Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 33° Track 52° Humidity 26% Wind 2.1 m/s
The sun blistered overhead, an ominous and stultifying presence as heat radiated off the tarmac and all sensible creatures in the paddock sought shelter from it’s brutality as temperatures were even hotter than the previous day’s qualifying and only TV pundits roamed the pitlane, though whether that was due to lack of sense or contractual requirements was hard to determine…..
A plethora of penalties had entirely reshaped the grid overnight, but the important ones were Hamilton, now P4 thanks to a blocking penalty for the Raikkonen incident and Magnussen, dropped to P10 thanks to his gearbox penalty. This left Norris as best of the rest now starting P5 thanks to his teammate’s penalty. In fact, supposedly only Leclerc and Grosjean wound up starting where they qualified as late contender Russell took a new front wing and a pitlane start because, let’s face it, its basically still testing for Williams at this point…..
Apparently Mercedes suffered a bit from cooling issues yesterday, and with ambient temps even higher today and them being in traffic for a change is definitely something to watch for. Equally, Pirelli have said a one stopper on the Softs is entirely possible, but as the track gets hotter that becomes more and more of a challenge as the battle between Mediums (Mercedes and Verstappen) and Softs (Ferrari, natch, and after last week, Norris in the first laps) will be just as fascinating at the sharp end as the battle between the drivers. Vettel P9 promises some early action on track after his pneumatics failure in Q3 and with Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton and Norris trailing Leclerc (who didn’t get the best of starts the last time he was on pole in Bahrain) the start promises the potential of some steward testing action early on, especially as those trapped in traffic face an especially difficult battle with tyre and car temps…..
In the midfield, if Norris can get away cleanly and his suspension doesn’t melt, then he looks to be odds on for best of the rest as the McLaren seems to have finally come good and has been the most consistent performer, one of the reasons they are in no hurry to see the tyres change, unlike, say HAAS, where the stark difference between Magnussen’s first and second Q3 runs shows the extent that getting the tyres switched on matters…..
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Leclerc and Verstappen bogs down and plummets with Norris getting the jump on Hamilton thanks to the slow start by the Red Bull. Into T3 Hamilton took the wide line and side by side they went with Hamilton pulling ahead into T4 and Raikkonen, following Hamilton’s example, also went wide and took P4. Meanwhile, Verstappen finally managed to stop the bleeding in P7 and looking ahead at Vettel, who further back had an excellent start and had managed to weave his way to P6 at the start, thanks to the traffic jam caused by Verstappen into the first turn.
At the front, as they started the second lap, it was Bottas the big winner as he was ahead of Hamilton and on track for the better strategy as Norris, having recovered himself, was tracking down Raikkonen. But first, it was Vettel into T3 rocking by him and even though Norris gave a stout fight, he was unable to get anything started into T4 and he settled into Vettel’s slipstream as Macca on the straights was looking fairly vulnerable.
By the fifth lap it was Verstappen’s turn to have a go at Norris, but on the radio he complained of clipping and rather unlike Vettel, the Macca was able to keep the Red Bull behind for the moment. On replay it was Verstappen going too high on the revs that cost him at the start and finally it was Max past but not till lap 7 and with Raikkonen his next target on the road.
At the sharp end, it was standard gap time, and Vettel, in P4 was running in clean air, with a 5 second gap to cross before he found the gearbox of Hamilton. Verstappen, meanwhile, had been steadily tracking down Kimi and got the job done on lap 10. HAAS were doing terribly, contra, with Magnussen down to P15 and Grosjean to P17, complaining on the radio that it felt like it was raining he had so little grip.
Lap 13 and it was Magnussen in for the Hard tyre as Ferrari confirmed to Leclerc they were on for Plan A. More bad news for HAAS as Kmag got dinged for being out of position at the start and was sentenced to a drive thru directly after his pitstop. Norris had finally recovered to the back of Raikkonen and lap 14 he got the job done into T3. Gasly, directly behind, was next up to have a go at the Alfa and looking at lap times the Mediums were yet to yield any advantage to the Softs.
