Lewis Hamilton had something on his mind before he was ready to ascend to the top step of the Formula One podium for the second week in a row. So he climbed on top of his car for a little shadow boxing. Then he jumped down to the ground and did the Ali Shuffle.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” he radioed to his crew on Sunday after winning the Canadian Grand Prix for the fifth time, and the second in a row. “That was for Muhammad Ali.”
Continuing Mercedes Formula One dominance, Hamilton took advantage of Sebastian Vettel’s two-pit stop strategy to claim his 45th career F1 win.
Vettel took the early lead with an audacious move at the start, but gave it back for good when the Ferrari went to the pits—for the second time—in lap 37. Hamilton made it through the 70 laps on the 2.71-mile (4.363-km) Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with one stop, finishing in 1 hour, 31 minutes, 5.296 seconds, about 5 seconds ahead of Vettel.
Afterward, Hamilton dedicated the victory to Ali, who died last week, and said he couldn’t stop thinking about the former heavyweight champ—even with 15 laps still to go.
“I never really dedicate wins to anyone, but it’s someone that’s really inspired me so much throughout my life,” Hamilton said. “I was driving, and I was just thinking of him, and thinking maybe he would be watching the race, I don’t know. So that’s to him and his family. Rest in peace.”
With the victory, Hamilton cut Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg’s lead in the championship standings from 24 points to nine, 116-107.
Vettel moved into third in the points race, with 78, and said he doesn’t second-guess the team’s calculation that fresher tires would help him catch Hamilton.
“I will always defend our strategies,” said Vettel, who won here in 2013 on his way to a fourth straight Formula One championship. “That’s a decision we do as a team. Kept in hindsight, it’s always easy.”
Williams’ Valtteri Bottas was third—his best finish of the season and his sixth time collecting points in seven races. Red Bull rookie Max Verstappen, the only non-Mercedes driver to pick up a win this year, was fourth.
Growing up in Britain and setting his sights on a sport that had few black role models, Hamilton said Ali was someone he latched onto as a child. “Obviously, in Formula One, there was no one of the same color as us as a family, so it was another athlete for me to look up to,” he said.
“I think he was just a unique, iconic individual who had a character unlike anyone else’s. And everyone aspired to be like him,” Hamilton said. “I wish I could have spoken with the charisma that he would have, or the comedic side that he had, that confidence that he could carry into a fight and outwit and outsmart his opponents.
Ali was a three-time world heavyweight champion, but Hamilton could claim his fourth Formula One championship if he keeps going like this.
And if his teammate keeps going in the opposite direction.
Rosberg won the first four events of the year to establish a 43-point lead in the standings. But he and Hamilton crashed out in the first lap in Barcelona, two races ago, and Rosberg came in seventh two weeks ago in Monaco. Hamilton’s victory there trimmed the lead from 43 points to 24.
Hamilton and Rosberg, starting 1-2 in the front row, again touched at the start while Vettel squeezed around them both to take the lead. Hamilton said he engaged the clutch and the car didn’t react; Vettel said he “just went for it.”
“I was very (angry) in the moment, but that’s racing. In the end it’s my job to make sure I’m in front after a battle like that next time,” said Rosberg, who came out of the shuffling in 10th. “It was very costly for me because I lost a lot of places, and from then it was an uphill battle trying to fight back.”
Rosberg worked his way back through the field and was in fifth on the penultimate lap when he tried to squeeze past Verstappen on the outside but couldn’t hold it, spinning off the course.
He managed to straighten himself out and maintain his position.
“In the end, it went completely pear-shaped and I spun, but managed to carry it home still,” he said. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was in the paddock before the start, hanging with the Red Bull team. Actor Michael Douglas was at the track as well, conducting the post-race interview from the podium.
Kimi Raikkonen, in the other Ferrari, finished sixth, and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finished seventh a week after a pit stop fiasco cost him an almost-certain victory.
Jenson Button, who won here in 2011 with a last lap pass of Vettel in the rain, lost power on Lap 11 and pulled out of the race. His McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso started 10th and finished 11th, holding on at the end in the hope that he would pick up a point if one of the cars ahead found trouble. “Bluntly, today was a day to forget,” McLaren race director Eric Boullier said.