The Canadian GP thriller F1 loves to celebrate but can no longer replicate

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The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix is widely considered one of Formula 1’s best races, particularly in the modern era.

Held on a rainy afternoon at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, disrupted for the best part of two hours by one downpour of rain, it was an eventful affair decided by a thrilling last-lap pass.

Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel looked in control at the front of the field for much of the day. But Jenson Button, who fell to 21st after a collision with his team mate and a penalty for speeding behind the Safety Car, arrived on his tail and stunningly claimed the win when Vettel slithered wide halfway around the final lap.

It’s no wonder the race is currently ranked eighth among the top 100 F1 races as rated by our readers. F1 loves to showcase it as one of their best, and have highlighted it on social media as part of their build-up to the series’ return to Montreal this weekend.

Report: Button bounces back to snatch last-lap win in Canada
But changes in F1’s rules mean the particular circumstances of this race can not be repeated.

The race started with four laps behind the Safety Car, was neutralised again on lap 20 and then red-flagged on lap 25. It was then suspended for the best part of two hours before restarting. By the time Button made his shock pass to win, more than four hours had passed since the race’s start.

However in 2012 F1 introduced a rule stipulating a four-hour time limit. That rule was tightened in 2021, cutting the maximum duration to three hours.

Under today’s rules, this classic race would look very different. By the time the cars were sent back out to resume the race the clock had already been running for two hours and 50 minutes.

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They were still behind the Safety Car when Vettel crossed the line at the end of lap 30 with three hours and 41 seconds on the clock. Under the current regulations Vettel would have been shown the chequered flag the next time around. The soaked Montreal crowd would have seen 31 laps instead of 70, and just 10 laps of green flag running, and a result which looked like this:

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Button would have had a much less eventful race. Instead of overtaking car after car and winning the race on the final lap, he would have been classified 10th.

Moreover, as today’s F1 rules only give reduced points for shortened races, Button wouldn’t even have added to his points tally:

PositionActual finisherActual pointsFinisher under 2023 rulesPoints under 2023 rules
1Jenson Button25Sebastian Vettel13
2Sebastian Vettel18Kamui Kobayashi10
3Mark Webber15Felipe Massa8
4Michael Schumacher12Nick Heidfeld6
5Vitaly Petrov10Vitaly Petrov5
6Felipe Massa8Paul di Resta4
7Kamui Kobayashi6Mark Webber3
8Jaime Alguersuari4Fernando Alonso2
9Rubens Barrichello2Pedro de la Rosa1
10Sebastien Buemi1Jenson Button0

Faced with the same conditions today, no doubt race control would make more of an effort to restart the race sooner in the hope of getting a few more green flag laps in. But the restrictions presented by the modern rules means it’s doubtful the race would get as far as half-distance, let alone the full 70 laps.

The restriction on how long F1 races may run for exists partly to ensure grands prix do not run on so long light levels begin to fade and visibility becomes too poor. That scenario happened in the Korean Grand Prix the year before Button’s thrilling Canadian GP win.

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Races in Monaco and Japan last year were cut short
However tightening the window to just three hours gives the race director too little flexibility when faced with poor weather conditions. Particularly given the increasing visibility problems F1 cars face in very wet conditions, partly due to the wider tyres introduced in 2017 which throw up greater volumes of water.

Under today’s rules, instead of seeing Button dive past Vettel and create a cherished piece of F1 history, the teams would have been packing up and the fans would have been making their way home.

A similar scenario played out in Monaco last year, where the race ended at the three-hour mark when there was still 14 laps left to run. Race leader Sergio Perez was starting to struggle with his tyres and had a trio of cars looming in his mirrors. Did the rules cost us another memorable F1 moment then? We’ll never know.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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46 comments on “The Canadian GP thriller F1 loves to celebrate but can no longer replicate”

  1. The reason it’s so celebrated nowadays is because on re-watches, all the red flag phases can just be skipped. At the time it was a complete slog saved by the finish.

