Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 25° Track 48° Humidity 35.7% Wind 0.8 m/s
The haze hung low on the horizon as puffballs of clouds dotted the sky fancifully, sunshine blazing down onto the paddock, occasionally interrupted as a wayward cloud drifted across the sun. Pirelli predicted a one stop as being the fastest way round, though the ever climbing track temperature might yet provoke a crisis amongst the frontrunners, with brakes and engines, along with tyres, all susceptible to overheating, particularly for those stuck following and those, like Mercedes in Austria, who get their cooling wrong…..
Verstappen on pole will have a hard job defending the long run to T1 from the duel Mercedes threat, with Hamilton potentially having the advantage from the grippier side of the track, and that’s before you factor in the less than ideal start that the Red Bull’s have demonstrated in the last few starts…. and there you have it, a couple of extra practice starts for the Dutchman reported by Sky as apparently I’m not the only one to have noticed….
Giovinazzi got dinged 3 spots for impeding Stroll (wry jokes appreciated) and Ricciardo and Renault elected to take a new PU meaning the Alfa driver now will start P17 and it’s dead last for the Aussie, whose clever PU strategy not only blew up on him in Hockenheim but apparently here as well, but this time due to traffic management and not catastrophic mechanical failure……
On the way to the anthem, Brundle managed to grab Albon who casually let slip that it was MUCH hotter than the teams expected, and that bodes ill for lots of on track action as all the cars will be desperately trying to manage temps instead. Especially with the dearth of FP2 running, some surprises could well be on order….A different kind of management as teams have all agreed on a 22 race calendar for next year, currently without an extra PU although it has been reported that both Honda and Renault would prefer the extra, whilst Mercedes and Ferrari were happy with just the current allocation of three for the season.
The sharp end all start on the Medium tyre and that should be good for 24-30 laps according to Pirelli, at which point a switch to the Hard is pretty much inevitable. In fact, only the Maccas, Grosjean and Raikkonen are on the Softs,required by the sporting regulations, with Ricciardo at the back on the Hards, whilst the rest of the midfield on the Mediums…. And then, on the formation lap Verstappen, lit it up, no doubt to discomfort Mercedes, who prefer much the opposite approach at the start of their race…
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Verstappen chased by Hamilton and then Max swung all the way to the inside and they were nearly 3 wide going into the first turn. In the middle and on cold brakes Bottas had a big lockup and very nearly went straight on, effectively forcing Hamilton wide and very nearly causing the chasing Ferrari of Vettel to have contact with his gearbox. Lewis was able to maintain more of his momentum and as they hurtled towards the second turn Lewis moved to the inside which switched him back to the outside into the third turn where once again Bottas had a lock up that allowed Lewis to gain the advantage. As he streaked past his teammate into the entry to the next turn, there was incidental contact between Bottas front wing and Hamilton’s left rear. This further compromised the Finn and taking immediate advantage was Leclerc on the run down to Turn 5 but as the Ferrari moved over to take the racing line once again there was contact only this time it rather more significantly disarranged his front wing. Sainz got the better of Norris into T2 and given the now visible damage to Bottas’ front wing into the second lap Vettel was round him easiy into the braking zone for Turn 1…
Gasly had managed to slide down to P9 at the start as well, and the lap times for Bottas did not augur well at all for him being able to maintain a one stop. Almost 2 seconds a lap it looked going into lap 4 and at that rate he would make lap 9 or 10 before the time loss equalled a pit stop.
Lap 6 and Bottas was in and that kind of indecision is usually a race killer. With the front wing change he was out dead last with the Hard tyre and a long road ahead of him. Leclerc was getting the hurry up at the same time have drifted nearly 5.5 seconds back of Hamilton, who was just keeping pace with Verstappen, both running nearly identical times.
The hurry up was working with Leclerc, and he easily pulled out a 2 second gap and shut down any immediate thoughts of team orders as he was told Plan A. At the back, Ricciardo was up to P17 after taking some time to get them up to temperatures he was on the prowl and chasing Magnussen and almost into DRS on lap 10. Russell had made it up to P14 but lost out to Kvyat and Magnussen, throwing Russell under the Ricciardo bus, who was well inside DRS.
Further up the field, Hulkenberg, in the other Renault, was suffering from an unspecified problem, was being told to save fuel despite having a loss of power and being told he had the pace to get round Grosjean. Hulkenberg reported despite their assurances it wasn’t going to get worse, it was, in fact, getting worse….
Ferrari, meanwhile, were in a league of their own, and not in a good way as they were running roughly 0.7 seconds a lap slower and nearly 12 seconds off the leaders. By lap 15 Bottas had made it back to P16, the only hiccup being a bit of contact with Lance Stroll on the way past.
