A flawless drive it was

Lewis Hamilton, now top of the drivers' standings, is the first black driver in Formula One, and is tagged as "the Tiger Woods of motorsport".-AP

In a race peppered with dramatic moments with black flags, safety cars and a spectacular crash, the rookie drove serenely on, almost as if he was oblivious to the chaos behind him, writes Paul Weaver.

Lewis Hamilton, with mayhem in his mirrors, continued his remarkable odyssey in Montreal, leading the Canadian Grand Prix from start to finish to take the lead in the World Championship.

In a race peppered with dramatic moments with black flags, safety cars and a spectacular crash involving Robert Kubica's BMW, Hamilton drove serenely on, almost as if he was oblivious to the chaos behind him.

There were whoops of joy at the end of the race and he did a little jig on his car before rushing into the arms of his jubilant McLaren team. But it was not just McLaren who were celebrating his victory. Other teams lined up to applaud the modern wonder of Formula One.

The team principal, Ron Dennis, was fighting back tears when he said: "He's done a great job. I'm so happy for him. I'm disappointed that the safety car was deployed when our other driver needed fuel but nothing can take away from Lewis's first and fantastic victory."

And when Hamilton the rookie had won what was only his sixth race it seemed that he had been teasing us all along. That third in Australia, followed by the seconds in Malaysia, Bahrain, Spain and Monaco, were nothing compared with this.

It was never going to happen for him here, the hoary heads had been saying all week. They had explained that in the sanitised world of modern Formula One, the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve represents something of a rodeo ride. Cars get up to approaching 200mph here and the tough kerbs can fling anyone who lacks precision into the walls. There are 28 gear changes every lap and the combination of high speed and heavy braking have given it the reputation of a car-breaker. This was meant to be the race when the Ferraris would reassert themselves after being outclassed at Monaco. In the qualifying on June 9, though, Hamilton had won the first pole position of his F1 career, putting in a thrilling lap to beat his team-mate and double world champion Fernando Alonso by almost half a second.

Winning pole has been less crucial at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, for only three times since 1997 had the pole-winner won the race — in contrast with the tight streets of Monaco the long straights here provide plenty of overtaking manoeuvres.

But Hamilton's performance in qualifying had been another vivid statement. He had also set the fastest time in the final, disrupted practice hour on June 9 morning, lapping two tenths of a second faster than Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari and four tenths quicker than Alonso.

While Hamilton was error-free in the race, Alonso made a series of mistakes and finished in seventh place. With Felipe Massa black-flagged for coming out of the pits against a red light, it means Hamilton's position in the table, where he has an eight-point lead, looks immensely strong.

He made a fine start from the front of the grid but Alonso went into the first bend too fast and was overtaken by Nick Heidfeld's BMW and the two Ferraris. Hamilton's perfect start was in stark contrast to that of Jenson Button, whose miseries with Honda continued. He never got started: "I just couldn't find the gear, even though I went back into neutral." And David Coulthard pulled out halfway through because of gearbox trouble.

After five laps Hamilton had eased into a lead of 3.2secs and when Heidfeld positioned himself to attack for the lead the British driver turned up his pace by half a second a lap. The most remarkable thing about Hamilton was the consistency of his lapping, always around 1min 16secs, and the rest of the field gradually fell back.

Yet another mistake by Alonso let in Massa to take third place. With the US Grand Prix coming up next (June 17) — not one of the Alonso's favourites — these are troubling times for the Spaniard.

Raikkonen was not the most relaxed driver here either. He was again being outdriven by Massa while Michael Schumacher, attending his third race in succession, looked on. There are rumours circulating that the German is bored and is contemplating a return to driving — which would not be at Massa's expense.

After 17 laps Hamilton had opened up a lead of 11.2secs. His speed dropped into the 1min 17secs mark before he picked it up again. After 22 laps he came in for his first pit stop just before the safety car came out following Adrian Sutil's collision with a wall.

But that incident was trifling alongside what happened to Kubica, who barrel-rolled his BMW after he caught Jarno Trulli's rear wheel and crashed into the wall. It was one of the most spectacular crashes seen in years and he had to be taken out of his car. He suffered a broken leg.

When the green flag restarted the race Hamilton picked up from where he had left off and, with 22 laps remaining, he came in for his second stop to go on to soft tyres. The safety car made four appearances but nothing could stop Hamilton.

The 22-year-old, now top of the drivers' standings, is the first black driver in Formula One, and is tagged as "the Tiger Woods of motorsport".

BEST PREPARED ROOKIE

Lewis Hamilton, in only his sixth Formula One race, won the Canadian Grand Prix and sparked spontaneous pit-lane celebrations that went beyond his McLaren-Mercedes team.

"I'm having a fantastic day, this is historic," the 22-year-old Stevenage-born driver said afterwards. "I was trying to control myself on the last lap. I just wanted to stop the car and jump out.

"I've been ready for this for quite some time, ready for the win — it was just a matter of where and when. I have to dedicate this win to my dad — without him this wouldn't have been possible. I saw him when I was on the podium and could see he had a tear in his eye. It felt very emotional.

"The last few laps were just a case of counting them down and it really was just about enjoying it. It was a fairly simple race. The next dream is to win the World Championship. But we have to be realistic and remember that this is my rookie year."

If Hamilton wins the World Championship, he would be the ninth British driver to do so.

The normally quiet and modest Hamilton whooped with delight as he took the chequered flag and after performing a little dance on top of his car he leapt from it. Two weeks ago in Monaco there was almost a sense of anticlimax when he came second for the fourth race in succession, but in Montreal there was only fulfilment, as he became the first black driver to win a Grand Prix.

He was clearly in the mood to celebrate, even though the United States Grand Prix takes place in Indianapolis on June 17. "There's plenty of time to enjoy it before going to Indy — and we'll obviously go there with great confidence. I've no doubt we can do well there," he said.

Montreal, city of festivals, looked delighted to have another celebration. "The crowd was fantastic," said Hamilton. "And the team has worked very hard for this moment."

There will certainly be celebrations for McLaren team principal, Ron Dennis, who recruited Hamilton to the team's driver development programme in 1998, when he was only 13 years of age.

Dennis said: "It was a text-book race from him. He didn't put a foot wrong. He drove the car faultlessly. He didn't have anything gifted to him. He won the race from start to finish. And that is a special win."

Sir Jackie Stewart, three times world champion, said: "This young man is the best prepared first-year Formula One driver that I've ever seen."

Paul Weaver FAMOUS FIRSTS Juan Manuel Fangio 2nd race (Monaco, 1950)

Drives his Alfa Romeo through the chaos as a wave from the harbour floods the track.

Ayrton Senna 18th (Portuguese, 1985)

Wins from pole in downpour that sends Alain Prost, who becomes his main rival, spinning off.

Michael Schumacher 18th (Belgian, 1992)

Shows what would become a key strength by outdriving his opponents on a rain-sodden track.

Fernando Alonso 30th (Hungarian, 2003)

Becomes youngest-ever Grand Prix winner. Finishes the World Championship sixth.

@ Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007