    1. While I was writing this I wondered what people at the time said in reaction to it and was surprised how positive the reactions were because it was an awfully long suspension:

      Rate the Race: 2011 Canadian Grand Prix

      1. F1 fans are well versed at making the best out of a tedious lot, and hanging on to the few laps or even corners of excitement out of a 2 hour processional slog, so that doesn’t surprise me. Even having said that, however, Button was a thrill to watch during that race, because it wasn’t just his last lap pass which was great, he pulled off some amazing passes on the likes of Mark Webber and others. Equally they’re were lots of “what if” moments all over the field, such as Alonso getting beached, or Hamilton deciding to crush his car between the wall and his teammate, and the camera team actually showed a lot of it for a change. So it wasn’t just the unlikely result, it was a whole race of “didn’t expect that!”.

        1. I was about to comment that I remember this very fondly and the red flag made no difference. However, just out of curiosity, I checked my comments on the “Rate the Race”. It appears I’m just as susceptible to Rose Tinted Glasses as the next guy, as my summary at the time was:

          OK, if your take “the race” to mean the last 30 laps, then I would agree, 10/10 easily, fantastic race to watch.

          But that wasn’t it. I rated it 8/10. This goes to show how great I though the end was, because it could easily have been 0: too many safety cars, a 2 hour red flag, these are not enjoyable.

          It cannot (IMHO) get 10/10 because there was far too much time sat in front of the TV, bored, waiting for something to happen.

          And further down:

          “the fact that after SC everyone almost immediately went for inters just illustrates that”

          Couldn’t have said it better myself.

          If it was safe to go racing on inter’s by then, it was safe on wets a LONG time before.

          I agree with the descision to red flag (most of the track was under water… they are racing cars not submarines!) but starting under the SC and the length of SC after the stoppage was rediculous[sic].

          Thinking back now, I can only remember how good the last 30 laps or so were, not how dull or frustrating the first few hours were.

          1. RandomMallard
            13th June 2023, 15:48

            @drmouse I think, in hindsight, you made an interesting observation with this at the time:

            If it was safe to go racing on inter’s by then, it was safe on wets a LONG time before.

            This still seems to be a source of complaints today, especially over the last couple of years (mainly thinking back to Singapore last year in particular), but mentioning this 12 years ago shows it definitely isn’t a new problem.

          2. The reluctance to allow running in full wet conditions does indeed have a long history. One example is Fuji 2007, where the first quarter of the race ran behind the safety car – Ferrari switched their cars to intermediate tyres even before the safety car was withdrawn (although this was technically against the rules).

            Korea 2010 also gets a mention in the article as a long-delayed race, although the cause of the delays is skipped over – multiple safety car and red flag interruptions in what were barely intermediate conditions, never mind full wet. Apparently there were some concerns over the track surface which prompted an ultra-cautious attitude, but it was not exactly a good moment for F1. Both of these examples predate Canada 2011 and indeed the Pirelli era, which is often cited as the beginning of the end of wet racing.

          3. @red-andy It wasn’t. There was nothing in the 2007 rules that states teams should use Extreme Wet tyres with a safety car start. That’s something FIA race director Whiting simply cooked up on the spot, and then they only informed Ferrari of this after the race had already started. Then he threatened to disqualify Ferrari if they didn’t play along and bring their cars in.

            Had Fernando Alonso not crashed out, that intereference would have cost Räikkönen/Ferrari the title.

      2. I remember sleeping at one point, waking up and thinking “It’s still going on?” It wasn’t boring, just tiring to watch

    2. I loved the red flag! It wasn’t boring at all, the team engineers were building tiny paper boats and racing them down the water in pit lane, and there loads of BTS footage of the teams in the pits, it felt like a rare insight into the teams during a time where there was very little shown.

    3. Indeed, same as Brazil 2016, nice race om the replay, endless waiting when it happened.

    4. This can in part be explained by the peak–end rule, which holds that ‘people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience’.

      The Canadian GP of 2011 was a terrible event on the whole, but it had a great finish.

