Ambient 23° Track 40° Humidity 51% Wind 2.1 m/s
Yesterday was a day of strange penalties, Hulkenberg got dinged a grid spot for having and here I quote “returned electronically the wronsg set of tyres and used these during Q1”, Force India having included the wrong bar code in their paperwork whilst returning the 2sets after practice. Sainz got hammered for blocking Massa, +3 for him and in GP2, after claiming the last podium spot by the width of a front wing on the last lap, Pierre Gasly was excluded because his fire extinguisher went off in the race and was thus empty at the finish, a technical violation. I include that not so much because it has anything to do with qualifying, but just imagine a finish like that in F1. One can but dream…
In GP3 Tatiana Calderon became the first women to score championship points since Alice Powell in 2012, so well done going from P22 to P10 and worth pointing out she actually has beaten Verstappen at one point in a spec series, so worth considering….
The insanely boring weather continued with blue skies and warm weather, along with the odd cloud circling in the distance, though the track was hotter than anticipated so any port in a storm. For those going extra wide on T1 there is a nice ramp to go airborne back onto the circuit, as neatly demonstrated by the support series several times. It’s also the 22nd anniversary of the Jos Verstappen fire, for those of you old enough to remember. If not, no worries, teh interwebz have you covered. Hilariously, Dr. Marko was seen talking with Kvyat and Sky “hoped he was giving Danii some encouragement” which is needed, but feel compelled to say that Herr Dr. Marko seems a bit of an unlikely source. Likely a 2 stop going Soft-SuperSoft with Gutierrez the odd duck out, the only starter on the Soft tyre, P11.
And they’re off!!! Into T1 and Hamilton takes the lead with another good start as Rosberg boggged down, fropping to P4 Verstappen P2 and Ricciardo P3 comint to P7 Vettel all over Rosberg.
Coming through lap 2 it was only Perez with a worse start, down 5 spots to P14 as Rosberg having gotten on top of the cars set out with a massive duel with Ricciardo, spectacular wheel to wheel but with Ricciardo staying firm in P3.
The battle had a cost, though as Hamilton and Verstappen streaked off into the distance and were being told to look after tyres as the removal of the radio ban already was paying sweet dividends. Palmer was in and out to change to the Soft, tossing his quali success right out the window and as the race settled in replay it was Rosberg lighting up the rears that doomed his launch efforts. And Massa who complained of contact on lap 1, turns out to have been hit by Palmer, who paid the price with a slow leak, whilst Verstappen made his escape round Ricciardo by going all 4 onto the kerbs on the outside of T1.
Both Manors managed to hit each other in a most clumsy manner (hahahah) and Grosjean had himself a tasty little overtake lap 7 and as Sainz reclaimed his lost grid spots and was lining up Massa in P11, Kvyat was complaining of no grip in his rears and was driving backwards, down to P21.
Verstappen also complained of the tyres starting to go lap 9, and Massa informed the team that the car’s handling was off after being hit by Palmer, a fact demonstrated when Sainz, then Magnussen plowed by him.
Sainz and Massa both pitted lap 11 and a problem for Sainz tossed his good work out the window and both rejoined P18 and P19 respectively, with
Lap 12 Verstappen and Rosberg both in, to get Nico round Ricciardo and a slow stop did the Mercedes man no good as Hamilton continued to set fast laps at the front. Ricciardo was in the following lap with all the frontrunners choosing to go with the Super Softs save Ricciardo, who bolted on a set of the softs. This left Vettel P2 13s back down the road, but just till the conclusion of lap 13 when he dove in for a set of Softs, whilst Raikkonen complained over the radio his tyres were done as well.
End of lap 14 and in came Hamilton, followed by Raikkonen and out with a set of Softs, unlike his teammate. Kimi took on a set of Softs as well and with all but Gutierrez through the first wave of pit stops it was Hamilton, Verstappen and Ricciardo, running the podiums spots with Rosberg 2.5s back of Ricciardo but on grippier tyres. Whether it would be a 3 stop remained to be seen, but it was by far the most interesting strategic variation seen lately and the whole first phase underscored just how tremendously different these cars are when running in traffic versus clean air.