Raikkonen wasn’t done, however and into lap 17 he was in DRS on Norris as this looked to be a battle that might be fought bitterly till the end…. Nearly 4 seconds from Leclerc to Bottas and then another 2 back to Hamilton as Lewis looked to be struggling with savage understeer as he winged it wide into T1. Further back, Gasly, seeking to atone for his mistake in quali yesterday had a serious go at Raikkonen who closed the door in textbook fashion, leaving the younger driver to reconsider his tactics. Vettel racked up a fast lap and was now just 2.5 seconds back of Hamilton, headed into undercut range on the Merc, who had no room ahead to try and fight off the attempt with just 1.5 seconds ahead to his teammate.
Lap 21 and it was all watching and waiting as the pit window was wide open. Kubica was in and out, to no real effect, whilst it was Vettel, nibbling a tenth or two every lap from the Mercedes ahead. The following lap Mercedes blinked and in came Bottas, with Vettel following, the Scuderia clearly racing for a 1-2 at the end of the race. But it was nothing doing as the tyres weren’t ready and it wound up being a 6 second stop for Vettel, to the intense frustration of the tifosi…
P8 for Vettel, though he rapidly cleared Gasly and then lap 23 Leclerc was in and Hamilton was on the gas, setting fast lap, to protect as he said his tyres were good and he wanted to go long, looking to pass his teammate whose own stop was compromised by Vettel’s stop, having to hold before he rejoined the track. Raikkonen was next in, conveniently aiding Vettel and leaving him some clear air to chase Vettel.
Looking at lap times, Leclerc was nearly 0.4 seconds faster with his new tyres and it looked clear that he was clearly on for Lewis to be having a go at the end. Lap 26 and Norris and Gasly were both in and out of the pits and it was Vettel, much faster than Bottas and 7 seconds to make up for the final podium spot, although Hamilton’s strategy seemed to be going a bit sideways as Bottas was half a second faster and Hamilton still hadn’t cleared Bottas from his pit window.
Verstappen, still to stop, was running competitive times and with Hamilton on lap 29 dropping into the 1:10s it was past time to get him into the pits. Lewis thought it might be wing damage or debris in the wing and to solve the problem Mercedes dragged and entirely new frontwing into the pitlane and Vettel responded immediately with a fast lap.
Lap 31 and in came Lewis, down the straight charged Vettel and by he went, now with a 7 second gap to close to make good on his strategy. This lifted the pressure on Leclerc as with his surge, Vettel was now inside Verstappen’s pit window, meaning net on track it was a Ferrari 1-2 with Verstappen now in between the Mercedes. Lap 32 and Max was in to make sure it stayed that way and he was out with the freshest tyres of all and a 3.5 second gap to Bottas. Time to make some popcorn….
In the midfield, Norris was running best of those who had stopped, trailed by Gasly and Raikkonen, but on the Medium tyre, an unusual choice to get to the end. As the race settled, it emerged that the mechanic’s radio had malfunctioned when the Ferrari pitstop call for Vettel was made, thus their utter surprise at his sudden appearance in the box.
Lap 39 and Norris was inside DRS on Danny Ric, who had yet to pit…Ricciardo had a nasty chop at the apex and this oopened the door for Gasly behind to the put the young driver under pressure. Nothing doing though as Norris edged slowly away from the Red Bull and the following lap, it was Norris, by Ricciardo who was now ready to concede the matter and focus on frustrating Gasly, whose tyres were beginning to blister, next.
Sainz was finally in for a set of Hards, back out in P14 and chasing Stroll while at the sharp end, Verstappen was now onto the back of Vettel. McLaren was now looking to help Ricciardo keep Gasly behind by leaving him in the DRS of Norris. That only worked for a lap or so and then Gasly was by, lap 45 and duel resumed. 1.3 seconds now between Verstappen and Vettel with Hamilton needing large amounts of lift and coast to keep his temperatures under control as the ambient was now north of 35°C..
At the back, Sainz, with his new tyres, had already rocketed by Stroll and was already lining up Hulkenberg as Leclerc now had that long midfield battle in sight and the blue flags were getting ready to fly. Verstappen was told he had a big pace advantage into T1 on Vettel as he waited patiently to pounce.