2 laps later and both Stroll and Russell were into the pits and out on the Hard tyre, all the way to the back save Giovinazzi, who had triggered them by going 1 lap earlier. Lap 19 and Kvyat was finally ready to pull the trigger and down the inside he went, but Albon kept his foot into it until finally Kvyat forced him wide out of T4 and took the spot away for good. During that epic battle, Kubica was in for some Hards as well and he emerged behind behind Giovinazzi.
Grosjean was in next along with Perez, and it was too slow from the HAAS team and he was out behind the Racing Point, as Hamilton had been on the move, and was just 1.4 seconds behind Verstappen and well into undercut range. Bottas had finally rocked up behind Ricciardo, on similar tyres and his forward progress had momentarily been stymied. At the front the maths were not working as lapped traffic was beginning to complicate the pitstop window. Lap 22 saw Mercedes out in the pitlane but at the end of the lap Hamilton stayed out.
The following lap and Hamilton was all but in DRS and it was Verstappen chasing a pit stop window vs Leclerc as Lewis put the pressure on from behind. Sergio Perez almost ended Verstappen’s race early as lapped the Racing Point car but the close call worked in favor of the Mercedes driver, who was supremely happy with the performance of his tyres, which seemed to surprise him.
Lap 26 and Verstappen gave it everything he had and was in at the end of the lap. Lewis did the opposite and Verstappen was back out just in front of Leclerc but as noted, in the midst of a bunch of backmarkers as Hamilton was pushing in free air. By time they got to T14 Verstappen was by Stroll and just looking at Kubica, whom he dispatched down the main straight, which resulted in him setting a best third sector. by the conclusion of the next lap Max was a full second a lap faster. It was Hamilton’s turn to sweat as he was told to extend as Mercedes was now trying to get him clear of the traffic that bedeviled Verstappen. Lap 29 saw Leclerc in and out, just ahead of Sainz who was the leading McLaren.
Ominously, Hamilton then reported smoke coming from the left front brake disc and with the gap having dropped below 18 seconds Mercedes had made their bet on fresher tyres and overtaking at the end. Norris was in and out ahead of Bottas and that triggered both Sainz and Raikkonen, Kimi just behind Gasly and Sainz maintaining his P5. Norris, the victim of a stuck rear left wheel during his stop was the big loser, running P11 and out behind Ricciardo.
Lap 32 saw Mercedes finally bring in Hamilton and it was a 4 second stop, which easily put Max back into P1 and with a near 6 second gap to make up, albeit with just one lapped car between them. Lap 33 and Norris was by Ricciardo.
2 laps later and the gap was halved by Hamilton, running 2 seconds a lap faster as Norris got round Magnussen, yet to stop, and took P9. Gasly had meanwhile finally found his way round Hulkenberg and was chasing Sainz for P5.
Lap 35 and it was into DRS for Hamilton and into T1 he was all over the back of Max T1. All through the middle sector Lewis was just nailed onto the back of the REd Bull and as the approached the final turn Verstappen turned it up and took advantage of a slipstream left him by Albon. Defending to the inside he maintained the position and the battle was reset as they approached the meat of the midfield to lap them. This didn’t help Hamilton’s cause at all. Lap 37 and Hulkenberg was finally in.
Lap 38 and both cars had DRS down the straight and as they continued to weave their way through traffic it was Ricciardo next up for the pair of them to clear. Much to the Aussie’s chagrin, the DRS aiding him down the straight and then using him as a blocker, Verstappen was able to once again maintain the position.
But only until Turn 4 when Hamilton had a serious go around the outside and for a moment it was on, but then Lewis went wide and off track and was forced to yield the spot back. Dirty tyres and rising temps saw him drop a bit off the back even as the team urged him to keep the pressure on. With 29 laps to go….
Interesting wrinkle at HAAS with Magnussen finally in for a set of Softs with 30 laps left in the race. Hamilton remained concerned about his brake temps, but the team was unconcerned, saying it was more about wear than temps..
Lap 45 and Bottas was lapped, putting up little fuss as both Verstappen and Hamilton rocked by. Verstappen demanded full power and was told that he already had it, as the gap was back down to just a second and Mercedes readied it’s second assault on the lead. Lap 46 and Lewis was told wear was looking better and for the moment it was a game of waiting and watching. Also getting ready to pop was Gasly, who was just a second back of Sainz with 22 laps to go. Bottas was in on the same lap and he was out in P12 with both Toro Rossos and Perez to catch to regain his position.