By lap 17 Rosberg was setting purples roughly 0.5s a lap faster and rapidly closing his gap down. Further down the field, Grosjean strapped on a set of Softs lap 19 and Button bypassed Gutierrez at the hairpin and up to P9 for the famously slippery driver.
Verstappen was told over radio that Hamilton was running the same lap times as him, though failing to point out Lewis was running a slower compound than he was.
The following lap Magnussen had a sweet overtake (might want to sit down for that) on Massa into the hairpin, taking P13 away from the stricken Williams. Ricciardo, meanwhile, had clawed his way up to 1s off of his teammate, despite running the Softs and Max confirmed this, radioing in that the Super Softs were “not the race tyre”. The Supers are fast, but not so much in traffic one imagines.
Sainz and Grosjean both took the wounded Massa to the cleaners lap 23, dropping the Brasilian to P16 as Alonso made a surgical overtake of Gutierrez into the stadium section. Perez stuck the knife in his countryman the following lap and HAAS began to get the memo as Esteban was decidedly driving the wrong direction at that point.
Lap 25 came and went, however, and Gutierrez stayed out while Hamilton effortlessly maintained his 7s lead over Verstappen as both Red Bull and Mercedes considered the options for their runners on the Super Soft. Traffic began to play a role for the front runners however, as he was already slicing his way through the backmarkers. Despite this, he was running nearly a second faster than Verstappen behind him. Mercedes looked set to bring Rosberg soon and sure enough, lap 28 saw him in to ditch the useless Supers for a pair of Softs. Verstappen still dangled off the front however and it was going to be the end of his P2 as Ricciardo was already on the Softs and barely 2s adrift of Verstappen. In came Max the following lap and out just ahead of Rosberg who was lighting up the board with purple sectors.
Rosberg up the inside lap 30 T6 elbows out as Verstappen went wide to defend. Nico neatly took him off on exit and Verstappen was back at him but couldn’t reply. Max was immediately whining on the radio about it, but a bit ridiculous IMO as he placed himself on the outside. The stewards decided to investigate, no doubt to placate the youngster and forestall any tantrums.
Lap 32 saw Vettel in for a set of Supers and back out in P7, trapped behind Bottas briefly before sliding past the Williams. Raikkonen was in the following lap, also onto the Supers. Hulkenberg trailed him in as the stewards announced a 5s penalty for Rosberg’s maneuver. I’ll have to see it again to reach a conclusion but my first impression was it was fair play, tbh. Bottas also in lap 35 and it was Hamilton putting the exclamation point on with his stop with Ricciardo and Lewis onto the Supers along with both the Ferraris. When it all shook out it was situation status quo, with Rosberg 6s behind Hamilton, the Mercedes duo trailed by Verstappen and Ricciardo.
Defending himself Rosberg pointed out that Verstappen moved under braking, which should have been the end of it. While not the most elegant thing the world has seen, Verstappen was run out of room on exit of the turn which rarely results in penalty.
Lap 38 saw the end of Massa’s run as Williams decided to retire his damaged car, likely with suspension damage from the collision lap 1. At the same time, Ricciardo on the Supers was well into DRS and the we all looked forward to the radio messages to come.
Lap 41 into T6 saw Ricciardo by with little fuss, sadly, so Grosjean took advantage to radio in smoke coming from his engine. Cleared of his teammate, Danny Boy took to the throttle and set about tracking down Rosberg, at a rather alarming rate, given the looming penalty. Fortune was not favouring young Max, however as he radioed in to complain about understeer on the soft tyre.
Lap 45 saw Rosberg in for his last set of tyres along with his 5s stop whilst Vettel politely refused to come in, saying his tyres were good for a couple more laps. Hulkenberg was in as well as Ferrari argued with Vettel to come in and undercut Verstappen. Naturally that brought Verstappen in straight away, and back out onto Supers he went. That settled it for Ferrari as they left Vettel out and it turned out that Mercedes held Rosberg for 8 seconds before starting work. Oooops!!
