Pressure had been building on Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to get to the chequered flag first if only to break the stranglehold that Mercedes has had on the 2019 Championship.
That he did in Montreal, Canada at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve but it still wasn’t enough for him to claim victory.
The German drove brilliantly in his last run during qualifying on Saturday to pip Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to pole by just 0.206 of a second.
Vettel’s teammate, Charles Leclerc, was third and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, fourth in his best qualifying result this season. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas had a torrid qualifying session and could only manage sixth behind Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly.
Vettel was able to make a clean start and heading to Turn One, it’s Leclerc who immediately attacked Hamilton by taking the inside lane.
Hamilton had the inside of Turn Two, however, and was able to keep the Monegasque at bay.
By the time DRS was allowed, Vettel had opened a gap wide enough not to have Hamilton on his tail.
On the ninth lap, the McLaren of Lando Norris had an overheating issue with the rear right suspension catching fire and in the process, forcing the retirement of the British driver who had, until then, been engaged in battle with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The heat that Norris’ car could not withstand was a precursor to the one that would be generated later in the race.
Before the halfway mark of the race, SportPesa Racing Point’s Lance Stroll, who was racing in his home Grand Prix, had managed to climb up to eighth position from 17th.
Of the leading cars, Vettel was first to head in for a pit stop on the 26th lap. Various permutations had indicated that the fastest way to the chequered flag in Montreal was to have a one-stop race.
Ferrari was not willing to risk the undercut. Mercedes kept Hamilton out and initially, he had an advantage, but it was soon wiped off and instead, it became clear to the team’s engineers that the longer he stayed out, the bigger the advantage that Vettel would have.
Hamilton was well over two seconds behind Vettel after his pit stop. Soon after getting to the mid of the race, he started clawing back and got within DRS range but a lock-up into Turn Ten on the 40th lap and with thirty to go, dropped him out of the range.
On the 48th lap and with Hamilton close behind, Vettel lost the back of his car going into Turn Three, went over the grass and re-joined after Turn Four.
The German blocked Hamilton in the process, with the Mercedes driver forced to brake to avoid a collision. Nine laps later, Vettel was given a five-second penalty for the incident, a decision which infuriated the German.
For him to win the race, he had to put a gap of more than five seconds between him and Hamilton.
Mercedes, however, had the pace to comfortably stay within the five-second range.
With Leclerc on fresher tyres than his teammate, things threatened to go from bad to worse for Vettel as Leclerc was closing in towards the end of the race.
Vettel crossed the chequered flag first, but victory went to Hamilton.
This led to dramatic scenes as first, Vettel failed to drive the car to the designated spot for podium finishers, then refused to take part in the immediate post-race media engagement and went and took the first place position marker in front of Hamilton’s car and placed it on an empty spot where he should have parked his car.
Aside from Vettel’s drama, Lance Stroll was able to finish ninth in a memorable race for him, getting the better of his more experienced teammate, Sergio Perez.
Verstappen yet again proved his mettle by finishing fifth, ahead of both Renaults and his teammate even after starting the race behind them.
The decision by the stewards to penalize Vettel has divided the Formula One community with some taking the opinion that the German was not in a position to control his return to the track.
Ferrari had victory within their grasp only for the penalty to promote Mercedes back on top.
Canada was meant to be Ferrari’s turf but things did not go according to plan for the Scuderia.
Ferrari has signalled its intention to appeal the decision.
What remains clear to all, however, is that Vettel was pressured by Hamilton and in the process, he cracked, making a mistake which eventually led to his loss.
With a third of the season wrapped up, Hamilton has a 29-point lead on his teammate and is 62 ahead of Vettel.