The swaggering ease of the world champion Sebastian Vettel's victory in the Canadian Grand Prix – Red Bull's first success on the North American continent – disguised the fact that this was a highly entertaining race, unfortunately marred by a fatal accident to a track marshal.
The marshal was helping to move Esteban Gutiérrez's stricken car in the closing stages of the race when, while trying to retrieve his dropped radio, he fell under the wheels of a mobile crane. He was transferred by helicopter to the Sacre-Coeur hospital in Montreal for treatment in its traumatology department but the FIA announced on Sunday night that he had died from his injuries.
He is the third marshal to have been killed since 2000. At the Italian Grand Prix that year Paolo Ghislimberti died after being struck by a wheel that flew over the barriers after a first-lap crash. The following season at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix Graham Beveridge was killed when he was struck by a wheel that had flown through a gap in the safety fencing in a collision between Jacques Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher.
Vettel, whose third win of the season and the 29th of his career extended his lead in the championship from 21 to 36 points, took complete control of events from the moment he sprinted away from his pole position. And by the time he made his second pit stop for fresh rubber, with 20 laps left, he was already the out-of-sight winner barring an unlikely breakdown.
But behind him there was enough compelling racing to keep one of Formula One's most sophisticated audiences entertained. Fernando Alonso jumped from sixth on the grid to take second place, overtaking Lewis Hamilton seven laps from the end, and there was also an aggressive drive to eighth place from Felipe Massa as Ferrari put their difficult weekend in Monaco two weeks ago firmly behind them.
Alonso's effort promoted him to second in the championship, overtaking Kimi Raikkonen, now eight points behind the Spaniard. Hamilton tried and failed to get back at Alonso but he at least maintained his weekend supremacy over Nico Rosberg, his team-mate, after being second best in the previous two races.
There was an interesting drive from Force India's Paul di Resta, who unlike most of the other drivers spurned the super-softs at the start of the race and made his harder tyres last to the 56th lap, finishing seventh. His team-mate, Adrian Sutil, also picked up a point in 10th place. And there was a career best sixth place for Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne.
But there was keen disappointment for Raikkonen, who lost ground with ninth place, one ahead of his grid position. A difficult race was further hampered by a messy pit stop when there was a problem with the rear jack. There were also long faces at McLaren, who failed to win a solitary point as they fell further behind fifth-placed Force India in the constructors' championship. Sergio Pérez was 11th, one place ahead of Jenson Button. "This must be rock bottom for McLaren," said the team's former driver and BBC commentator David Coulthard after the race.
There was anti-climax for the Williams driver Valtteri Bottas, too. He started the race a giddy third on the grid but finished 14th, two places ahead of his team-mate, Pastor Maldonado.
The day undoubtedly belonged to Red Bull and it would have been an even happier tale if Mark Webber had not bumped into Caterham's Giedo van der Garde. The damage to Webber's front wing possibly denied him a podium position. It made it a lot easier for Alonso to overtake him.
Alonso said it was nice to compete with "intelligent drivers", a reference to some of the difficulties he had at Monaco. "It was nice to have these battles, a big race with some talented drivers," he said. "Intelligent drivers that you fight wheel-to-wheel with at 320kph and you feel safe. This is real racing so I am very happy to see this back after Monaco, which was a little bit different. This second place has a victory taste because we scored some good points after a difficult weekend."
Hamilton had the look of a man who thought he might have done better. "It has just been a work in progress," he said. "We haven't cured anything. It has been a long period of time since Barcelona where there was big trouble. We still need to improve [the braking] and that is where Fernando was catching me everywhere. He was difficult to keep behind. I tried my best but he was too quick."
At least Hamilton finished well ahead of his former team-mate Button, who said with a shrug: "It was quite painful out there today. We've got a long way to go. I think we proved it didn't matter what we did in terms of strategy. We got easily lapped and it was like we were in a different category. We tried to settle into a pace on the prime tyre in the second stint that was way too slow. We've got to look into why we thought that lap-time was quick enough.We've just got to get our act together and improve."
Meanwhile the teams are expecting next season to begin in Bahrain, possibly as early as 2 March. Besides the introduction of new engines, testing is likely to be moved forward from the start of February to mid-January, with further testing due to take place in the Middle East.
McLaren's team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, said here: "I think you know that the manufacturers and the teams want to start testing a little bit earlier. The idea of having a test in mid-January, probably in Jerez, logistically is straightforward. Then having a gap by which you can respond to the issues and then testing in some warm weather in the Middle East seems to be attractive. And if you're there, starting the season there seems pretty sensible. So I think most people have agreed it and I suspect it's going to be confirmed."
With Russia and New Jersey due to come on board as new venues next year, there could be a record 21 races in 2014.
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