Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 20.7° Track 28.6° Humidity 38% Wind 3.3 m/s
The wind whipped viciously through the paddock as the teams go to grips with final preparations, an ominous foreshadowing perhaps of the enormous technical and sporting changes taking place in the sport. Ferrari, again the target of rumours they were cheating fuel flow to achieve their engine prowess and according to some news outlets, perhaps a result of their siding with the new rules in the vote World Motorsport Council vote that confirmed them as the other teams took that to mean they had done a deal with Liberty. Regardless, as the last minutes ticked down to the formation lap, what was in the back of everyone’s mind was that with just 4 points, Lewis Hamilton could cinch his 6th World Driver’s Championship, putting him above Fangio on the all-time list and leaving just Schumacher for him to chase.
Of course, with Albon next to him with softer tyres, and Verstappen up the road, nevermind both Ferraris and his teammate, it was not going to be an easy task for Hamilton to take the championship with a podium, much less a win which is certainly what he wants…. and that’s assuming the Racing Gods actually let him get all the way to the finish, as they have a funny way about them sometimes. Of course, they have smiled on the Mercedes more often than not throughout the course of his remarkable career, to the point where the other teams are wondering just what kinds of things need to be sacrificed to swing things their way for a change.
Formula B looked set for an excellent tangle as well, with Renault demonstrating decent form, perhaps enough to even challenge McLaren and homeboys HAAS starting in 11th with Magnussen also perhaps in with a shout as they are the first to be able to run contra strategy to those stuck with the Softs at the start….
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Verstappen and into turn 1 he was wheel to wheel with Vettel. Behind, there was contact between Sainz and Albon, with both runners off the track and Albon taking flight over one of the sausage kerbs. Gasly took advantage to blow by both of them and as they headed off it was Bottas in the lead, followed by Verstappen, Vettel, Hamilton and Leclerc. Through the esses they went and then Hamilton was round the outside and by Vettel with remarkable ease. Two turns later it was Leclerc’s turn, this time on the inside and he, too, got the job done with nary a fuss. Vettel, however, looked to be having some difficulty but despite that he wasn’t going to let his teammate go that easily and kept his throttle pinned down the long run to turn 12, where he chucked it up the inside, but was easily fought off by Leclerc. His difficulties continued and 2 turns later, a lockup left the door wide open for a charging Lando Norris who eagerly drove striaght through and into P5
Onto the second lap then, and Bottas was just outside a second ahead of Verstappen, as Ricciardo was next up to get by the struggling Ferrari and on the radio Vettel confirmed he had an issue, understeering and damage from an unknown vector, as he plummeted down the field in what must have been a savage blow to the morale of the Scuderia, on a weekend when they were already under fire from the rest of the teams and facing a potential investigation of their Power Unit.
Albon, too was off to a less than ideal start, rocking into the pitlane for a set of Mediums after his set-to with Sainz in the first corner. He was out dead last and with ALL the work to do…. In the mostly ignored midfield, it was Raikkonen who had done the most work with his first two laps, slicing and dicing his way up to P11, 6 spots gained and doing his dead level best to save the day for Alfa.
By lap 3 it was ugly for Vettel, he was nearly 2.5 seconds a lap slower than Bottas in the lead. To the surprise of no one, the Albon/Sainz kerfuffle was under investigation as Ricciardo got to grips with the McLaren youngster, under fire as the experienced Aussie was all over the back of Lando.
2 laps later and Bottas was into the 1:40’s, eking out a slow burn on the Red Bull, moving his gap to nearly 2 full seconds. Lap 7 saw the slow falling away of the Ferrari challenge, with Leclerc now a full 6 seconds back as Albon got dinged for running wide at Turn 19. Ricciardo continued to ride the wake of Norris, just half a second back as they wandered into the middle sector. But with no warning at all, Vettel ran quite wide and rolled back onto the track with his left front riding up in the air, victim of a failed rear suspension and bringing out the double yellows.
Whilst that drama transpired, Ricciardo rocked by Norris into T12, his brakes doing the job he wanted as he launched himself up the inside and easily through. A shot of Kvyat having a go at Magnussen into turn 1 amply demonstrated the severity of the bumps in the braking zone, as the cars bounced up and down like bobbleheads as Kvyat took the inside then ruthlessly shut the door on the Dane as he attempted to fight back into the esses.
As the sharp end settled into their very predictable status quo awaiting the pit stop window, it was worth noting that Perez had already worked his way up to P14 after starting in the pitlane and behind him, just one place, was Albon, quietly working his way back up the grid.
Lap 13 saw the fragile detente shattered, as Hamilton, who had been very diligently sawing away at the gap, was now very much inside DRS on Verstappen, and to fight off the undercut, in came Verstappen and onto the Hards to await the response of the Mercedes. The following lap saw the response, with Bottas in and also out on a set of Hards, just in front of Verstappen and just behind Leclerc. This left Hamilton in the lead and Max just 1.4 seconds back of Bottas as the headed off for lap 16.
