MONTREAL, QUE.: JUNE 9, 2013 -- Red Bull F1 driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany kisses his trophy as he celebrates after finishing first in the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal on Sunday, June 9, 2013. (Dario Ayala / THE GAZETTE)
Photograph by: Dario Ayala, The Gazette
MONTREAL — François Dumontier had every reason to be glowing at 5 p.m. Sunday, another crowd-pleasing Formula One race in the books.
But the president of the Canadian Grand Prix was about the colour of his crisp white shirt, clearly devastated when he met a hastily gathered group of reporters in a press conference room not far from the start/finish line of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
With Dr. Jacques Bouchard, chief medical officer of the race, Dumontier bore news of a terrible accident that, an hour later, would turn tragic with news of the death of a track worker.
How the joyful mood of the 44th Canadian Grand Prix changed so suddenly.
It was not supposed to end in the final few laps with a track worker horribly crushed by a mobile crane that was removing a disabled car from the circuit, the crane’s driver not having seen him slip beneath the wheels as he retrieved a dropped radio.
It was not supposed to end with a man airlifted to Sacré-Coeur Hospital for treatment of massive internal injuries.
Nor with the death of this man, who wasn’t immediately identified Sunday night, a 38-year-old who had spent the day volunteering around the fast cars and racing spectacle he had loved through his decade-long involvement with Montreal’s annual Formula One event.
Racing, everything about the sport tells you, is a dangerous business.
But it is not supposed to be dangerous around vehicles that are moving a few kilometres per hour, out of range of the cars that are travelling a few hundred times that.
This terrible tragedy cast a long shadow over Circuit Gilles Villeneuve Sunday night as crews began tearing down the installations that had transformed Île Notre-Dame into its yearly destination for the global Formula One circus.
It was the first fatality at this track since June 13, 1982, when Riccardo Paletti’s car was involved in a fiery wreck in a starting-grid collision. Paletti died at Royal Victoria Hospital, to where he was airlifted.
And this was the third death of a Formula One track worker since 2000, others losing their lives when struck by airborne wheels in Italy in 2000 and Australia a year later.
Few among drivers, team crews and spectators were aware of the Montreal tragedy when they left the racetrack Sunday afternoon, having watched Red Bull pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel thoroughly dominate a 70-lap race with a surgically precise, entirely convincing, almost mesmerizing victory.
It was the 15th time in the 34 editions of this Grand Prix that the pole-sitter has claimed the win. And remarkably, it was the first victory for Red Bull, which had previously scored only three podiums.
Indeed, it took Vettel five tries before he could finally swig the bubbly Mumm from a Montreal podium’s top step, having finished eighth with Toro Rosso in 2008, then fourth, second and fourth with Red Bull.
Vettel’s champagne of 2011 probably was tasty as arsenic. He bobbled on Turn 6 of the final lap that year to be passed by McLaren Mercedes’ Jenson Button, who raced to the checkered flag 2.709 seconds ahead of his German competitor.
There would be none of that nonsense on Sunday, Vettel in a different time zone than runner-up Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, 14.408 seconds clear to the finish. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton hung on to finish third, a second and a half behind Alonso.
Vettel was two seconds in front after one lap and just kept widening the gap.
Montreal fans devoured every second of it, no matter that many laps were little more than a parade with no float passing another.
Vettel spoke passionately about this race remaining on the calendar beyond next year, when its contract expires with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
Talk of a 10-year extension is, for now, just talk. Vettel, for one, would love to see the contracts signed.
“I think that in terms of atmosphere, the whole city enjoys the Formula One Grand Prix,” he said. “This race belongs 100 per cent to the calendar because I think for all of us drivers, we enjoy a lot seeing grandstands completely sold out, a lot of enthusiastic people, the whole town living the Grand Prix.”
Vettel heard no disagreement from Alonso, the 2006 winner here and third-place finisher in 2010.
“For the Italian people here in Montreal, they support Ferrari all the time, they enjoy Formula One,” he said. “You see the atmosphere in this race is very, very unique, not only here on the track but from the time you land at the airport, you see a very enthusiastic people about this race.
“You put the TV on, they are talking about the (weather) for the Grand Prix. They’re talking about the qualifying, the practice, the shops on the streets are full of flags, Ferrari flags, etc., so it’s very nice to race here.”
There were a few dicey moments on the track, several pieces of carbon-fibre shed when cars kissed in unhappy embrace. The most dramatic incident saw Force India’s Adrian Sutil spin a full 360 degrees in a Lap 6 corner but keep driving, other cars somehow weaving around him.
But once it had paced the field on the formation lap, the safety car was just a very expensive Mercedes with trackside parking, no need to show itself.
Of tremendous excitement was Alonso’s late pass of Hamilton, a three-time winner here, as the two sprinted into the Senna Corner on Lap 62. The Ferrari had leaned all over the McLaren down the long straight before finally getting a run coming out of the final chicane and over the start/finish stretch.
The two cars seemed to graze each other, Hamilton ultimately having to back off just before the left-right turn.
“It was nice to have these battles, a big race with some talented drivers,” Alonso said. “Intelligent drivers that you fight wheel-to-wheel with at 320 km/h and you feel safe.”
The sad irony, of course, of being safe at that speed and not so around a lumbering mobile crane plucking a spent car off the grass.
There were no attendance figures released, as per organizers’ policy of the past few years. When the sun shines through the three-day schedule and the race-day general-admission walk-up is good, 300,000-plus have filled Île Notre-Dame over the weekend.
Rain played a large role in this year’s event with annoyingly steady showers/rain soaking the track on Friday and Saturday and making the preparation of cars difficult, at best.
But once ominous skies broke early Sunday morning, teams were able to mount the supersoft Pirelli tires that provided maximum grip. That was especially useful on what was a “green” racetrack, virtually no rubber laid down from practice and qualifying sessions.
On many counts, as F1 teams chased the moving target of setups and weather, the 44th Canadian Grand Prix was a roaring success.
But Vettel’s wonderful victory will forever be shaded by the spectre of a terrible accident, his marvellous drive on this bright afternoon clouded by the darkness of tragedy at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
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