Lap 48 and with DRS the battle commenced, but the power of the Ferrari kept Vettel safe up the hill to T3. Again with the DRS but Vettel covering off the inside was enough and rocking down the straight Vettel stretched his advantage so the DRS wasn’t enough as they rounded T1. Again Verstappen got close but the long run from T7 to T9 was enough for Vettel to give himself a margin. 2 laps later and finally, into T3 he was close enough and was able to get in front and claim T4. Ferrari’s response was to pit Vettel with 20 laps to go. They lost a spot to Hamilton, but with just 8 seconds between them it looked a done deal for him to reclaim P4.
Verstappen, meanwhile, continued his progress and was in the process of lining Bottas up, just a second back on lap 54 as it was on at the front. In the midfield, Sainz had continued storming the ramparts, up to P8 and only 5 seconds back of Gasly, a fight that the Spaniard would certainly relish…..
Lap 56 and Verstappen was inside DRS on Bottas and then suddenly, he radioed he was losing power…. The team had him clear an exhaust sensor to try and solve the problem and for the moment at least, it seemed to do the trick. Into T3 he rocked up the inside and easily by Bottas as Vettel was now just 5 seconds back of Hamilton, Leclerc now 5 seconds up the road.
Red Bull had Max turn up the volume to chase Leclerc while Sainz looked on to catch Gasly before the end of the race while Vettel’s pace suddenly looked insufficient to grab not only Hamilton, but fast lap as well… It was a gamble increasingly looking to have not paid off with 11 laps to go. The situation was even more dire for Gasly, who was in danger of being LAPPED by Verstappen.
Lap 63 and Leclerc was well into the traffic, having just rocked by Sainz, catching him at the worst part of the circuit and as the end of the lap came round, Leclerc was by Magnussen and now chasing Gasly, who presumably would make life as difficult as possible for the Ferrari driver… The traffic was doing the job though and as they started lap 64 the gap was down to just 1.5 seconds…
Lap 67 and it was now Leclerc in a Red Bull sandwich and through the start/finish it was Leclerc by but with the gap down to under a second between the two and 5 laps to go. Verstappen tried the cutback into T4 but Lelcerc shut him down and again as they made the charge down to the last 2 turns the Ferrari carved itself a margin that Verstappen was going to eat into. This time he went inside on the Ferrari and it was wheel to wheel down to T4 who kept his foot in it and claimed the inside, staying ahead for the moment…..
Again it was Verstappen chasing up the hill and inside of T3 he went, this time edging the Ferrari fully off the track with a bit of contact and claiming the lead of the race with less than 3 laps to go. Leclerc kept his head though, and as they entered the final lap he trailed the Red Bull driver as the gap between them began to increase. Further back, Vettel managed to get ahead of Hamilton as midfield traffic did Leclerc no favors at all.
AS the checquers fell it was Verstappen, Leclerc, and Bottas on the podium, followed by Vettel and Hamilton. And an investigation of the T3 pass, so have fun arguing that till the next race. Looking at the timing screens it looked like a few more laps and Vettel would’ve done the business on Bottas. Norris was best of the rest and it was double points not only for Macca, but for Alfa as well, Raikkonen P9 and Giovinazzi P10.
Less of a good day for Renault, out of the points for both drivers and for Mercedes, who spent their entire race just managing temperatures and were probably happy just to get both drivers to the finish. Wretched day for HAAS, whose race was ruined from the off with Kmag incorrectly positioned and dinged for a drive through, but even worse was their pace on the Soft and Medium tyre, their momentary glimpse of sunshine now thoroughly obscured by the clouds.
From a hindsight point of view, the decision to pit Leclerc in sequence with Vettel is one to be considered, as the extra 10 laps he had on his tyres relative to Verstappen proved crucial to the end of the race, though it was perhaps down to their strategy of starting on the Softs in order to have the position advantage early in the race. Though Norris did get his Softs to lap 26, 5 laps more than the Ferrari……
Still, that’s a job for the race engineers and strategists, poring over their terabytes of data to find some sort of signal amongst the noise, the more immediate takeaway is that the fans (even Mercedes’ fans) were the biggest winner today….
And remember to play nice in the comments!! (results provisional as of publishing)