Lewis Hamilton wins Canadian Grand Prix in F1
MONTREAL (AP) - New drivers keep showing up on the podium at Formula One races this year. At the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, though, it's the same old names.
Lewis Hamilton won the Canadian Grand Prix for the third time in five races, giving McLaren its fourth win in five tries at the Montreal track. That brought a bit of consistency to a Formula One season that has been anything but so far in 2012.
"It's been five years since I won here the first time, but it feels just as good,'' said Hamilton, who earned his first Formula One victory here in 2007 and won again in '10. "This was one of the most enjoyable races I've had. I couldn't believe it when I was coming across the line. The feeling inside - it was an explosion.''
Hamilton is the seventh winner in seven races this season, an unprecedented string of unpredictability that has upended the championship standings weekly. With his win on Sunday, the McLaren Mercedes driver took a two-point lead in the standings, 88-86 over Fernando Alonso, of Ferrari.
"We've got a win and 25 points, but we've only got a two-point lead,'' Hamilton said. "It's incredible how close it is. I think it will stay that close throughout the year.''
Hamilton finished in 1 hour, 32 minutes, 29.586 seconds Sunday, taking advantage of fresh tires he picked up during a second pit stop while the other contenders only made one. He finished 2.5 seconds ahead of Lotus' Romain Grosjean, with Sauber's Sergio Perez in third.
"I had so much traction with fresh tires,'' Hamilton said. "I wasn't able to do it a one-stop. I think I would have fallen farther back, as they did. I think a two-stop was just right.''
Defending Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull was fourth after scraping a tire against the wall in the 68th lap of the 70-lap race over the 2.71-mile circuit. Alonso, who won in Malaysia and entered the weekend atop the standings, was fifth.
Last year, Vettel won five of the first six races and was in control at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve before a last-lap skid in the rain allowed Jenson Button, Hamilton's teammate, to pass him for the victory. Vettel went on to win 11 races and the Formula One title in 2011.
But this year's championship has had a different winner every week. Never before had there been even six different winners to start the season.
Hamilton thinks he might be seeing the sport's future.
"I think this mix-up is normal. I think this is going to be normal for this season,'' he said. "I think it's great for Formula One. It's great for fans today.''
A year after the longest race in Formula One history - a rain-delayed affair that lasted more than four hours - there was no appearance from the safety car at all. Hamilton, who dropped from first to third when he made his second pit stop in the 50th lap, ran his fastest in Lap 59, soon passed pole-sitter Vettel and went by Alonso two laps later to take the lead.
Grosjean and Perez stayed with him, but they were unable to close the gap with their well-worn tires.
"We went aggressive,'' said Perez, who finished second in Malaysia on March 25. "It's a great boost for the team. Every podium is special, especially when it's only your second podium in Formula One.''
Grosjean had said the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was his favorite track - even though he did not race in Montreal in 2009, his previous Formula One season.
"It's true that on video game it's my favorite track. And looking at it, it's quite interesting,'' he said. "It's more bumpy than on Xbox, sitting on my couch. But it's pretty interesting and when you have a good result in a race normally you quite like it.''
This year's race marked the 30th anniversary of the crash that killed Villeneuve, the local favorite whose success helped create the track that is named after him. Fans wore T-shirts that said, "Salut, Gilles,'' and the car he drove in 1973 took a ceremonial lap before the race.
Across the bridge from the Ile Notre Dame in downtown Montreal, students continued their protests over planned tuition hikes. One anti-capitalist group vowed to disrupt the race by overloading the subway to keep race-goers from the one of Canada's most lucrative tourist events.
Police spokeswoman Anie Lemieux said about 30 people were arrested at the subway stop near the race track as a preventive measure. Others had their bags checked and were turned away if they could not produce a ticket to the race.
On Saturday night, police in riot gear blocked off streets in an attempt to keep the students away from Formula One revelers, who felt a faint sting of pepper spray as they sat on restaurant patios and watched the protests go by.
AP freelancer Phil Couvrette contributed to this report.