Ricciardo then Hamilton in for their last stops, with Lewis choosing the Softs and back into the lead whilst the Red Bulls were both sporting the Supers. Once it all settled, they were running Hamilton, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Rosberg and Vettel with Lewis having a 10s gap to work with and 18 laps to go. Verstappen 2s off his teammate left Rosberg chasing down a 5s gap with slower tyres and Vettel chasing him down with his last set of tyres, also Softs.
Lap 52 saw Hamilton’s gap almost halved as he looked to have turned the engine down to try and preserve it. Responding to Ricciardo’s provocation, he dropped nearly a second off his laptime the following go round. Gutierrez pulled a nice switchback to take P13 away from Magnussen into the hairpin, as the Mexican’s run of good form continued.
By the end of lap 53 Lewis was back to 8s up on Ricciardo and the looming battle was hard to spot, though it looked to be Gutierrez not getting out of the way of Ricciardo fast enough, which prompted a hilariously sarcastic call from Danny Boy. Grosjean took a nice move round the outside of Magnussen to take P13 away from the Renault man and stack the HAAS team line astern.
Tracking up to the points, Alonso had managed to catch up to Button and Jenson cleverly radioed in to try and protect his P9 by getting the pitwall to give team orders to hold station, intimating both cars had some problem that wasn’t an underpowered thirsty engine. Good Luck with that Jense!!
Ha and the following lap it was indeed fuel saving the issue according to Sky and then BOOM!!! the possibility of a few rain sprinkles suddenly appeared with 7 laps to go, along with a few impressively dark clouds overhead.
AS they closed in on the finale it was nothing doing at the front as they all held station. Worth noting the 3 seconds Mercedes cost Rosberg would put him only 3 seconds off Verstappen. Nasr retired his Sauber lap a few laps earlier as Lewis reported rain on the visor lap 62 and a few umbrella’s appeared in the stands. Thank goodness for that!! though sadly it looked to be having no impact on the last few laps of the race.
Finally the TV director found a battle, Perez on Alonso for P10, whilst the frontrunners tried to navigate through them. And it was dark days for Fernando as the Force India was all over the gearbox of the Spaniard as he was forced to let Ricciardo through.
Big lock up lap 65 as Alonso locked up DRS’ing Verstappen down the main straight then looked to unlap himself the other side of T1. Again a lock up and this time Perez got by out of the hairpin and into the final points position. And back down the order Alonso went, his samurai spirit a bit dented, if not broken.
Meanwhile Button nabbed Bottas for P8 as the Williams driver was on 31 lap old Softs and he stuck the knife in without hesitation as Valterri had no grip whatsoever, barely hanging on to P9 with his tyres down to the canvas.
And that was that for that as Lewis swanned across the line P1 followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen. A strangely quiescent Rosberg was next, having made no discernible move whatsoever to reel in Verstappen in the closing laps, likely due to fuel issues as he was certainly not fueled for close combat for the entire length of the race. Nevertheless, a nice championship buffer (19 points, from 43 back at one point) for Hamilton who’s engine penalties still hang over his head like a veritable Sword of Damocles. And a more than a few questions for Mercedes, as those 3 seconds might’ve been crucial in another scenario.
Also a fairly crushing blow struck by Red Bull, as it turns out they were faster than Ferrari and properly the 2nd team in the championship as well. A nice day for the Honey Badger as well, sticking it to the youngster with a nicely managed race. And what looks to be a right mess at the Scuderia with no hope of any immediate solution.
Oof! and the less said about the Rosberg penalty the better. Granted the stewards have access to telemetry but I would be sure ask them about whether they reviewed Verstappen’s as well, as his tendency to swerve about in braking zones will eventually get him into trouble of the picking up shards of carbon fibre kind. And, IMO, makes the penalty on Rosberg an incorrect call, both in context and for racing. Particularly because Verstappen wasn’t all 4 off until the exit of the turn, which generally seems to be the standard by which these things are judged. But that’s just me, and I’m sure you all have your own opinions, so get to it!! You’ve got the whole summer break..
And remember to play nice in the comments!!