomona, California.

In doing so, he joins seven of the biggest names in drag racing history to win back-to-back titles: Don Garlits, Joe Amato, the late Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon and Antron Brown.

Torrence followed up last season’s 11 wins – including being the first driver to win all six Countdown to the Championship playoff races – with nine wins in 2019, giving him 36 career wins and 55 final round appearances in his career.

But as he was interviewed shortly after he clinched the championship — even though he lost in the semifinal round of eliminations — instead of being effusive and ecstatic, Torrence was also uncharacteristically somewhat solemn and melancholy at the same time.

After publicly thanking his team – “the best in the business,” as Torrence frequently says – he also quickly paid tribute to a young man from Texas by the name of Brandon Seegers, who was tragically killed in an ATV accident last week (the young man in glasses is pictured in the tweet below).

Torrence wanted the world to know who Brandon was, calling him one of Torrence Racing’s biggest fans. It wasn’t lip service. Brandon – a 15-year-old freshman football player at Carthage (Texas) High School – truly was one of Torrence’s biggest supporters. He’ll be buried Tuesday.

Torrence also paid tribute to Brandon’s parents. The young man’s father has worked 30 years for Capco Contractors Inc., an oil and gas company owned by Torrence’s family. In a sense, because of their close relationship, Brandon and his parents are extended members of the Torrence family.

“This is for the Seegers family, who lost their little boy the Wednesday of last week,” Torrence said. “He was the biggest Capco fan there was. We’re taking the championship trophy home to him. We’re going to give it to all the Capco guys and his family.”

Admit it, when was the last time you heard someone in sports win a championship and then dedicate that effort to a young fan who was tragically killed just a few days earlier in an accident.

But that’s the kind of guy Torrence is, one of the classiest individuals in motorsports. And if you don’t really know who he is, you should, because you might understand why Torrence is who he is.

At the age of 36, Torrence is not just a survivor of the 1,000-foot dragstrips wars from New Hampshire to Seattle to Phoenix to Gainesville and everywhere in-between.

He’s also a survivor of something much more important: Before he was Steve Torrence, two-time NHRA Top Fuel champ, he was Steve Torrence, cancer and heart attack survivor. That kind of thing gives someone a much different perspective than most other individuals.

Torrence knows how fortunate he is to not only be a two-time champion, but more importantly, to be alive to earn and enjoy both of those titles. He came close, really close, to not being here anymore. That’s why Brandon’s death hit Torrence so hard.

He even tried to keep from choking up when he told the crowd about who his young friend Brandon was.

Torrence spent much of the weekend at Pomona thinking about his young fan. It definitely affected Torrence’s mindset and demeanor, especially on Sunday, with the pressure packed championship on the line.

To illustrate how different Torrence acted, he was involved in an incident after the first round that was completely out of character. While he may be one of the most competitive drivers on the NHRA circuit, he’s also normally a very level-headed, calm and cool persona.

Torrence uncharacteristically slapped young opponent and part-time Top Fuel driver Cameron Ferre in the face at the end of the drag strip after they climbed from their race cars following their first round run and exchanged words.

Normally a fan favorite, Torrence was uncharacteristically criticized on social media and was met with a wave of fan boos after the race when he climbed on stage to accept his championship trophy and the big check that came with it. A contrite Torrence eventually issued a public apology to both Ferre and fans, admitting he was wrong. The NHRA is reviewing the incident and still could penalize Torrence.

“Tensions are high,” Torrence told NHRA.com. “There’s a lot of crap going on out there, but there’s still no excuse for me acting that way. I apologize to every fan, all my racing friends and racing rivals. It was a heat-of-the moment reaction on a day when emotions were high, especially in the Capco camp. I talked to Cameron and we’ll just put it behind us and move on.”

Given the championship pressure and what he was enduring emotionally, Sunday may not have been Torrence’s finest moment or best day professionally or personally. But at the same time, he further cemented why he’s on his way to becoming one of the best drivers in Top Fuel history, that he makes mistakes and was man enough to admit when he made one.

He also cares for others and what they go through perhaps more than most because he himself came so close to not being around to enjoy the success he has enjoyed to date – and all the additional success that he’s likely to continue to enjoy for many more years to come.

 

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