Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 23° Track 48° Humidity 38% Wind 0.8 m/s
Cerulean blue skies studded with brilliantly white puffs of clouds ruled the paddock on a track much hotter than that of the qualifying the day before. To the shock and horror or delight of all, post quali Sebastian Vettel was smacked with a 3 spot drop for, inarguably, getting entirely in the way of Carlos Sainz during Q2. Also with some self inflicted penalties, were Alsonso, starting from the pitlane and Hartley, with another new PU because why not, amirite, having not made Q2 may as well one supposes.
Much theorizing about the effect of significantly higher temps on stint length. Theoretically it would give more advantage early to those on the Ultrasoft tyres, but then extract a much more significant penalty later in the stint. Of course, if you were having issues getting the Supers up to temperature, then given the small delta in time on race pace between the two compounds (essentially insignificant) then perhaps the needle has swung the opposite way. In any event, with Mercedes on the Supers and Ferrari on the Ultras, at least it gives us something to get excited about, as Mercedes appeared to have quite the upper hand at the conclusion of qualifying.
Excitingly enough there was Grosjean in P5 to mix things up and the battle between HAAS, Red Bull, and Renault should be what really motivates the race, along with the question of T1 and the intramural battle at Mercedes….
Lights Out!!!! Rocking start from Raikkonen on the inside of the Mercedes at the end of the straight and it was Hamilton that emerged from the first turn with the lead, after they all went 3 wide into the turn. Raikkonen kept his foot in it and attacked Hamilton but locked up, giving the position to Verstappen, briefly, before going right back around the outside on T4. Bottas took advantage, sliding around both drivers and taking it late through the turn on the outside and back into P2 as Raikkonen’s brief off after locking up slowed both he and Verstappen as he came back on track. Not over still for that pair as Verstappen kept up the business on Kimi, up the inside and back to P3 the following turn to momentarily settle the lead group.
Slightly further back Ricciardo had gotten round Grosjean and Hulkenberg was all over the back of Magnussen as they entered the second lap. Leclerc had an off and Vettel neatly dispatched the HAAS of Grosjean. Raikkonen was on the radio, saying that Verstappen hit him when he claimed P3 on the first lap. Vandoorne also had some contact, losing his front wing to the Toro Rosso of Gasly and then, making matters worse, was unable to get his car started once the wing had been replaced and losing 30 seconds.
Lap 9 and the true pace was beginning to show, with Vettel rapidly approaching the pair of Ricciardo and Raikkonen, who may have suffered damage in his lap 1 melee with Verstappen, though replays showed it was wheel to wheel. Or he could have been backing Ricciardo into Vettels maw. Or possibly he was just slow…
Lap 12 and suddenly a massive plume of smoke erupted from the back of Hulkenberg’s Renault along with huge gouts of flame. Off the circuit he went directly into the welcoming hands of the marshals, up the escape road and out of danger, keeping the Safety Car out of play.
2 laps later and there was a radio transmission, a bit old, telling Bottas they would ask Hamilton to lift the pace to create a gap to Verstappen and then it was Bottas, slowing suddenly and pulling off the track, again up an access road to keep the Safety Car safely penned. Unlike Hulkenberg, he wasn’t able to get entirely clear and out came the Virtual Safety Car, just as Hamilton rolled up on the pit entry.
AS Hamilton rolled by the pits on lap 16, all the runners behind him did the opposite and darted in, and as he was halfway through the lap the VSC was lifted, and he had Verstappen, Raikkonen, and Ricciardo all in his pit window, with their mandatory stops out of the way. The only other runners in the top 10 not to pit were the Magnussen and the suddenly elevated Perez, pinning Grosjean behind the Force India driver for the moment. The split strategy made sense from HAAS (can you imagine them double stacking???) and was clearly answered by Force India. Well, the strategic implications of that were fairly obvious, and in reply a slew of green and purple sectors lit up the board underneath Hamilton. The obvious question was why Mercedes stayed out, but with a predicted length of 60 laps for the Softs from Pirelli, perhaps the answer was clear, Mercedes didn’t think they could make a 1 stop work from that early in the race, or perhaps they had simply misjudged the length of the VSC and thought they could get him round before it was lifted and wanted to protect his track position since they were down to 1 car. Certain to be a hot topic round the garage this week, in any event.
Lap 20 and a lockup from Raikkonen into T3 opened a door, letting Ricciardo lick a stamp and chuck it through and into P4 the following turn. As the laps unfolded, it was a seesaw battle of tenths between Lewis and those following him, essentially keeping the gap stable. Less stable, however, was the mental state of Hamilton, who was less than pleased with the clever lads on the pitwall at Mercedes. And on replay, they absolutely did have the chance to make the pits, and as lap 25 entered the books, it was Vettel gradually inching his way towards Hamilton’s pit window that had everyone’s attention riveted to the timing screens.
And that didn’t last long as the following lap Lewis was in and out on the Softs, just that bit ahead of Vettel and with a 8 second gap to the Red Bulls, clearly making it a massive strategy fail on the part of Mercedes, whatever their original intentions. Can’t wait to hear the explanations for this one, as Sky reported Lewis had been calling for a stop as his rear tyres were overheating. Along with his temper…
A battle at the back had meanwhile erupted, between the Williams of Stroll and Leclerc. Through the entire middle sector they went, with Leclerc looking to have got the job done, only for Stroll to keep his foot in it and stoutly defend, his Mercedes PU for the moment keeping him in the fight. The wily Sauber driver was not to be denied, and the following lap neatly got the job done for P14.
