Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor CFD1801J
Ambient 24.3° Track 50.3° Humidity 74.6% Wind 0.3 m/s
Brutal sun hammered down on the circuit between the lakes, a full 15°C hotter than yesterday’s sprint, making life yet again miserable for the tyre engineers as they desperately tried to juggle their spreadsheets and choose the best compounds on the day. That should shift the ball somewhat into Red Bull’s court as hotter temps were thought to be in their favour.
At the sharp end, only Ferrari and Magnussen opted for the Medium tyre, the rest on the Softs as yesterday no doubt proved instructive. Pirelli’s prognosticators picked a two stopper with Mediums and Softs as the quickest way to the podium and an all Merc front row promised more than a bit of intrigue on the way to the first corner…
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Russell and it was line astern into Turn 1 with Norris getting ahead of Leclerc and oh no, further on in the lap Ricciardo tagged KMAG into a spin and rolling backwards to try and get off the track smashed Ricciardo’s McLaren into tiny little pieces, both of them gone in Turn 10. That was a Safety Car and a real shame for Magnussen, though it did promote his teammate into the points so….Leclerc was on the radio complaining about something strange with the PU but as the field circulated behind the Safety Car on lap 4, the Ferrari stayed on track after Ferrari said it was not a problem.
Albon bounced into the pits for a set of Mediums, meaning he could use any compounds he wanted in the rest of the race, having satisfied the regulations with regards to running two different compounds in the race. Lap 6 and the race was back on with Russell taking a long time to hit the loud pedal and it wasn’t until the start grid that he went. That left Verstappen round the outside into Turn 1 and to the surprise of no one they came together in Turn 2 with Hamilton punted onto the exit of the pitlane and Verstappen, with damage, having to come into the pits. Further up, with Norris promoted to third, Leclerc with a good run had a go and wound up in the wall for his efforts. He managed to get out with surprisingly little damage and so the race carried on, Russell, Perez and Sainz at the sharp end.
So much for sitting in the stewards’ room and sipping caiparainhas as a flurry of investigations was launched from that restart. By lap 13 Hamilton was up to P6 and inside DRS on Vettel. But what is this, apparently the clarion call of cocktails was high motivation as both Verstappen and Norris got 5 second dingers for their efforts and the race hurtled on. Onto lap 14 Hamilton nicked the place from Vettel and was left with just Norris to pick off. The following lap it was bye bye Lando and in clear air the first look at the Mercedes’ pace post collision. Alonso bounced into the pits, no doubt to undercut his teammate. Another set of Mediums meant a guaranteed second stop as the Alpine driver became the first to declare his intent to two stop.
Vettel was the next to rock by the penalty laden McLaren of Norris, possible some damage from his brouhaha slowing him down and Zhou was next in at the end of lap 17 for Mediums. Sainz came in the end of lap 17, for some Softs and a slow stop put him just back of Albon and there was no doubt that his right rear brake was on fire as he rocked into the pits. That was what necessitated the call to come in.
Lap 20 and Russell was on the radio was saying the tyres were good and wanting to go long while at the back Sainz was quickly working his way to the front, up to P8 and directly behind Ocon as lap 22 rolled into the history books. Leclerc was in for some Softs on that lap as well, which saw him drop all the way down to P17, not ideal for sure.
Lap 24 and Perez was in and the following lap Mercedes answered, bringing in Russell to answer. And it was bad news for Perez as he got chucked out behind Bottas and was immediately in a tough fight for the Red Bull driver. Russell was out even with Vettel and easily rocked away as now his teammate led the race and perhaps Mercedes was contemplating a split strategy thanks to the earlier collision.
Lap 27 and Mediums for Vettel and Ocon had jumped Norris in the pits as well, 2 laps earlier and the undercut seemed to be less than usual, as Vettel took just two laps to rock past Gasly and retake P8. Hamilton was in lap 30 and hmmm, it was Mediums for the Mercedes and so not likely to be a one stopper then….
Also worth mentioning that the clouds had rolled in and the track temps had plummeted to 43°C from the start the pendulum now swinging back to Mercedes. Hamilton smashed in a fast lap on the 33rd time round the track and was catching Sainz and Perez ahead at a fairly rapid clip. Alfa Romeo was noted as a mechanic in the pitlane may have been in an unsafe place, potentially impeding Schumacher’s stop. Lap 37 and Alonso was in for his last stop, again on a Medium tyre to go to the end but it was a slow stop, with a balky rear wheel and traffic ruining the carefully planned strategy. Sainz was in again with the same strategy but out ahead of Bottas this time.
