Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor CFD1801J
Ambient 26.2° Track 31.4° Humidity 83.1% Wind 0.3 m/s
And lo the heavens doth opened and poured forth the deluge, and verily the floods came and the start of the race was delayed…slightly more than an hour according to a a race direction that according to many, was taking rather too long to get things started.. Given how rapidly the track was drying, instead of a one stop with a Soft/Medium going to a Hard between lap 22 and lap 28, now it was likely to be a one stop going from Inters to the Medium or Soft tyre, such was the dilatory and inflexible nature of the race start procedure.
And sure enough, already Inters on the reconnaissance lap being reported with another 40 minutes before the race start, and it was the Alfas and a McLaren running the green tyres…oooh and Ferraris too. Well, that will certainly be talked about in the coming week. Yesterday’s quali saw Verstappen twice told to abandon his final lap in Q3, meaning a P8 start and Mercedes replaced the PU for Russell, perhaps explaining his issues in quali yesterday. That change meant the Mercedes driver would be starting from the pitlane and as the cars circulated through the pits, as they do on the recce laps, more and more drivers switched to the Inters.
Of course the wet opens up some interesting doors for the midfield in the event of chaos, particularly well placed at the start would be Alonso, Norris and Gasly, top three in the best of the rest competition. As the grid walks got underway in earnest, perhaps worth noting that Magnussen, also starting in the top ten, regularly a good starter and immensely capable of driving a massive train and frustrating even the most experienced of drivers. Mid to high 1:50s reportedly the laptime for transition to slicks with the only joker potentially being a transition early enough that teams might need a second stop to get to the end. Or, of course, more rain during the race though that possibility clocked at only 20% by the FIA… and there it was, the entire grid starting on the Inters as the last seconds before the formation lap ticked away.
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Perez and into the lead pulled the Red Bull as Sainz and Hamilton came to blows, with Hamilton cutting through the runoff area to avoid contact. At the back, Albon had a spin and was dropped to to last. Damage to Magnussen as well, after a robust defense on Verstappen who had a less than stellar start. Max was immediately on the radio trying to get the HAAS black and orange flagged for it, but onto lap 2 Verstappen was by and off in search of Gasly.
No investigation for the Sainz/Hamilton pad de deux, and Hamilton was on the radio complaining to the engineers, saying that he had no grip and had warned them about the tyres. Curious, and the immediate suspicion was perhaps Hamilton wanted used Intermediates as they would come up to temperatures more quickly… At the front, Perez and Leclerc were a second faster than than the Sainz and Hamilton behind and they were still nearly a second faster than the Norris, who had nicked a spot from Alonso at the start and was now leading the best of the rest competition…
But the real story at the moment was the inability of Verstappen to make any forward progress, after getting into anti-stall at the start due to being in the wrong engine mode. He was stuck behind Vettel and as lap 6 dropped into the history books he was nearly 26 seconds back of the lead. And the problems for all the teams were getting worse, as the dry parts of the track were becoming problematic for keeping the tyres in from overheating, but the wet parts of the track were still too wet for a transition to slick tyres…
Lap 7 and KMag got meatballed, giving him 3 laps but oh no, it was Zhou on the exit of Turn 5, parked and clearly going no further. Latifi looked wounded as well and the VSC watch was on… Oh and on replay it was Latifi smashing Zhou into the wall, completely unaware that Zhou was alongside. Conveniently for Magnussen, who had ducked into the pits, a full Safety Car was deployed. The interesting question was aside from the wounded cars, would anyone dare change up their tyres. The immediate answer was no, as Latifi looked to have sustained terminal suspension damage even though he managed to get round to the pits.
Oh my and on replay Russell lunged one on Bottas at Turn 7, couldn’t get it stopped and tagged Bottas, doing some damage to the Alfa’s front wing. Russell took to the runoff, and did a spin turn, managing to not lose a place. Safety Car looked to be out for debris cleanup, as there was no other earthly reason for it, given the decent job Zhou had done parking his car. Lap 10 and the Safety Car was announced as ending.