Round the outside of turn 1 went Bottas, easily by Leclerc on his older tyres, with DRS playing its obvious part. Verstappen was next up and down the inside he went at the end of the next DRS zone, losing nearly a second and a half to the Mercedes during his pursuit of the Ferrari.
The following lap saw Hamilton begin to lose time to Bottas and the radio message to Hamilton suggested that the remainder of the sharp end was rocking a 2 stop strategy and strongly suggested that he might have the option of a 1 stop. The pit window for Hamilton on the following lap saw a nice gap in front of Ricciardo running in P5, and the only other runner capable of a 1 stop, Leclerc, was suffering all manner of agonies with his tyres, unlike the Mercedes.
Lap 19 saw both Sainz and Raikkonen in, onto the Hards and back out in P13 and P14, respectively and Magnussen trailed them in, and back out in P17 for the HAAS driver. Back at the front, Bottas continued to whale in fast laps, nearly 2 seconds a lap on Hamilton and halving the gap in just a few laps.
Norris and Gasly were in next, and it was Gasly, just missing defending the undercut from Sainz whilst Norris emerged just in front of his teammate and as Gasly chased, he very nearly came to tears with Grosjean, still on old tyres, but still needing to be overtaken without blue flags…
The next domino to fall in the pit stop sweepstakes was Leclerc, in at the end of lap 20 and with a painfully long stop, over 7 seconds, which did him no favours at all on what already seemed to be a difficult afternoon for the Scuderia. Rear left was the difficulty on replay and visual confirmation that it was a broken rear suspension that put Vettel out of the running.
Perez, clearly in it for the long haul, had rocked all the way up to P7 as the other midfielders slowly pitted ahead of him but it was Hamilton all eyes were focused on, as Bottas was within 2 seconds. A slow stop for Kvyat on lap 22 nearly rivaled that of Leclerc’s, and during that drama Ricciardo was in and out to start his second stint on the Hard Tyre, back out in P7 with both Hulkenberg on the Hard from the start, and Perez on the Medium yet to pit. Perhaps a bigger issue for the Renault driver was the fact that Norris’ McLaren hung threateningly astern, just inside a second.
But it was Ricciardo who got to Perez first, easily by into turn 1 and creating a nice gap for himself. It was a half a lap before Lando was by the Racing Point and it cost him more than a full second. Mercedes had planned to bring Hamilton in, but he himself decided he would prefer another lap, forcing Bottas to get round him on the track and costing him just that little bit of time. Bottas was by with little drama and had built up a solid lead of almost 6 seconds over Verstappen by this point.
Hulkenberg was the next to go as the best of the rest train kept chugging along, first Ricciardo and then Norris by as they started their 25th round of the circuit, with Sainz next up to have a go at the long runner. Albon, who had been back to the pits for another Medium tyre, had rocked by Raikkonen and was back into the points after his first lap escapades had gone rather sideways for him. Lap 27 and Sainz was by Hulkenberg as neither Bottas nor Hamilton was entirely sure what the strategy implied for them. The likeliest outcome was Bottas chasing Hamilton on fresh tyres with 10 or 12 laps left. This was confirmed when Lewis’ race engineer pointed out going 2 seconds a lap faster than Bottas was not going to make his tyres last to the end of the race.
Hulkenberg was in on lap 28 for a set of Mediums, as Hamilton requested some kind of a target from his race engineer, in order to help him win the race. As he emerged, it was Norris within DRS on Ricciardo whilst further back, Perez was having a go at Kvyat who was having a go at Stroll, who was, well, going rather slow on 19 lap old tyres. Stroll, not wanting to give way, had a rather large move at Kvyat who balked, and that opened the door for Perez, who rolled easily by thanks to the momentum lost by the Toro Rosso driver. Stroll was into the pits and out on the Softs but the eagle eyed commentariat had noted some endplate damage to Verstappen’s car which was likely doing him no favours at all as the race at the front seemed very much to be trending towards whether Verstappen would come second or third in the race.
Albon continued to knife his way through the field, past Sainz with ease and into P7 and, in a remarkable twist of the plot, Williams retired Kubica. Sigh. Lap 34 and Bottas heaved up to the back of the Giovinazzi/Magnussen battle and was momentarily balked. This opened the door for Red Bull to call Verstappen in and they did not waste it, in and out on a set of Mediums with a 15 second gap to close to Hamilton. This was going to squeeze Bottas as it was 26 seconds between the Red Bull and the Mercedes. Taking no chances, Mercedes responded immediately, bringing in Bottas for his own set of Mediums. As he took to the track, it was a 10 second gap to Hamilton in the lead, and a 5 second gap back to Red Bull of Verstappen with a delicious 19 laps to make it all happen.
Albon continued to move forward with alacrity, now past Norris and getting ready to jump all over Ricciardo, less than a second back and giving every impression it was going to be but a short period of time before he showed the Aussie his rear wing… From an impressively long way back, Albon slid up the inside at the end of the second DRS zone, got it neatly stopped and left it hanging just enough to keep Ricciardo at bay. With the rightful order restored, he was looking at a rather uncrossable 26 seconds up the road to Leclerc in a lonely P4.
