MONTREAL, June 13 (Reuters) - A triumphant return to the circuit where he won his first grand prix three years ago has given Lewis Hamilton renewed confidence in his quest to win a second world championship.
The McLaren driver won Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix with a superb tactical drive under enormous pressure to claim his second straight win of the season and soar to the top of the drivers' title standings in one of the most competitive Formula One seasons in years.
"The team did an exceptional job, it was one of the toughest races so far but that is what you want," said the Briton, who won the world title in 2008 after finishing second the previous year.
"It was an incredibly challenging afternoon, especially in the last 20 laps, when I was trying to look after my tyres while also keeping Jenson (Button) and Fernando (Alonso) behind me."
Hamilton's win was made all the sweeter when his team mate and countryman Button finished second in a repeat of the one-two placings at the last race in Turkey.
Alonso took third for Ferrari while Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were fourth and fifth respectively after setting the pace in the first part of the season.
Red Bull had taken pole position in the first seven races before Hamilton broke the sequence in Montreal but McLaren have opened up a 22 point lead in the constructors championship because of their superior results in the races.
"In terms of pure pace, I still think the Red Bull car is still a little bit faster than ours but, as a whole, I think our package is now stronger," said Hamilton.
"Going forward, we need to build on the progress we've made recently, and we're going to do just that, we'll now knuckle down and make a really big effort to increase that gap.
"We've got good momentum now, so I hope we can continue our winning run through to Valencia in two weeks' time."
The Canadian Grand Prix has always held special memories for Hamilton. He won his first Grand Prix on the testing Montreal street circuit in 2007 and has captured pole position the last three times the race has been held there.
Despite again starting from the front of the grid, Hamilton's race was anything but smooth.
He was under immediate pressure from Vettel and gave up his lead when he made an early pit stop, then almost collided with Alonso as the pair exited the pit lane together.
Alonso, with the inside line, came out in front but Hamilton overtook him a few laps later to regain the lead -- only to relinquish it a second time when he made another stop for fresh rubber.
He took the lead for the third time when Red Bull's Mark Webber had to pit as his tyres lost grip.
Hamilton was then able to nurse his car and hold off his chasing rivals to reach the chequered flag first after an enthralling tussle between five drivers all vying for the championship.
"It's the ultimate challenge I've experienced in F1. There are so many of us pushing right to the wire. I think it will remain close all season," Hamilton said.
"All the best drivers are in the top teams and are all very competitive."
(Editing by Alan Baldwin. To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org) (email@example.com; +1 646-552-9780. Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org; For the sports blog Left Field go to: blogs.reuters.com/sport/))
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