By Steve Keating
MONTREAL (Reuters) – Sebastian Vettel capped an emotional weekend for Ferrari with a clinical pole-to-flag win at the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday to retake the lead in the Formula One world championship from Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton by a single point.
The victory was the 50th of the German’s career and left him on 121 points to Hamilton’s 120 after seven races, with the Briton coming home fifth.
In a bizarre ending to the race, and to Vettel’s consternation, the chequered flag was waved a lap early by model Winnie Harlow.
“Tell them not to wave the flag when it’s not done,” the Ferrari driver said over the radio.
The victory put Ferrari back on top in Canada for the first time since seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher claimed the last of his record seven wins on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2004.
Putting Ferrari on pole in Montreal for the first time since 2001 with a track record time, Vettel had powered into the lead and was never challenged as he charged home seven seconds clear of Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas.
It was the German’s third win of the season and second in Canada, the first coming in 2013 with Red Bull.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who dominated much of practice, turned in a mature, error-free effort to take third place and quiet the storm of criticism swirling around him following a string of errors and crashes.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo was fourth for Red Bull, and denied the fastest lap by the early flag waving which meant that did not count.
The timing of Vettel’s win could not have been better, coming on the 40th anniversary of the late Gilles Villeneuve’s victory for the Italian team in 1978 at his home Grand Prix.
“Perfect is probably a good way to describe it. It’s unbelievable. I said yesterday how much this place means to Ferrari and to have a race like we had today is unbelievable,” said Vettel.
“It’s 50 for me but after a long stretch that Ferrari didn’t win here, I saw the people around and they were super happy.”
Jacques Villeneuve, the retired 1997 world champion, had led a parade lap earlier in the day in the Ferrari his late father drove to that victory.
Running against rivals who had upgraded power units, unlike Mercedes, Hamilton was unable to match the pace or rhythm on a circuit he touts as a favourite and where he has won six times including his first in 2007.
It was left to Bottas to chase Vettel, who made a clean getaway from the start, with Verstappen almost passing the Finn before the order settled down.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was sixth, and said it had been a boring race, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz seventh and eighth.
Frenchman Esteban Ocon was ninth for Force India with Monaco’s Charles Leclerc taking the final point for Sauber.
Behind the leaders, there was chaos when Williams’s Canadian Lance Stroll squeezed Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley into the wall.
The Toro Rosso was launched into the air, wrecking both cars.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso chalked up 300 career grands prix but the Spaniard had little to celebrate as the two-time world champion’s day came to an early end, his McLaren coasting to a stop midway through the race with a mechanical failure.
The Spaniard now turns his attentions to the Le Mans 24 Hours race with Toyota next weekend.
(Editing by Ed Osmond/Alan Baldwin/Clare Fallon)