By lap 32, Lewis was complaining that he was running short of power, but nonetheless he had rocked up to DRS on Raikkonen, and the slower pair of he and Ricciardo allowed Vettel to begin closing on the trio. The problematic thing from Hamilton’s point of view was that Kimi also had DRS on Ricciardo and they circulated status quo, with Vettel now looking more like he was following at a safe distance and saving his tyres for later, certain to be let by when/if Lewis got round.
Lap 35 and huge blisters starting to develop on Ricciardo’s left rear tyre, a problem also being suffered by Sainz. Into the pits Carlos came and up to P9 went Perez as the higher temps appeared to be taking their toll on tyres that weren’t being cared for properly.
And then Hamilton was forced to back off Raikkonen, likely to take care of HIS tyres, which put him directly into the cross hairs of Vettel. Raikkonen continued to press his case, and lap 38 he took P2 away through the exit of T3 and away he flew from Ricky Danny. Ricciardo was into the pits and the reshuffled order was now Verstappen, Raikkonen and Hamilton, until T3 when Vettel snuck up the inside and into P3 he went round the suffering Mercedes’ driver.
And it WAS blistering that turned out to be the issue as the wildly unpredictable behaviour of the Softs started catching out more and more runners. Slightly down the order, Magnussen had patiently worked his way into the DRS of Ocon on lap 42 and was looking for a way by as Ricciardo was now on the Supers and being told it was not all over just yet…
2 laps later and his tyres apparently under control, Hamilton was back into DRS on Vettel and as they rocketed down the back straight he was not really close enough and struggled mightily to get into proper range for a pass. Most of the time loss from Vettel came from a close call on pit exit on the previous lap, rather than Hamilton turning up the wick.
Lap 46 and Lewis had made the choice that it was now or never, given the precarious state of his tyres, but nothing doing as he gradually slipped back out of DRS, his wounded rears just not up to the task. Making life even worse, Ricciardo behind was now setting fast laps and chunking half a second a lap out of the Mercedes in the distance ahead of him. Crucially, Ricciardo was also inside Hamilton’s pit window so now a pitstop would cost him even more championship points. But it was also inarguable that Hamilton’s left rear looked tragic as a slo mo closeup showed a vicous dark line of utterly destroyed tread circling the wheel. Again, Mercedes’ indecisiveness were doing them no favours and the difficulty they have had dealing with rapid strategic shifts was on full display.
Lap 53 and Mercedes pulled the plug, in came Lewis and out behind Ricciardo, around 3 seconds back. Ricciardo put his foot into it and the PU responded with a plume of grey smoke followed by a rapid loss of gear sync, ending the Aussie’s day prematurely on lap 54 with what later turned out to be a broken exhaust.
His tragedy was Mercedes’ treasure as the loss of the Red Bull reinstated the previous running order, meaning a minimum loss of points to Vettel, once again just a position ahead. Then, Hartley, running in P10 due to not stopping, suffered some kind of issue, and before the team could sort it out, he was by the pit entry and off the circuit, bringing out the yellows. The revised midfield order was then Grosjean, promoted to P5 with the loss of Ricciardo, Magnussen, Ocon, Perez Gasly and Leclerc, a banner day for HAAS mostly missed due to the excitement at the front.
Which showed no signs of abatement, with Raikkonen suddenly finding some speed and starting to chunk time out of Verstappen with 12 laps in the race and just 4 seconds between him and Verstappen in the lead. Toss Vettel just another 2 seconds back and the finale started to look like it might hold the viewer’s interest till the end. In the midfield, Alonso had made DRS on Leclerc and Perez and Ocon had swapped places, with Ocon’s tyres having given more than their best.
Lap 63 and it was Alonso, shoving his way into P10 and then Hamilton was suddenly slowing with a loss of power and then out of the race he went, told to retire by the team. Holy WDC points!!! Would not want to be Andy Cowell or James Vowells today, that’s for sure. At the front the pressure stayed on from Ferrari, with the gap under 3 seconds and 4 laps to go. Alonso continued to storm up the field and had gotten by Gasly, and it was Ericsson, having his moment in the sun, attacking the Toro Rosso fiercely. No worries and the much maligned Swede was by, ensuring a double points finish for Sauber for the first time since dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Lap 69 and Ericsson was let by Leclerc with his much newer tyres and ready to have a go at Alonso just 1.3 seconds ahead. The maths at the front having ruled out any possibility other than Kimi letting Seb by it was the Ericsson Alonso battle or nothing. And nothing it was, with no change in the order as the checquers fell, with Verstappen, Raikkonen and Vettel seizing the podium spots. But not without drama, as Force India ordered Perez to return to Ocon the position he borrowed much earlier, causing Sergio to question whether or not that was really fair, a question that didn’t really need much answering.
But the real celebrations were down the road at HAAS, who finally pulled off their double points, P4 and P5 finish they so disastrously threw away in Australia, a magnificent finish for the young team. From there it was a motley crew indeed, Ocon and Perez continuing their love fest followed by Alonso, Leclerc and Ericsson rounding out the points.
For history lovers this was definitely a blast from the past, with 5 retirements, all due to unreliability. And interestingly, 2 Mercedes, 2 Renaults and a Honda, leaving Ferrari the winner in terms of reliability. And a bit worrying for Brackley, given insane levels of consistency they had delivered up to this point. But for the championship, there could have been no better outcome with Silverstone coming up next week and a chance for redemption in the offing…
And remember to play nice in the comments!!