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The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix is described by some as the greatest F1 race of all time, but is Jenson Button’s iconic victory overhyped? Was it as good as we remember?
Formula 1 races in the wet tend to stick in the mind a little more.
Whether it be Ayrton Senna in Monaco 1984, Michael Schumacher Spain 1996, Lewis Hamilton Britain 2008 or Sebastian Vettel in the 2008 Italian GP a wet race in the pouring rain tends to stick the mind as F1 continues to evolve and expand to new corners of the planet.
And perhaps no race is as memorable as the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal won by Jenson Button and lauded by some as the greatest of all 1,065 races, as of the 2022 Azerbaijan GP.
But is the race really as good as we all remember? Was the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix actually a good race or is Button’s win overhyped?
Any race that lasts 4hrs:4m:39.537s, has a last lap pass for the lead with the guy winning it taking six visits through the pit-lane is definitely something out of the ordinary.
As the heavens opened over the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve the race was suspended for over two hours 26 laps in as drivers could not see, even behind the reduced safety car speeds.
But in that time, Button had already blotted his copy book.
On Lap 7, Button moved across on the pit-straight to the pit-wall to follow the racing line – the only problem was that teammate Hamilton was going up the inside at that same moment.
They collided, with Hamilton out through broken suspension and although Button should be given the benefit of the doubt, it was a clumsy bit of driving from the 2009 world champion.
It’s exactly 10 years since the longest F1 race of all time 🗓
Canada was off-the-scale crazy in 2011 🤯
Race winner @JensonButton and @LewisHamilton were team mates back then… 😮💥#F1 #OnThisDay pic.twitter.com/moEKlM4MFP
With a puncture, it was Button’s first visit through the pits.
However under the safety car period was he caught speeding and was handed a drive-through penalty – which had to be served when the race went green – trip number two through the pits.
By Lap 19, Button’s experiment with the intermediate tyres had failed as the rain worsened, meaning he was forced to make a third visit to the pits to switch back to the full wets – just as the safety car was deployed again.
Six laps later, the race was halted for over two hours as parts of the track resembled the Saint Lawrence seaway with Button in P10 during the red flag – during which time he apologised to Hamilton for the contact.
Shortly after the race resumed, Button had his second strike of the race, and if he was innocent in the Hamilton clash, this time he was more at fault.
Fernando Alonso emerged from the pits, having switched to the Intermediate tyres, something Button had done on Lap 36.
As the two champions converged at Turn 3, Button stuck the nose of the McLaren up the inside into a closing Ferrari wedge.
Alonso was spat into the barriers, beaching himself as Button limped around to make his fifth trip through the pits after another puncture.
The McLaren driver was lucky not to receive a penalty for the move – as he fell to the rear of the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix running order, nearly two minutes behind leader Vettel.
Fortunately, a safety car to move the Ferrari was called, wiping out this time deficit – as Button made it P14 within a handful of laps.
The only question now was when the field would make a change to slicks as the track dried.
Button did this on Lap 51, one of the first to make the change.
He emerged P4 well behind Vettel, Schumacher and Mark Webber as the seven-time champion hunted his first podium of his comeback with Mercedes.
Button always one of the fastest drivers in wet/dry conditions began to fly carving chunks of time out of the leading trio.
Fortunately, for him, the Renault of Nick Heidfeld decided to lunch its front wing, allowing Button to close right up. The race was on.
A ballsy overtake on the wet parts of the track out of the final chicane on Webber promoted him to P3 with seven laps of the 63 to go – with Schumacher giving up P2 one tour later.
The stage was set, but this was Sebastian Vettel Button was chasing down for 2011 Canadian Grand Prix victory. The robot who was dominating the 2011 season as the reigning world champion, perhaps destined to one day eclipse the records set by the man now in third place in the silver car back in the days he drove a red one.
For all the pace he had, including setting fastest lap on the penultimate tour, Button was not going to pass Vettel.
Sebastian Vettel did not make mistakes. He was a faultless machine whose code could not compute even the slightest error.
Sebastian Vettel then made a mistake.
At the Turns 6/7 chicane, Vettel dipped a wheel into the wet patch and lost the rear, as a gobsmacked Button drove past.
Vettel had led for all four hours of the race and for 69.5 laps of the race, but unfortunately for him, the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix was 70 laps long.
Button took the win 2.709s clear of Vettel as Webber mugged Schumacher for the final spot on the podium. He would have to wait until the 2012 European GP in Valencia for the only podium of his Mercedes comeback career.
We asked you earlier to pick the best race of the 2010s…
Not surprisingly, Canada 2011 proved pretty popular 🇨🇦
If you want to re-live the whole race from start to finish, it’s available globally with a subscription to F1 TV >> https://t.co/GfmURZVzzz pic.twitter.com/xMmofs7ec5
The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix is a prime example of ‘peak-end theory’.
It is a term that relates to a cognitive bias in the human brain whereby if the end of an event is memorable and unexpected, in the following years, we tend to think the whole thing was exciting and full of drama.
It is questionable if the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix was a good race – with race being defined as the leader’s battling for position.
Vettel simply cleared off whenever he could in the rain, only being pegged back when the safety cars hauled him back.
Button had a scrappy race with six visits through the pits, two collisions, both avoidable, punctures and a penalty for speeding.
That doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for a great race drive.
Button was also lucky that the safety cars were deployed to help him make up lost time and fortunate not to cop another penalty for the Alonso incident.
That being said, when the conditions dried out, he began to fly. He drove the race ahead of him when on the slick tyres, not the one behind him.
As a race, the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix is overhyped, but the question of Button’s race drive is a different story.
It was a mixed bag from the British driver, but when everything was on the line, he delivered a stunning piece of driving to hunt down Vettel.
It’s a good race, but in terms of the greatest ever? Probably not, that goes to the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix.
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