And oh my, into the pits the following lap came Hamilton, to force the undercut or bet on going to the end. Bottas’ stop on the Hards suddenly made good sense as they will have had accurate information regarding the behaviour of the tyre at the end of it’s race. Immediately he was inside Verstappen’s pit window, the undercut having been perfectly timed and brutally successful and as Max got ready to rock by Sainz and lap him, Hamilton was chasing in free air. Looking at a second a lap, with 19 laps and 18 seconds. Hilariously Max was yelling at his team for not boxing him, which was a strategy non-starter even as Hamilton was questioning whether or not he had the pace to catch Verstappen before the end of the race….
The following lap, and it was just 0.6 seconds gained by Hamilton as behind, his teammate was back up to P9. Lap 52 saw the end of Grosjean’s efforts as he retired his car and as Max got hung in traffic it was 1.5 seconds gained for the Mercedes driver with the gap down to 16 seconds.
2 laps later and it was Hamilton hung in traffic and making no gains as Verstappen was now chasing Vettel with no one in between. This once again changed the calculus at Mercedes and they informed Hamilton that they now expected the catch to be last lap. While that transpired, Ricciardo, on new Softs, chased Magnussen on older Softs, and it was some excellent battling as the HAAS driver was putting on the most robust of defenses against the wily Renault driver.
Lap 58 and with Hamilton now clear of the lapped traffic it was a clean chase and 13.715 seconds between them and 12 laps to go…. End of lap 59 and it was 1.3 seconds closer as the duel between Magnussen and Ricciardo moved ever closer to a potential Safety Car, with Kmag testing the limits of the sporting regs with his defense.
As the chase continued the follwing lap the gap was under 11 seconds and a frightfully exciting finale seemed very much underway as Hamilton continued to chip away in the 1:18’s as Verstappen submarined into the 1:20’s.
8 seconds then at the start of lap 63, then more than a second in just the second sector as Lewis double checked the state of his brakes on the radio and was told he had margin. End of the lap and it was down to 5 seconds between them and Mercedes could smell blood in the water as Verstappen’s times were now down to almost 1:21 with Hamilton still in the 1:18’s…. Oh my what a spectacle!!!!
Lap 65 and Verstappen hove into view, 2.5 seconds and down a full second further as they approached T5. By time they rocked into the final turn Hamilton was into DRS and it was looking long odds indeed for the Red Bull driver. Oh and it was so close but up ahead there was traffic, the back of the tail with Kubica up first, but he wasn’t going to be close enough for DRS into the following lap.
Onto the straight they went and down, Hamilton going round the outside into T1 and Verstappen defenseless on the brakes. Into the lead went the Mercedes and Red Bull brought in Max for fresh tyres to have a go at fast lap, with no place penalty for doing so. Sainz, meanwhile, had been able to hold off Gasly and on lap 69, Vettel, who had been patiently chasing Leclerc on Soft tyres, finally got the job done, with Charles perhaps a bit surprised as he started to make a late move and then thought better of it as Vettel was already well alongside.
Onto the last lap and Verstappen absolutely killed fast lap with a 1:17.103, scant consolation as Hamilton cruised across the line in first place, followed home by Verstappen and Vettel, experience over youth, anyone? At any rate, brilliant strategic call from a team not necessarily noted for them, and as much as it would’ve been fun to see Red Bull win 2 on the bounce, there was little room to complain as this race played out exquisitely, highlighting so much of what makes F1 special at a track often dinged for it’s lack of action.
It’s not all spilled milk for Red Bull as Verstappen moved up to within 7 points of Bottas, who eventually managed to get to P8 and that was not the look he was going for as his future at Mercedes was very much under the microscope. Vettel fans, too, had reason to rejoice as a good strategy call put him onto the podium after a difficult stretch at the office. Gasly did manage to finish where he started, but with a McLaren in front of him the questions will continue about his long term future with Red Bull, the short term being fairly more assured as the only drivers immediately available to take his place were currently racing for Toro Rosso.
In the midfield, McLaren continued to crush all comers, including the factory team of their engine supplier, with relative ease. A good recovery driver from Norris after a balky left rear in his pitstop saw him still able to nab some points. It’s been a long road for them but Zak Brown has done a good job and they are now clearly the class of Formula B.
At Williams, Russell was able to confirm his form and finished P16, more good news for the team that has long been lost in the wilderness. Less good news for HAAS, which saw Grosjean retire and Kmag wind up P13, at least able to stay ahead of arch rival Renault, well, at least ahead of the Renault they started ahead of. No points for the French marque, either and it was Raikkonen, picking up the pieces for Alfa.
All in all a pretty good way to head off for summer break, with the iconic circuit at Spa first up after the teams return refreshed and ready for the long haul to the end of the season. It is a circuit that should see Ferrari back in the mix and it will be a real test to measure the progress of the Red Bull and Honda.
And remember to play nice in the comments!!