      And then there’s the fact that Vettel lost the win. In 2011. Lots of people liked that. If the roles had been reversed and Button had lost the win to Vettel then you could probably take a solid point of two from the ratings.

    5. This at the time it was not celebrated at all bar the last few laps, as you said rewatching it you can skip the huge pauses between the racing and that makes it a heck of a lot easier to digest

    6. But these days they throw a red flag or “just” an SC if they’re feeling dangerous for basically anything, which makes exciting races with havoc and unexpected retirements basically impossible, unless Gasly is somehow involved…

  2. I can still remember watching every minute of this one, including all through the stoppages – a rarity given how forgettable almost all F1 ‘races’ are.
    To this day it is still one of the most enjoyable F1 events ever, regardless of the red flags (and in large part, because of them). It had pretty much everything an F1 race should have. It’s a classic because there are so few F1 events of this calibre, sadly.
    Canada 2011 should have become the standard from then on, instead of the exception. F1 hasn’t learned enough from it.

    1. 2012 was an even better season. So, yeah…

      I agree that a much higher percentage of races since 2019 are intensely boring than in that era though.

      1. The first half of 2012 was great – but F1 didn’t learn enough from that either, as noted by the second half of 2012 and most following seasons.
        Now that the teams know every tiny detail about each tyre’s performance and durability characteristics in advance, there is nothing left to learn on race day – the hard way, like they did early in 2012. The interesting and exciting way…

        1. Exactly, that’s why I hate so much practice. It doesn’t reward good drivers or promote good racing.

    2. Also, to paraphrase yourself: “Times change, just accept it even if it’s for the worse…”

      1. Sadly, it’s a necessary motto for life in the modern world.

  3. And yet weirdly F1 has spent the last decade trying to make every race like the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix …

    1. Not anymore with these tyres.

    2. Yes… F1 kind of stumbled on a whole new way for strategists and engineers to control the races after they’d lost their beloved, fun-sucking fuel stops!

  4. I still remember a few things:
    FOM captioning birds in the coverage during the long waits
    Pirelli not fit for the task. Their wets are still useless
    Long waits
    Long SC’s, skipping the wet to inter phase completely.
    DRS killing the battles in the end, mainly due to keeping the SC out so long.
    Button got away very leniently this race for all his scraps and had the SC nullify his problems more than once. He even put his teammate in the wall at the s/f straight.

    1. Button didn’t put his teammate in the wall. He followed the racing line, and his teammate, in a fountain of spray, decided to try and shove his car between the wall and a closing gap, instead of coming out on the right hand side, and making a clean pass. The fact that he immediately went on the radio to blame someone else for his mistake (as he did a few times with other drivers that season) doesn’t make it Button’s fault.

      1. Exactly, Jenson thoroughly trashed his amateurish teammate that year.

      2. Other drivers

        Mostly 2: Felipe, and Massa

  5. While competitive running in the 2011 Canadian GP would’ve been scarce under the present rules, I don’t have an issue with the current absolute maximum three-hour limit.
    Yes, less flexibility for race control in lengthy suspensions, but I assume the cut from four to three for 2021 was about broadcasters so that their programming schedules wouldn’t affect as much.
    Therefore, in this regard, fair enough, not to mention, three is perfectly good as the absolute upper limit.

  6. RandomMallard
    13th June 2023, 15:54

    I can agree with a four-hour time limit, but personally I think 3 hours is too short and it should be raised back up to four. Realistically, if you can’t get enough running in within 4 hours, you probably aren’t going to get it at any point, but three hours can easily be reached with a delayed start and then just a couple of incidents which require some sort of intervention (particularly thinking back to Monaco). And with more and more TV contracts seemingly going to paid dedicated sports channels, surely they could be able to rearrange their schedules to fit races into again?

    I also like the idea of being more flexible with start times to avoid the worst of the weather: Indycar has been doing this for quite a while and it seems to work pretty well. And it’s now easier than ever to communicate changes to the start time to the fans: just put a short post on social media or get sports apps to send out notifications and I’m sure most people will probably catch on pretty quickly.

