Jenson Button won thrilling Canadian Grand Prix with a final lap pass on world champion Sebastian Vettel, the Brit recovering from a series of setbacks to take what was perhaps the finest of his ten grand prix victories to date.

Heavy rain had hit Montreal in the hours leading up to the race, enough to prompt the organisers to get the grand prix running under safety car conditions. Following four laps behind the Mercedes CLK the event finally kicked off with poleman Vettel just holding his lead from a quick-starting Fernando Alonso. A little further back Lewis Hamilton tipped Mark Webber in to a spin at turn one, costing the Brit a few places and dropping the Aussie to near the back of the field.

Photo: Red Bull/Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Out front Vettel immediately began to build a lead, lapping significantly quicker than Alonso, who was himself struggling to contain Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa. Meanwhile Hamilton was trying to re-pass Michael Schumacher, but the German squeezed him approaching the hairpin, dropping him behind the second McLaren of Button.

And that would prove to be disastrous for the Woking-based team. Lewis crept up the inside of Jenson on the pit straight, but the 2009 champ moved to take his normal line and made contact with the sister car. Button suffered enough damage to necessitate a pit stop whilst Hamilton limped in to retirement.

A safety car was deployed, causing Button yet more misery as he was handed a drive-through for speeding under caution conditions. He served his penalty and dropped to 16th.

But having bolted a set of inters to the car during his first stop Button was now flying, passing cars at will as he rapidly progressed through the field. His pace was enough to tempt several others in for inters, Alonso and both Mercedes drivers among them.

Their advantage would be short lived however, with the rain intensifying significantly in the following laps. The safety car was soon deployed for the third time and, on lap 25, the race was red flagged in the hope that the weather would clear.

Photo: Sauber Motorsport AG

At this stage Vettel still led from the Sauber of Kamui Kobayahsi – the Japanese driver yet to make a pitstop – and Massa in the Ferrari. Button meanwhile was languishing in the midfield.

After a delay of almost two hours proceedings finally resumed, again behind the safety car, with the remaining 23 runners all shod with the extreme wet tyres.

Nine laps later racing proper resumed, with Kobayashi doing a heroic job of fighting off Massa. Meanwhile Vettel made the most of having a Sauber behind him and built another comfortable lead.

With conditions improving the majority of the field had soon switched to intermediate tyres. Button meanwhile was in the wars again, colliding with Alonso at turn 3 and tipping the Ferrari on to the kerbs and out of the race. The McLaren was forced to take a sixth pitstop of the day for yet more crash damage, and dropped to the very back of the pack as yet another safety car was deployed.

Racing resumed on lap 41, with Schumacher now the form man. The German had carved through the pack, rolling back the years aboard the Mercedes and demonstrating the wet weather prowess for which he was so revered during his first stint in the sport. Quickly climbing to fourth, Michael was the fastest man in the intermediate conditions and had soon cruised up on the Kobayahsi-Massa battle. As the two Ferrari-powered machines squabbled over P2 Schumacher pounced, passing both in one move to snatch second.

Photo: Mercedes GP Petronas

On lap 51 Webber became the first man to switch to slick tyres, his fellow frontrunners soon following suit. Vettel still led from Schumacher, whilst Massa’s hopes of a podium were wrecked as he hit the wall hard lapping a Hispania car. That the Brazilian was able to return to the pits for repairs and subsequently rejoin the race was an achievement in itself.

A final safety car was deployed with 13 laps to go after Nick Heidfeld clipped Kobayahsi’s rear at turn two. The German’s wing detached and acted as a ramp as he headed down to three, sending him off the track and down the escape road, spreading enough debris across the cirucit to prompt a caution. The order now read Vettel from Schumacher, Webber and Button.

At the final restart Schumacher was under huge pressure from both his pursuers. With DRS now enabled the German was a sitting duck, but Webber was overly ambitious and ended up slithering across the final chicane run-off. That allowed Button in to third and when he made light work of Schumacher it suddenly became clear that the McLaren was also markedly faster than the leading Red Bull. The hunt for victory was on.

Button closed on Vettel rapidly, but as they entered the final lap he still trailed the Red Bull. It seemed the Briton’s only chance would come in the DRS zone as the cars approached the final corner of the race.

But then, under pressure, Vettel cracked, sliding wide half way in to the lap and off running the circuit. Button slipped through to the rapturous applause of his team, keeping the car on track for the remaining half dozen turns to take his first victory since China last year. Vettel took a dejected second place, but one that nonetheless keeps his bid for a second world title firmly on track.

The podium was completed by Webber, who did eventually manage to cruise past Schumacher in the DRS zone. The seven-time champ would later admit to being disappointed with fourth at the flag, but had undoubtedly driven his best race since returning to the sport last season. Vitaly Petrov was fifth for Renault ahead of Massa – who beat Kobayashi in a drag race to the line – with Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso), Rubens Barrichello (Williams) and Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso) completing the points scorers.

Vettel continues to enjoy a healthy 60-point lad in the championship, with Button now his nearest challenger following three successive podium finishes for the McLaren driver. The F1 circus next travels to the Valencia street circuit for the European Grand Prix. A venue not known for its thrilling racing, it will struggle to match Canada for sheer excitement.