Lap 40 and Bottas was well into the lapped midfielders, threading his way through the dream team of Stroll and Magnussen, losing time to Hamilton and Verstappen in the process. But it was to good end, as once he was clear of Magnussen, it was clear sailing to Hamilton, 5 seconds up the road. Hulkenberg and Kvyat were in for second stops and as the gap came down, Lewis began to doubt the ability of his tyres to last. Clearly convinced they had nothing to lose, Albon was in for a set of Softs, all the way back to P10 and with some work to do all over again. Little time wasted for the young Red Bull driver, and he was quickly by Perez and off chasing Gasly. Telly announced a hydraulic issue for Kubica as being the cause of his retirement and the hole created by the stop of Albon saw Ferrari bring Leclerc in for some Softs to see him home.
Ooooh and Norris was next in the pitstop sweepstakes, back out in P10 on the Soft tyre with a bit of a sticky wheelnut slowing him a bit. Lap 44 and Bottas was less than 3.5 seconds as a multi-corner battle between Hulkenberg and Raikkonen that started in turn 1, and ended with Hulkenberg ahead, but only after cutting a corner to get there, saw the Finn phlegmatically pointing out that that wasn’t really allowed on the radio.
Next lap, the team radioed Hulkenberg to tell him to give the spot back and he did so only with a great deal of whinging, which was rather entertaining. 10 laps to go and Bottas was just at 2.5 seconds and Verstappen was a further 6 seconds back as Hamilton was starting to lose larger chunks of time to his chasing teammate. 8 laps to go and Albon had just caught Ricciardo while Bottas was inside 2 seconds and requested a bit of silence for the upcoming maneuvers.
Albon made easy work of Ricciardo, but the same couldn’t be said of Bottas, as Hamilton was dragging every last bit of traction out of his tyres to try and keep Valterri out of DRS range. Traffic ahead loomed, which was not necessarily an advantage for Hamilton as they were engaged in their own battle. Lap 50 and inside a second for Bottas as just ahead, Norris got the job done on Gasly. First up for Hamilton was Russell, who got very far out of the way as they trucked down the start/finish and into lap 51.
Hamilton locked up and went deep as they rounded the corner for the second DRS zone. Around the outside at the end of the straight went Bottas but Lewis took the exit wide and Valterri was forced to go off track. Round the corner and down the pit straight Hamilton got DRS and Gasly and was by, just staying ahead but in a repeat of the last lap, again went deep in the braking zone. This time, Bottas was closer and by the time they were halfway down the back straight, Valterri breezed past as Lewis put the squeeze on to exactly one car’s width, but no more. And then it was Verstappen, now just 3 seconds back that became the focus of the Mercedes as preserving a 1-2 became the next order of business.
In one lap, Bottas was more than a second in front of Lewis. Norris put the moves on his teammate and took P7 and slightly farther back, Perez dipped around Gasly to take P9, not a bad recovery from the pitlane. 2 laps to go and Hamilton informed his race engineer that he was quite well aware of Verstappen at less than 3 seconds while Verstappen confirmed he had all the power available to have a go….
1.2 seconds as the penultimate lap approached, and then Hamilton locked up into T1 and the gap dropped to less than a second and the Red Bull driver looked to have Lewis lined up for an overtake down the back straight with DRS. But the Racing Gods intervened and Magnussen suffered a brake failure, going off at the end of the back straight and bringing out the double waved yellows, the small bit of grace Hamilton would need to finish the race in P2. And that’s how it ended, Bottas with the win, followed by Hamilton and then Verstappen, Hamilton the WDC for the 6th time to the delight of the team and, for that matter, Bottas clinching second as well.
Not a total loss for Red Bull as well, with Verstappen on the podium and Albon P5, quite the drive considering he was dead last at the end of the first lap. Happy days for Renault, as they finished with double points as Perez ended the day just out of the points, Kvyat having overtaken him on the final lap, though not without some less than irrelevant contact. As a result, there was an investigation as the last point remained up in the air. Nice recovery by McLaren getting Norris to 6th and Sainz to 7th after the contact on the first lap upset the applecart a bit.
Ferrari was left licking its wounds yet again, as the failure of Vettel’s suspension took them out of the running early and it was clear that they had lost their mojo, Leclerc running far off the pace as the precarious balance they had found seemed lost, though whether that was the effect of Red Bull’s enquiry and the subsequent technical directive from the FIA remained to be conclusively shown. After the briefest of reviews, the stewards concluded that Kvyat had indeed caused a collision and he was assessed a penalty that restored the last point to Perez, a remarkable achievement for the Racing Point team on a windy and difficult day. Congratulations to Mercedes, then, for winning all the things and with the championships out of the way there is now nothing left to race for but glory and redemption as Red Bull and Ferrari both will look to do as much damage as possible to the morale of Mercedes as the circus heads south to Brasil…
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