    1. I agree 100%

      . And, in these days, it’s so easy to find other great diversions to pass the time anyway. Even if you’re stuck at the track, you can pass the time well via just your phone. I can read my books via Kindle app or watch a movie, dumb cat videos on YT, get some paperwork done, etc. Fans who are willing to wait, are happy and if you’re not willing to wait, you can watch it later and you have no justification for complaining.

  7. I luv chicken
    13th June 2023, 16:19

    But,But,But, Have not Pirelli developed these marvellous tires over the last decade, to ensure that the most expensive race cars in the world, can race in any sort of weather?
    I am continually amazed at F1’s wussy approach to precipitation. FIA should ban any communication regarding weather. How many times have we heard: “Drops of rain on my visor. What should I do?” It’s so bad now, that beads of sweat create confusion on team radio. Pull up your socks, slap on that fabulous wet rubber, and lets dance.

    1. To be fair to Pirelli, as stated in a comment above, the wet weather tyres already seemed bad in 2007 when we also had cases of SC’s out until intermediate tyre conditions

  8. Ah yes, that day. Watched the start of the race in my local, jumped on the train for 45 minutes to go and watch Senna, found a pub in quickly see what was happening, then got the train back and watched the end of the race right where I was at the start.

    Chatting to somebody at the circuit a few years ago I was told me that everybody he was with on the day loved it and everybody was absolutely sloshed by the end!

  9. I remember very well i got sick of it and went to do something else.

    I never bothered to watch it. It probably looks exciting on these highlight videos, but to watch it live was a chore.

    Was surprised to see Button winning though, as that season was just like 2023, a season of one driver only.

    I actually like the 2010 race way more, a fun and fast paced dry race, that unfortunately generated the idea of having very bad tyres for the next few seasons.

  10. Oh yes, Canada 2011. The race that was so long, it was shown over two BBC TV channels

    On BBC TV, Brundle & Coulthard doing their best twitcher and weather presenter impressions

    On BBC Radio, Croft (when he was bearable) sending Chandhok out of the commentary box for drinks and snacks

  11. One thing i remember about this race is how it was really the first that made me question the wisdom of DRS as quite a few if Button’s passes were made far too easy as a result of it.

    Michael Schumacher for example had zero opportunity to defend against Jenson and at that point it became obvious Jenson was going to win if he got within DRS range of Vettel because of how powerful it had shown itself to be.

    I don’t think it was here but on another message board i visited at the time where i said that was the first race DRS took some of the fun out of for me.

    1. RB DRS certainly isnt helping spice up this years competition.

  12. And the reason we can’t have another race like the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix is…. The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix.

    As I recall, the hard limit on race time was a result of that race (and a couple others, but that race in particular).

  13. It might be safer but the halo has definitely detracted from the spectacle for me personally.

    1. The halo came in 2018 though, which was a pretty challenging season, and then we had 2021.

  14. The reason I remember the date of my brother’s wedding. JB was one of the best in changeable conditions. Thrilling!

  15. I still have ticks from this GP because of those red flags. It was so awesome even wait for more racing but here in Czech they just turned it off because it was broadcasted on one of the main channells and the show on it has to go on. So I did not see the finnish because of some old stupid movie. What a farce. I had to look for some pirate streams.

    1. @andycz That’s maddening! What was the old film?

      1. @keithcollantine Well it is not a bad movie, but old one and many times repeated… But just because it was not some only for sport channell but one of the most watched channell they could not wait. So sad. To this day :D.

  16. I played a gig that day so couldn’t watch it. I remember finishing, going outside for a smoke and seeing through the window of the pub next door that they were red flagged. “The race shouldn’t have finished by now…” I though.

    Immediately ran back upstairs, packed up and got home just in time for the final 10 or so laps.

  17. Hats off to Liberty for first pushing the start of the European races to 3PM CET and then cutting the duration of Grand Prix to three hours. Way to shoot the F1 to its legs.

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