A jubilant Lewis Hamilton dedicated his Canadian Grand Prix triumph to boxing great Muhammad Ali in a victory gift-wrapped to him by Ferrari.
Hamilton, who has now won in Montreal on five occasions, secured the 45th victory of his career despite a sluggish start which enabled Sebastian Vettel to take the lead.
But a curious decision from Ferrari to adopt a two-stop strategy enabled Hamilton to seal his second victory in as many races and slash the gap to Nico Rosberg to just nine points after the German finished only fifth.
Rosberg endured another painful afternoon when he was forced on to the grass at turn one of the opening lap after banging wheels with Hamilton. He slipped backed to 10th and then spun on the penultimate lap just moments after passing Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Following Rosberg’s abject in display in Monaco, and his fifth-place finish here, Hamilton has taken 34 points out of his Mercedes team-mate’s championship lead in just two grands prix.
Over the team radio, Hamilton said: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, that was for Ali.”
Later, speaking in the post-race press conference, Hamilton added: “I never really dedicate wins to anyone, but someone who has really inspired me so much in so many respects throughout my whole life is Muhammad Ali. He has passed just recently so I would love to dedicate this win to him and to his family.
“In the last 15 laps, for some reason all I could think of was him, and Rumble in the Jungle. I was driving, thinking of him, thinking he was maybe watching the race. To him, and his family, rest in peace.
“Coming from a family of similar backgrounds, in sense of ethnicity, it was someone to look up to. Obviously in Formula One there was no-one of the same colour as us as a family so it was another athlete for me to look up to.”
Hamilton was joined on the front row at a cloudy and chilly Gilles-Villeneuve Circuit by Rosberg for the first time since their sensational first-lap collision at last month’s Spanish Grand Prix.
But it was the fast-starting Vettel who led into turn one after getting the jump on both Mercedes drivers. Hamilton, not for the first time this year, was particularly sluggish out of the blocks and as he moved to defend second from Rosberg, the Mercedes pair collided just as in Austin last year.
“I got to turn one and I just understeered,” Hamilton explained. “It was very close with me and Nico, but obviously it was not intentional and fortunately none of our cars were damaged.”
Rosberg recovered to fourth before he was forced to pit for a second time after sustaining a puncture. Moves on Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and then the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen promoted Rosberg to fifth before an embarrassing spin with one lap remaining curtailed his progression.