MONTREAL — Sebastian Vettel is in the company of the great drivers in Formula One history — not just by winning the 2010 world championship, but also by crashing into the legendary “Wall of Champions” at the Canadian Grand Prix.
Vettel had his first practice run at the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit cut short after only eight laps Friday when he lost control on the 14th turn and hit the same wall where F1 champions Jacques Villeneuve, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill also left their marks. Vettel was not hurt; he returned to the track in the afternoon and finished with the second-fastest lap of the day.
“It’s a special circuit here,” Vettel said. “It’s quite rough with all of the curbs and chicanes, but I like it. I had a crash this morning, and some people went off after me. So things can happen quickly here.”
Crashing in the afternoon practice were Kamui Kobayashi, who hit the wall hard after failing to make it through Turn 4, and Jerome D’Ambrosio in the same corner. Adrian Sutil also crashed in the second session, which was stopped twice with red flags.
But Vettel was back out there, trailing only Fernando Alonso for the fastest lap of the day. Alonso ran his best lap at 1 minute, 15.107 seconds, and Vettel was 0.369 seconds behind. In the morning session, it was Nico Rosberg with the fastest time at 1:15.591, with Alonso 0.548 behind him and Michael Schumacher 0.958 seconds back.
The runaway points leader in Formula One this season, with a 143-85 lead over second-place Lewis Hamilton of McLaren, Vettel was trying to navigate a quick right-left chicane — the final turn on the circuit — when he skidded and hit the wall with the right front tire. Debris from his Red Bull car was scattered over the track, bringing practice to a brief halt.
Vettel got out of the car on his own and walked to the safety van. The car was lifted by a crane and removed from the course.
“I lost the rear, but by the time I hit the wall I had low speed, so the crash was quite mild,” said Vettel, who has won five of the first six races on the schedule this year. “There wasn’t much damage, so we could fix the car and get back out this afternoon.”
Mexican driver Sergio Perez, who was hospitalized after crashing during qualifying at Monaco, withdrew from the race and was replaced by Pedro de la Rosa. Perez had been cleared to drive in Montreal after recovering from a concussion and leg injury, but the Sauber F1 team said that Perez “reported feeling unwell” after Friday morning practice and it was decided he should “miss one race on grounds of safety.”
“Of course I wanted to drive, and I had no doubt I was all right,” Perez said. “But apparently this is unfortunately not the case. I am deeply disappointed. I spoke to the team after the session and told them that I’m not 100 percent fit. I only want to drive when I’m 100 percent well. I need some more time to recover.”
Team principal Peter Sauber said the development was a surprise because Perez was checked by the hospital in Monaco, another in Zurich and finally by FIA doctors in Montreal on Thursday.
“Nobody could have foreseen that he would feel unwell,” Sauber said. “Maybe we are being overly cautious, but when it’s about the health of our drivers we take zero risks.”
Hamilton, who has won the Canadian GP two of the last three times, was sixth-fastest in the morning and fourth in the afternoon. Hamilton was in Montreal after avoiding a threatened six-race ban by apologizing to the sport’s governing body and his fellow drivers for a series of outbursts at Monaco on May 29.
Hamilton was given penalties after colliding with Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado as he attempted to pass them on the narrow Monaco circuit. The British driver called his two rivals “ridiculous” and criticized stewards after the race for imposing the penalties.
“I had some time to reflect on my behavior and my weekend and again, (I had) a feeling of it just being a bad day, a bad weekend in the office,” Hamilton said. “So I wrote a letter to the FIA to apologize, and I also spoke to the drivers. I just felt it was necessary to do that, I think it was the right thing for me to do and to be able to put everything behind me.”
Hamilton described himself as a passionate driver along the lines of Villeneuve and Ayrton Senna, but said he would work on keeping his emotions under control.
“I would prefer not to be up at the stewards’ office so often — and trust me, I’m trying my hardest to stay out of there,” Hamilton said. “My whole life, I was always in the headmaster’s office, so I’m used to it. I would just try to improve and learn from the situations that I get myself into.”