SEBASTIAN Vettel’s pit-stop eight laps from the end came too late as the Red Bull racer lost out on a podium finish at the Canadian Grand Prix.
Just a few laps earlier the decision to push to the end of the race on an aged set of tyres looked to be an inspired one as McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton pitted from the lead, falling behind Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari and Vettel, promoting him to second.
However, as the performance of the Pirelli tyres quickly diminished, Hamilton passed the pair in the closing stages to recover the lead and become the seventh different winner this season.
So worn were Vettel’s tyres that he had to make a stop, dropping him down the order. However, Alonso opted to remain out on the track, and the German was eventually able to pass him to finish fourth.
But while the drama unfolded at the front, it was a fairly disappointing race for the other Red Bull as Mark Webber came home an uneventful seventh.
It looked to be a foregone conclusion that Vettel would win the race on Saturday night, as he dominated qualifying to take pole position ahead of Hamilton, Alonso and Webber.
From the start, Vettel led the way, quickly opening up a gap of three seconds to Hamilton as Webber battled with Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes.
Towards the end of the first stint, Hamilton began to haul in Vettel before the German made his first stop.
Hamilton made it out ahead of Vettel after his stop and quickly pulled out a lead, with Alonso slotted in between the two. Webber meanwhile battling in amongst the middle of the pack, with Rosberg, Paul Di Resta in the Force India and Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus
And things looked as though they’d finish like that until Hamilton pitted with 15 laps remaining, expecting the chasing pair to follow suit.
With Vettel now up to second on aging tyres, Hamilton easily closed the 12 second gap and overtook Vettel before mounting a charge for the lead.
With no grip, Vettel opted to change tyres in a bid to give him some much-needed pace in the dying stages. He dropped behind eventual podium finishers Romain Grosjean in the Lotus and Sergio Perez’s Sauber, but his new-found pace allowed him to easily close up to Alonso and pass him into the hairpin to recover fourth place, with Webber coming home in seventh.
Hamilton’s win sees him jump to the top of the standings, but Vettel is still just three points from the summit, with Alonso sandwiched between the pair in second.
Despite losing out on the podium place, Vettel remained defiant after the race and said at the time, the decision to stay out looked the better option.
“At the time Lewis decided to pit, he was in the lead and I think Fernando and myself were a little bit surprised,” Vettel said. “The tyres seemed to hold up fairly well.
“But then all of a sudden they started to go off in the end. Obviously we were hoping to get the place back against Lewis but it was pretty obvious then that there was no way to hold him off so in the end we decided to pit again.
“We lost the podium but I think we made the right decision because at the time we went for the stop we were three or four seconds behind Fernando and we finished ahead so I think we’ve seen how much he was struggling, he had no more traction.
“It was very similar when I decided to pit about three or four laps before that. As I said now it’s easy to know everything, but I think nevertheless it was a very good weekend for us; very consistent and if we keep going in that direction then we can hopefully make another step forward in Valencia.”
On the other side of the garage, Webber said his first stop saw him stuck behind slower cars as he struggled to manage an engine problem.
Webber said: “I knew it was going to be mixed up today, but not that mixed up. In the first ten laps, we had a small issue with the engine which we had to manage, but then I settled into the pace.
“We pitted and came out behind the one stoppers. It’s hard to get it right here - if you push to try and pass you kill the tyres but if you wait, then you find you’re on the same strategy and finish behind them anyway.
“I think ultimately we were quick at times today and it’s good that we finished in the points.
“With hindsight we could have done a different strategy, but it’s easy to say that now and I’ve had worst days than today.”
Red Bull’s advantage in the constructors’ championship was reduced by seven points to 31, but they remain top of the pile ahead of McLaren heading into the European Grand Prix at Valencia in two weeks time.