MONTREAL • Lewis Hamilton dedicating his win to Muhammad Ali was certainly a heartfelt tribute after he took his fifth victory at the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday.
But there was greater resonance for the season as a whole, as his performance in Montreal has brought to the Formula One world championship all the hallmarks of the champion climbing into the ring and positively demanding his opponent step up to the fight.
A superb run to a win at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in a tense but ultimately perfectly judged race by both the driver and his team makes it two victories on the bounce.
And, having been 43 points in arrears two races ago, Hamilton (107 points) now trails his team-mate Nico Rosberg by only nine, a 34-point swing.
"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. That one was for Muhammad, that one was for Ali," said a jubilant Hamilton, celebrating his 45th career win on team radio.
Yet, his start could not have been further from the champ at his elegant best. Hamilton had yet another poor departure to add to the two he opened the season with in Australia and Bahrain and was overtaken by Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who had burst past up the inside into Turn 1.
The British driver, suffering from understeer and with the tyres yet to come up to temperature, was holding his line through the corner when he banged wheels with Rosberg, who was attempting to go round the outside, forcing the German wide and off and ultimately costing him places in the race.
It was reminiscent of the US Grand Prix last year when Hamilton again gave his team-mate no quarter at the opening corner.
"Sebastian had a great start. I had a decent one and Lewis had a really bad one," Rosberg said.
The incident could have been much worse and a repeat of Spain's clash, where the two took one another out, would have incurred the intense displeasure of their team.
Rosberg made an impressive recovery drive to claim fifth place but will be perturbed at where his lead has gone, possibly his confidence and at the fact that his chief rival for the title is back to his uncompromising best and eager for more.
Vettel's early lead was ultimately not enough when his team opted for a two-stop strategy, gambling that Hamilton's one stop would leave him vulnerable at the end.
He offered one of F1's more exotic excuses by saying he had lost time by saving two seagulls from being flattened by his Ferrari.
"I think it was a couple that wanted to commit suicide," the German said with a smile.
Williams' commitment to a design philosophy of maximising their car for high-speed circuits paid off with their first podium place this season as Valtteri Bottas took third, but it remains Mercedes who have the complete package.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS