Ambient 26° Track 31° Humidity 31% Wind 8-10 kmh
The evening was dusty and windy, the sky purpled as drivers arranged themselves for the anthem ceremony, staring at the red lights as no doubts their minds were far from the mediocre music that was hurled at their heads. Williams admitted that in the best of all worlds it would be a bit of a lonely race, but it was clear that Lotus had Williams in their site. The floodlights were up and the livery was coming alive in the twilight as the SC headed off for the formation lap. Interesting race on tap as we see if Ferrari has brought it.
Button was out with ERS issue before they headed off and Massa was stranded on the grid, into the pitlane, his race and my GP Predictor done before the lights went out. Sainz unusually gathered a 5 second penalty during the formation lap for having taken too long on his Recce lap, earlier. AS the cars rolled onto the grid, Williams got Massa’s PU fired up and he rolled to pit exit to await the passing of the field, which was unusually delayed as the start lights failed to cooperate with the large red button pressed by Whiting at the start. After a brief pause, on they went and the game was on
The much anticipated Start finally arrived as the lights went out and the pack went racing. Lap 1 was the usual madness, characterized by a lack of Maldonado being crashed out (though there was some banging with Verstappen) and by Rosberg losing P3 to Raikkonen. The first few laps unspooled easily with some good overtakes in the middle of the field and a nice battle between Rosberg and the Ferraris.
By T9 Rosberg had shoved his way in front of both Ferraris, perhaps having watched some video of Verstappen from last weeks race for inspiration, as his favorite move was up the inside into T1, then running his opponent wide on exit. Mercedes looked to be in the catbird seat, but thankfully for the viewers a few laps later Rosberg ran wide and sensing an opportunity, Ferrari jumped on the undercut, lap 14. Mercedes responded next lap by pitting Nico, but it didn’t work and Vettel got the jump and again Rosberg had to pass the German.
The knock on from that was that Rosberg passed Vettel into T1 on lap 16 with the both of them running right up the gearbox of Hamilton, who sounded somewhat less than dispassionate about having his lead erased by the team having boxed Nico first. The other consequence was that Kimi, who had been set to try and overtake Vettel, was left running in front through clean air, having decided to go longer and split strategy, coming in on lap 18 for the Prime Tyre. Immediately, he began turning faster laps than the front 3. Winter was coming, and it liked ice cream.
There was great strategic variety as a whole pack of midfielders had elected to 3 stop, guaranteeing regular overtakes throughout the normally sedate middle stint. Lotus were racy and Bottas was doing a good imitation of Massa, who made decent progress from the back but was suffering in traffic as Sainz in particular was proving both slow and difficult to pass in P10.
The kraken was released lap 30 as Carlos boxed and the FOM app crashed simultaneously, with gremlins apparently being the theme of the day. Raikkonen had whittled Vettel’s advantage down to 4s and immediately after being released, Sainz was out victim of a poorly attached wheel. Merc out front were into fuel management mode so again Vettel decided to shake things up by going for the undercut lap 33, this time on Lewis, and to avoid his charging teammate as well.
Mercedes wasted no time protecting P1 after what happened the first round of stops, but the collateral damage was once again Rosberg, who wound up behind Vettel again as Kimi swanned it through clean air 20 seconds up the road. The battle recommenced and lap 36 saw him retake the spot from Vettel, as Seb had run wide exiting T15, damaging his front wing. That off was particularly costly, as the subsequent stop to replace the wing handed P3 to Kimi.
Maldonado again had some adventures in the pits, this time managing to engage the anti stall as he headed in and wrecking his bid for P7. The team were unequivocal that he was faster than Grosjean and barring that mistake, it was his. They did get him going again and he was to wind up P15 after the dust had settled.
Raikkonen was the last of the sharp end to pit, rocking into the box lap 40 for a pair of Options, about which and extended discussion was had over the radio. In the end, Kimi went with the team’s recommendation and it was a good thing, as he began carving huge chunks of time out of the Mercs. In between, the Toro Rosso of Verstappen took itself out with an electrical fault.
AS the last laps began to unwind several things became clear, not the least of which was that Raikkonen was going to catch Nico before the end of the race. It also became clear that Vettel was not having one of his better races, as despite his best efforts, he just could not get the job done on Bottas.
Between the sharp end and the checkers there was on last group of traffic to be lapped, featuring warring Saubers, Hulkenberg and the lone McHonda of Alonso, Button having departed the track in disgust after not even being able to start the race.
Hamilton encountered the group just after T1 and though he passed them all in a single lap, he reported that his rears were shot after getting by. Rosberg took longer, but it emerged later that he had been nursing a brake issue since the early laps of the race. Last of the trio was Raikkonen, his usual entertaining self when telling the team to get them out of the way. By lap 56 it was Kimi in DRS range of Rosberg but the epic duel was cut short as Nico ran wide braking into T1 as his ailing BBW finally gave up. With 2 laps and 5 seconds, the game seemed to be over, but Lewis reported on the final lap a problem with his BBW (shades of Montreal, perhaps) that saw him tip toeing around but with enough in hand to claim his 3rd victory of the year. Kimi came P2 and the coulda, woulda, shoulda brigade were out in force about the length of his middle stint. Bottas and Vettel come through next, and, not to be outdone by Hamilton’s late brake scare, Ricciardo’s fragile Renault erupted in massive plumes of smoke as he exited the final turn and as he rolled through the start/finish it was making the kind of noise that had most pundits thinking ICE #4 was inevitable.
Grosjean, Perez, Kvyat and Massa rounded out the top 10 leaving Alonso just outside in P11. One of the only two teams not to score at this point (Manor being the other) they also have Maldonado for company as being the only 5 drivers without at least 1 championship point.
Still, overall the race was shaped as much by mistakes and mechanical gremlins as it was by fierce overtaking, though it was nice to see the reappearance of actual racing at the sharp end. With updates for Ferrari on hand, and Mercedes fragility an increasing question, the season is just starting to get interesting.
Hamilton pointed straight ahead this time and at the off he takes T1 ahead of Vettel, who looked to be bottling up Rosberg. Raikkonen takes advantage and sweeps around getting by Rosberg and making the point that Ferrari were here to race. Huge showers of sparks as further back in the mayhem, Maldonado ran wide and Perez and Nasr battled it out. Massa was out of the exit and already making up spots by time the first lap was completed.
Lewis was still in DRS of Vettel as Grosjean was up to P7. Maldonado passed Kvyat for P15 as did Massa. Verstappen offers up he took some damage to his front wing getting round Pastor, but the stewards don’t seem to care.
Lewis has made it out of DRS, but he’s hardly walking away with it. Vettel, Raikkonen and Rosberg all are in DRS range of each other as Maldonado gets investigated for being out of place on grid.
Hamilton starts to edge out his lead as Rosberg take P3 back from Kimi into T1. Raikkonen extends the battle through T4 before Rosberg firmly closed the door and trundled off down the road after Vettel.
Lewis stays 2s up the road as a trio of midfielders, Hulkenberg, Ericsson and Bottas start moving in on Raikkonen.
Ricciardo radios in no real tyre degradation, just a general lack of grip. Hamilton continued to pound out lead as he needed 2+ seconds to avoid the undercut from Vettel. Perez up to Sainz in P10.
5 second penalty for Madonado and Verstappen already in the pits. Perez told on radio Sainz hurting his race. Massa got by Alonso for P13.
Massa up to Nasr now, announcer’s nightmare. Sainz continued to slow everyone down as Rosberg told to manage brakes. Brakes or no, Nico had a go at Vettel through T8 as Hamilton took advantage to get further up the road, and extended his gap north of 4s. Rosberg got DRS on Seb through the final turn and onto the start/finish straight.
Nico completed his move through T1, shoving his way up the inside and rolling out wide. Mercedes told their drivers target was extended while the Ferraris were struggling for grip on the Option.
Raikkonen caught Vettel and blandly informed the team he was faster and planning to overtake Seb.
Hulkenberg called in. Kimi ran Seb close through T1 but not close enough. Nasr was run through pits as well.
Sainz was in as Massa caught up to Ericsson. Lewis pushed his lead out to 6 seconds.
Grosjean in and back out behind Hulkenberg in P11 as Maldonado put in a fast lap.
Vettel dived into the pits for new Options after a minor off by Rosberg put him into range of the undercut. Raikkonen stayed out as Seb emerged P7. Alonso boxed and Grosjean moved up to P9 as he blasted past Hulkenberg.
Mercedes brought Rosberg in to protect against the undercut, but that failed as Nico emerges behind Vettel on track on new Softs. Bottas and Ricardo box as well. Ericsson threaded the ever wide Hulkenberg.
Lap 16 Hamilton brought in as Raikkonen stays out. Rosberg made his move on Vettel just as Lewis emerged from the pit lane and the 3 of them went into T1 at virtually the same moment. Rosberg got by the Ferrari, and Lewis was a bit nonplussed at the evaporation of his hard one gap.
Hamilton got on with the job of extracting time out of his new Options and by the end of the lap was back out of Nico’s DRS.
Raikkonen in for the Prime tyre. different strategies at Ferrari in play. Nico told stint plus 10 for this run. Hamilton lost a bit of time in the pits as that message finally got played by FOM. Brakes were put on his radar as well.
Alonso and Kvyat squabbled over P14, not what either of them likely expected at the beginning of the season. Perez in P13 told to take care of his tyres as he wsa looking at 20 laps. Merhi boxed.
Williams ordered Bottas to have a go at Raikkonen, but they had forgotten to have a look at Kimi’s lap times as the Iceman was by far the fastest runner on track. Manor completed it’s stops by running Stevens in and out.
Massa went P10 with Hulkenberg up the road. Alonso was told he might finally be racing cars at the end. No one took advantage to make a quip.
Mercedes turned up the wick on the previous lap as they stole a couple of tenths from Ferrari. Raikkonen continued reeling in his teammate. Nasr followed Massa through the pack, a situation the commentators could no longer ignore.
Nasr looked to have a go at Massa, peeking up the inside.
Nsar up to Massa through T1 under DRS. Maldonado onto the back of the train headed by Hulkenberg. Rosberg moved to Strat 6 for fuel saving, with option to bail if he started losing time.
Nasr surprises Massa into T11 in a lovely move. Young Max out to have a look for some new ideas. Nasr led the way into the pits, trailed by Massa and Maldonado.
Lap 26 AS the trio emerge it was Pastor at th front with Massa in the middle and inexplicably Nasr at the back. REplay shows difficulty with wheel nut was the culprit. Raikkonen continued catching Vettel as Vettel pedaled backwards from the Mercedes pair. Ericsson in th pits had huge issue that saw him out P17 and his race ruined.
Lap 27 VET wide T11 giving up time to RAI Options not working for him
Maldonado P11 led the 3 stoppers charge back through the field after Alonso, in P10. Raikkonen took 0.5s out of Vettel as the wind finally quieted. Nasr got by Sainz for P14 at the hairpin.
Lap 29Maldonado into P10 as Alonso started rolling down the hill. Hulkenberg accelerated the trend by taking P11 from the rather defenseless looking Alonso.
Kimi 4s back of Vettel told to save some power for the end of race. Rosberg 4s back of Hamilton as Massa got by Alonso for P11 and Verstappen passed his teammate as well.
Lap 31FOM app went boom on my tablet. Sainz was in as Nasr passed Alonso.
Lap 32 Sainz parked it on his outlap, victim of a poorly attached wheel.
Lap 33 Vettel in and out on Mediums into P5. Raikkonen makes the argument that perhaps the team should consider a last stint on Prime tyre.