Sainz pitstop put Perez into a bit of peril as Carlos’ quick laptimes put him into the Red Bull drivers pit window immediately and by lap 41 the position was his unless Checo ran to the end, a distinct unlikelihood as the Medium tyre seemed to just not be lasting that long. Russell was suggesting that the Soft was an acceptable choice for the last stop and lap 44 Lewis had caught Perez and after a lap of riding his gearbox blew past the Red Bull driver on his way to Turn 1 with DRS and a fantastic tow.
Lap 46 and Leclerc was in as the window for running Softs to the end opened….. Bottas and Vettel were both in as well and it was indeed Soft tyres getting racked onto the cars save Vettel. Lap 48 and Perez was in as Verstappen had crept his way back up to P6, though Perez was going to be out ahead of him. Ocon came in the following lap for a set of Softs and the game was set at the sharp end of the midfield.
Hamilton was brought in to exit ahead of Perez on some tasty Softs and that worked to perfection and Verstappen was in lap 49 for his final set of tyres, off on his new set of Softs to make hay to the end of the race…
Russell was the last of the leaders and he just managed to clear Sainz and worth noting that Hamilton essentially halved his gap to Russell by being allowed to pit early to protect from Perez. Lap 52 and oh my, Norris off the road with a loss of power which could be a huge bonus for Carlos Sainz as the Virtual Safety Car was called. Alonso was in to take advantage and ditch his Mediums. Sainz followed suit and….. out he went only dropping to P4 and just 3 seconds back of Perez and there goes the Safety Car as the car could not be recovered.
Russell was told it was a race to the end after a cheeky inquiry to his race engineer if Merc wanted to “secure the 1-2” and Sainz on fresh tyres in P4 and Verstappen in P10 looked like they might wreak more than a bit of havoc on the field. Three lapped cars needed to be sent round first, Albon, Tsunoda and Latifi and lap 58 and oh look, the race director failed to send Tsunoda through and there we go, the race restarted with Tsunoda still a lap down and his two rivals having been sent round…
Russell went at the same place as last time and it was Leclerc nicking Bottas and Ocon nicking Vettel before letting Alonso, behind and on fresher tyres, go. That brought Verstappen to his gearbox and lap 62 saw the Red Bull getting round the Alpine driver, but not before Ocon hitched a ride through on Bottas…
That put Verstappen chasing Alonso as Alonso, after Leclerc did Perez, was eyeing up the used Mediums on the Red bull driver before Alonso put the move on the run to Turn 4, up to P5 all this as the two Mercedes circled just one second apart with the laps ticking down…
Two laps to go and there was nothing in it on laptime, with Russell just staying out of Hamilton’s DRS but it was the second sector where Russell was pulling out a gap of about a tenth, just staying out of Lewis’ grasp, maybe an artifact of the damage the collision with Verstappen had done to the car.
Behind, Verstappen had hauled Alonso into DRS and despite the request from team management, also did not let Perez by instead betting on the pass before the finish line, which did not happen. Understandable as he was close enough to make it a possibility, but with the race between Perez and Leclerc on razor margins an unfortunate loss for Perez who found himself on the wrong tyre at the wrong time. Oh no, wait, on the radio Max clearly said he had no intention of letting Perez by for “reasons”. Well, Ferrari will be delighted with that as it obscures Leclerc getting kinda emotional when they refused to ask Carlos to let him through.
But of course it was big win #1 for Russell, with Hamilton coming P2 that will be the cause of celebration, after a year spent in the margins at last some solid proof of forward progress. Ferrari will settle for being second fastest after their best efforts to ruin the weekend came to naught, thanks to decent driving from Sainz and Leclerc.
Alpine pulled a rabbit out of their self destructive hat by getting Alonso across the line in P5, thanks to the late Safety Car due to the Norris stop, and with Ocon in P8 that was a healthy jump in their margin over McLaren, a savage reversal for the team from Woking for whom it had all looked so promising less than two hours ago.
Big questions at Red Bull, as somehow, despite having won pretty much everything but P2 in the Drivers’ Championship, not only were they third fastest on the weekend but the drivers seemed to have turned on each other. Of course, that’s not the first time this particular drama has played out at Red Bull and they seemed to do OK back then so….. Still, it is intriguing now that Perez and Leclerc are absolutely level on points which means it is all coming down to the last race in Abu Dhabi.
Bottas hung on for P9 and that is enough to offset the singular point Stroll gained for P10 though they go into the final weekend just 5 points apart. HAAS lead Alpha Tauri by just 2 points and of course, the sharp end is going to be all about that battle for second in the Drivers’ Championship. No shortage of drama then and no time to kiss boo boos as Abu Dhabi is just 5 days away….
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