On the restart it was Verstappen, taking Vettel on Turn 5 up the inside the only real mover. Gasly moved over, conveniently enough and there it was, two places in one lap and up to P7, with the Alonso/Norris battle the next challenge for the championship leader. Lap 13 and Verstappen had Alonso glued to his mirrors, the Red Bull clearly having pace over the Alpine but the conditions keeping Verstappen a bit more cautious than usual perhaps. At the front, Sainz was gapping Hamilton off from the top two, who were back to running about a second a lap faster…
The Alonso/Verstappen battle had given Norris a full 2 seconds over his rival for the moment, and a radio call to Sainz to cool the tyres suggested that the second phase of the race was underway. Now the challenge for the drivers was to keep the tyres alive to the crossover, without giving up positions to their rivals, with everyone beginning to struggle on traction. Without DRS the action on track was limited to watching sector times and waiting for the first pitstops with no one having the delta to overtake at the moment. 19 laps gone and it was a slow boil to the pitstops which were supposed to happen between lap 22 and lap 28 in the dry. The following lap Perez hit the 1:58s and that was a tickle on the transition times, though most drivers still thought it was a bit too wet to have a go on the slicks.
Some activity in the Mercedes pits got the commentariat all excited, but for the moment it was all hat no cattle as another lap rocked into the books. A momentary double yellow and it was Alonso, out with an engine issue. Disaster for Alpine and Virtual Safety Car was out… oh my that was gonna make life entertaining for the strategists… And it was Russell, into the pits and taking a set of Mediums…. the die was cast then as all eyes went to the timing screens and it was a massive and lurid drift into the first turn for him, decidedly the most exciting thing that had happened in double digit laps….
Lap 23 and the VSC was off and the real test was underway. Hmmm, Russell’s first sector was 2 seconds off everyone else so, maybe not yet. Three seconds in the second sector and oooh 3 seconds off in the third… Second lap was looking better, as he was now on par with Albon, clearly hard to get those tyres up into the window with the damp asphalt sucking the temperatures out of them. Dang and then Albon put it into the wall. He managed to get his car out of the barrier, but left his front wing stuffed into the barrier. Another Virtual Safety Car to clear that and after the Russell experiment there seemed to be no takers for the shortened pitstop.
Oh dear and off went Ocon with an equally dead power unit and a nice line of fluid as the car rolled gently backwards. Again a Virtual Safety Car and no takers but at least we got a lovely shot of a huge plume of smoke erupting from Ocon’s engine as it breathed its last…
Lap 30 and Hamilton and Sainz were playing games as they waited for the VSC to be lifted but it was Sainz a winner, as Hamilton was mid-corner when the VSC came off. Also a big winner was Norris, as Verstappen went a bit early and was forced to drop anchor to avoid getting caught out by passing Norris too soon. Oh no and then, Lap 33 Hamilton put it into the wall and the resulting damage meant that the pitstop dominoes were about to fall as Russell was now pretty much onto pace. Hamilton got out right in front of Verstappen but it was Gasly in, lap 34 that set off the row. Tsunoda, Bottas and Magnussen all in behind him. On replay it was driver error all the way for Hamilton. Start of lap 35 and it was Leclerc in for a set of Mediums, not the quickest of stops, with Hamilton and Vettel in as well. Vettel was out ahead of Hamilton, as he didn’t need to change his front wing. Perez responded to the challenge the following lap and Sainz followed him in. Oh wow and Tsunoda into the barriers at Turn 10 on the same lap and that was looking to be a full Safety Car. That was going to be a boon for Norris, as, taking advantage of the cessation of hostilities, he was going to rock out back of Sainz but ahead of Verstappen. Ricciardo was in and he was out ahead of Stroll in P6. Mercedes brought Russell in for a fresh set and it was Bottas and Ricciardo being cheeky and going for a roll of the dice on the Soft tyre.
