MONTREAL (Reuters) - Montreal may have overtaken the glamorous streets of Monaco as Lewis Hamilton’s special race after the McLaren driver celebrated a hat-trick of Canadian Grand Prix victories on Sunday.
Hamilton may not be about to ditch the Union Jack for a Maple Leaf hockey jersey any time soon but the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is feeling more and more like home to the 27-year-old Briton.
The Briton is now only the third Formula One driver to win in Canada three-times, joining seven-time winner Michael Schumacher and Brazilian Nelson Piquet, who climbed to the top of the podium on three occasions.
“The weather, the city, the fans here are absolutely incredible, there are very few places we go to like this throughout the year,” gushed Hamilton after his third win in five visits to Canada.
“I always say Monaco is real special because for the amount of people there but I think that perhaps this place is more special for me,” added the Monaco resident, now the winner of 18 grands prix.
“This place here, my home Grand Prix Silverstone is also very special, but today with so many British flags and Grenadian flags and so many people wearing the caps and shirts the support has been phenomenal,” he added.
The Caribbean island of Grenada was where Hamilton’s paternal grandfather emigrated from to Britain in the 1950s, before eventually returning home to drive a bus at considerably more leisurely speeds.
You always remember your first and the memories came flooding back for Hamilton, who picked up his maiden grand prix victory in 2007 on the island circuit named after Canada’s former Ferrari great.
“What a great feeling, this is where I won my first Grand Prix and I knew today would be a tough, tough race but I loved every single minute of it,” he said after an afternoon where the tyre strategy slotted perfectly into place.
His team principal Martin Whitmarsh could not say the same, spending the closing laps worrying about the decision to call Hamilton in for a second stop in the mistaken belief that those ahead would also have to pit.
“There were times in that race where you wondered have we got it right, are their tyres going to last? All our analysis told us we were doing the right thing but until it unfolds you are never quite sure,” he said.
“Lewis did a fantastic job, the team did a great job to make those calls.”
The big threat proved to be Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, championship leader going into the race, who hounded Hamilton and then led until losing pace late in the race due to worn tyres and finishing fifth.
“I knew Fernando was going to be the one to beat today when he was behind me,” said Hamilton, the 2008 champion.
”I kind of had a feeling Fernando was doing a one stop so I had to make a gap while looking after the tyres. I was able to build a gap and hold it even when Fernando picked his pace up.
“I think I got absolutely everything out of the car today.”
If Hamilton needed any more reason to fan his love affair with Montreal, he needed only to glance at the drivers standings where his name now appears top of the table with 88 points just ahead of Alonso with 86 and Vettel on 85.
”It’s one of the most enjoyable races I have had until now, I was just thinking today to finish at the front as I did in 2007 would be very special to me,“ said Hamilton. ”I couldn’t believe it when I was coming across the line. the feeling inside, it’s like an explosion.
”It’s been five years since I won here the first time but it feels just as good. It feels great to be on the top step, we never take it for granted.
“This for me feels like one of the very best races I have had for a long time.”
Editing by Alan Baldwin