Lewis in first this time as Merc protect against an undercut by Vettel. Out P3 in front of Seb. Bottas in and out P6 also. Kvyat’s P8 was taken by Maldonado.
Nasr on Hulkenberg, relieved him of P12. Rosberg in and out behind Vettel. Vettel went wide exit of T15 setting Rosberg up.
Not one to waste opportunities, Rosberg took the position from Vettel through T1. Verstappen exited the race with electrical problems.
Vettel back into pits as his off track excursion damaged his front wing, costing him his shot at the podium. Unusually scruffy race from Seb.
Perez, Alonso boxed as Raikkonen settled in to track his podium down.
Alonso unlapped himself from Raikkonen as Hamilton had finally closed the gap.
Hamilton blew past Kimi as Raikkonen took to the pits for his last pair of tyres, the argument apparently settled in favor of Options.
20s for Raikkonen to make up. Ericsson trying to go P14 past Hulkenberg who’s not interested.
Vettel up to Bottas, challenging him for P4. Grosjean looking to get pst Maldonado for P7. Hamilton, having threaded his past the traffic gang of Hulkenberg the 2 Saubers and Alonso radioed in his rears were shot getting through them.
Maldonado messed up another pit entry, somehow kicking in the anti-stall and ruining what the team would later insist was a solid P7. Looked like his race was over, but they managed to get him out P15.
Rosberg up to the traffic gang, radioed in to see if they were pitting. Team told him to start singing Blu Flags, Baby, the new hit song by Sebastian Vettel.
Official call that Roberg was going to be caught by Kimi before the end. Raikkonen still faced the traffic that was hanging up Nico.
10s back, the Iceman was coming as Rosberg cleared the last of the traffic waiting to be lapped. Vettel P5 was firmly trapped by Bottas ahead of him. Massa up to P8 but was running out an insanely long stint.
Rosberg into clear air but damage done as Raikkonen was already up to the traffic gang. Nasr passed Ericsson as Kimi just got on their back.
8.5s to Raikkonen, Rosberg preferred not to know as he informed the team to not bother. Winter was coming, and it liked ice cream.
Perez up to Massa whose tyres were way too old. Williams flipped him to an unfortunately timed 2 stop which resulted in a marathon last stint. Raikkonen firmly ensconced in traffic that plagued Rosberg. His acerbic radio personlaity shone through as he told the team to get them out of the way.
Raikkonen cleared Alonso and was into clean air, chasing Rosberg at 1s a lap.
Hamilton responded to the onslaught of Kimi by knocking nearly 0.5s off his laptime, putting himself beyond reach of the Ferrari. Perez went by Massa for P8. Bottas continued his spirited defense, and Vettel had no answers.
Gap to Rosberg down to 3s as Lewis caught up to Kvyat and prepared to lap him.
Hamilton up to Massa as well as Vettel almost lost his nose on the rear of Bottas’ Williams in T1.
Gap to Rosberg under 2s into T11.
Rosberg approached Kvyat as he and Massa were already dicing into T1. Kvyat took the spot as the blue flags were shown to the duo. It was madness as Kimi wove his way through the pair on his way to track down Rosberg and he lost DRS on Rosberg as a result.
Lap 56 Rosberg’s brakes finally got the better of him as he went wide at T1 essentially handing P2 to Raikkonen, who did not stick around to offer his sympathies.
Lap 57 With 5s in hand Lewis looked a lock but as he entered the final lap his car threw a brake-by-wire fault that had him tip toeing around the circuit. A big moment of anxiety as he approached the final turn but the car survived and it was Lewis P1, Kimi, P2 and Rosberg P3 to complete the podium. Bottas then Vettel followed and it was Ricciardo, invisibly through most of the race who stole the show as his engine most spectacularly self-destructed across the finish line billowing great plumes of smoke.
Enjoy the mini-break and see you for coffee and convo in 3 weeks!