Lap 39 and the official race timer hit 37 minutes to go with the Safety Car still out. At the end of lap 39 the Safety Car was in for the wild and woolly restart, loads of weaving down the straight as the drivers struggled to get the tyres warmed up that bit extra before the first turn…
Oh my into Turn 7 and Verstappen had a massive, tyre smoking lock up and went straight on as his move on Norris went horribly, horribly wrong. On the radio he said he needed to pit for new tyres, and that he bottomed as he chucked it up the inside on Norris. Russell was going slow with a puncture and then Perez was noted for a Safety Car infraction. On replay, Russell, making a move on Schumacher, just moved over into him… And the stewards decided to have a look at that as well, as Leclerc was now faster than Perez with both of them fighting their cars through each and every turn…
Perez said he was having issues with the PU in braking and traction as Leclerc hovered half a second back. Lap 43 and DRS was enabled. Perez snapped the car nearly sideways on acceleration and no move at the end of the first zone as Perez was not the only one struggling with traction.
On and on the battle went, with Leclerc winnowing ever closer but not able to get close enough down the straight to have a real move, the gap hanging inside half a second. Lap 46 and a big lockup from Perez the clearest indication of how much pressure the Ferrari driver was applying. Another lockup for Perez the following lap into the same place and again Leclerc could simply not get close enough on the straights. Lap 49 and it was the turn of Leclerc to make a mistake, going deep and granting a reprieve of nearly a second to Perez. And that looked to be that as given the breathing room, the Red Bull gradually began to pull away, over 2 seconds as lap 52 turned over.
Russell was in, again, for some Softs to go fast with as Perez had now taken fast lap away from Leclerc. On track, Verstappen had finally caught up to the Hamilton/Vettel train, which was being led by Stroll. Russell took fast lap away from Perez by a significant amount, meaning no one would get the point as he was well out of the top ten. At the front, with less than 2 minutes left Perez was nearly 5 seconds up on Leclerc as Hamilton, trying to make the move on Vettel, went deep and let Verstappen by…
Wow and nearly another full second gone as the last minute (+1 lap) ticked off the timing clock. Onto the final lap and Perez was told the gap was 7.5 seconds and to bring it home with no questions… and across the line he went as further back Verstappen managed to get the job done on Vettel round the outside of Turn 7 to claim ownership of P7.
Brilliant result for Perez, and for Red Bull, regardless of the penalty which may or may not be decided at some point before the end of the season. Should the result stand that would be a two points between Perez and Leclerc for second in the WDC a nice corrective to the endless media barrage the Mexican had been subjected to over the previous weeks. Not the greatest race for Max, but the ending seemed to make up for his and the team’s earlier mistakes.
Ferrari will have to be satisfied with not making any massive strategy errors, though perhaps they will have wished that Leclerc had maintained the lead though once again the end of the race seemed to suggest that there was little chance he would have held it to the end. The happy news for Ferrari is that today’s result put some very clear space between them and Mercedes in the Constructors.
But it was McLaren that was going to be jumping for joy, as their back to back finish in P4 and P5 promoted them ahead of rival Alpine to retake possession of P4 in the WCC, something no one saw coming…Aston Martin likewise popping corks in the garage with their P6 and P8 finish, which saw them vault both Alpha Tauri AND HAAS, up to P7.
Mercedes, well, not the race you’d expect from either driver and lucky to get any points quite frankly which leaves the solitary point gained by Gasly, tying Alpha Tauri with HAAS for P8 as the end of the season swings into view.
Suzuka is up next, umm and yeah next week apparently. Another chance for Verstappen to put the champions mantle on his back, conveniently in Japan which might make Honda happy one would think. Plenty of teams with lots to make up for and little time for them to sort themselves out far from home should make for an entertaining spectacle…
And remember to play nice in the comments!!