Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 21° Track 43° Humidity 44% Wind 2.3 m/s
Limpid pools of blue arced overhead, interespersed with glorious cotton ball clouds as the drivers and teams finished off their last minute preparations. Well, except Racing Point, which was in the process of disassembling Nico Hulkenbergs car which was suffereing with an as yet unnamed PU issue that seemed quite likely, and then definitely to prevent him from taking the start. Leaving only the question of whether he would get to race at all or if he was out before the Grand Prix even began. And indeed that was the case, done before he started.
George Russell received a 5 spot penalty for ignoring double waved yellows which did Williams no favors, and Ferrari were not, indeed penalised for an unsafe release with Leclerc, despite appearances… The only teams starting on the Soft tyres were McLaren and Renault along with Vettel and it was going to be a tall order to make that strategy work against the longer running Mediums.
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Bottas as he got alongside Hamilton and made things interesting into T1. Hamilton held on along the outside and Bottas lightly locked up into the next turn, solving that problem for Lewis but which put him under pressure as behind Leclerc and Verstappen dueled before Max put his nose ahead and set himself at Valterri’s gearbox. Stroll dropped down the order like a stone and Norris then locked up into Copse, letting Sainz alongside and by and then, Ricciardo. Behind, Vettel went wide, taking the pressure off of Ocon who he appeared to be lining up until that moment.. But then Magnussen, who hit the kerb into the final turn after a brilliant first lap up, encountered the front wheel of Albon who had chucked it up the inside of an ever closing gap. This brought out the Safety Car as Magnussen was off into the gravel and missing his front left wheel after walloping the barrier.
Lap 5 was the restart and Bottas appeared to have been caught napping which let Verstappen have a proper go but the main action was Ocon, putting the pressure on Stroll, on the Medium tyre which was likely not all the way up to temperature relative to the Softs on the Renault. And one more lap and Albon was in, complaining of a vibration. Onto the Hards he went and back out…
At the front the Mercedes were beginning to pull away from Verstappen and Verstappen was putting a serious amount of time on Leclerc, who had dropped nearly a second a lap to the Red Bull. Sainz lingered 1.5 seconds back and Ricciardo a similar distance to Sainz, and then it was P7 to P16 all in DRS of each other as lap 10 loomed into view. Red Bull told Max he was mainly losing time to the Mercs in T16 and T17 and they seemed happy to it was just 0.5 seconds a lap. Two laps on and Vettel was beginning to make inroads into Ocon as the timing sheets made increasingly clear that the Softs were beginning to lose their edge.
And then lap 13 it was the Safety Car again, Kvyat off in Maggots and Becketts, and it was pitstopapalooza for all the Soft tyre runners. And Kvyat’s car was a proper disaster as it looked to be a suspension failure or puncture that sent him off, the entire rear ripped off, and the nose gone. Ocon was the big loser during the pits, a very long stop demoting him to P11 whilst the rest maintained their general order. Despite being on Mediums, Stroll also elected to come in for a set of Hards and with the exception of Grosjean, who had rocked up to P5 the midfield was done and then the following lap, the leaders were in for a set of Hards and, well, there went the delights of any strategy to discuss.
As lap 16 entered the books Mercedes was running its DAS system to keep the tyres up to temperature, discussion continued as to exactly what had happened to Kvyat and the restart offered the slight possibility that something interesting might indeed happen at the front. Although, for Albon, in P14 it was potentially a big break if he could clear a few cars in the general chaos that far back. This also opened the door for loads of radio complaints, many about the speed of the Safety Car, but one from Norris, complaining that Ricciardo ahead was leaving too much space to the car ahead as playing the refs was coming increasingly into focus as a potential strategy as the laps leaked away.
Lap 18 and they were off, with Grosjean almost getting the better of Leclerc and it was Norris having a go at Ricciardo and into Luffield around the outside he got the job done and then almost threw it away, going wide at Copse as he attempted to carry on and get the better of Sainz, who had been backing up Ricciardo to help him out. Whew. Remarkably, as of lap 20 Grosjean was STILL in DRS of Leclerc and again it was DRS all the way down, with the only real gaps between Verstappen and the Mercs and between Verstappen and Leclerc.
Albon got dinged for the collision with Magnussen, a 5 second penalty and Grosjean made a very late move to try and hold off Sainz, who was sooner or later going to get the job done, lap 22 into Stowe as it turned out. At the front, Bottas continued to hang with Hamilton, just 1.5 seconds off the back of his gearbox. Norris was next up to have a go at the HAAS driver and slightly further back Ocon was back into the points, having gotten around Vettel and was now on the tail of Stroll, who was in the process of trying to get round Ricciardo just ahead.
Norris got the job done on lap 24 at the same place on track as it really had to be Stroll, amongst the top 10 who seemed to be rather underperforming his car. Unless, of course, the PU issues that affected Hulkenberg remained a concern and as a result he was not being given the usual grunt of the Merc powerplant. Grosjean got whacked upside the head with a black and white flag for his naughty little move on Sainz,
Ocon continued to dial up the heat on Stroll and lap 27 he got right alongside into Stowe but Stroll forced him to take the outside line and was able to successfully defend the spot. Grosjean, rather remarkably, was able to keep pace with Norris, staying inside DRS and making it rather difficult for Ricciardo to make a move.
Lap 29 and the HAAS finally fell off the back of the DRS train and Ricciardo slowly began to reel him in. During the lull, it was announced that Perez was in the midst of a quarantine from his first test, which still had 10 days to run, meaning he was out for the following GP as well. Albon’s 5 second penalty saw Red Bull call him in, for an extra stop and some faster tyres, out on a set of Mediums and 17 seconds behind Latifi.
Lap 32 and Ricciardo’s slow reel was becoming a no reel as Giovinazzi was under investigation for a Safety Car infringement. Raikkonen got swapped out for Latifi for Albon’s nearest target, as the other Canadian got the job done on the Alfa to take over P15. 5 seconds for Giovinazzi as at the front, Hamilton had extended his lead to a massive 2 seconds on lap 37 over Bottas (ok 2 seconds not massive). Behind, Ricciardo finally got the job done as once again the HAAS driver was more than a bit naughty in his attempted defense. This prompted HAAS to bring Grosjean in, regardless of whether or not he was going to get penalised for his.umm, creative defending. Gasly got Vettel on lap 38, hanging onto the inside to the point where his laptime was deleted and Stroll was under severe pressure from Ocon. On the radio Lance was saying he had nothing left as Ocon continued in DRS and their battle had drifted nearly 3 seconds back of Ricciardo ahead. Lap 42 and even the telly was paying attention to the battle and it was oh so close, but Stroll was just able to stay ahead of the Renault into Stowe. Both Mercedes were beginning to show lines of blisters on the right front and Bottas was beginning to fall off the cliff, having lost another 1.6 seconds to Hamilton.
It took till lap 47 as it turned out and down the Wellington straight was the place Ocon got the job done, leaving Stroll to the clutches of Gasly who had been quietly closing up on the battle behind. Sainz’ pace was beginning to suffer as he reported vibrations and Norris was getting rather racy, especially as Ricciardo had closed up to DRS on him with 3 laps left in the race. Lap 49 and Gasly stuck the knife in Stroll through Abbey, whilst Raikkonen had a front wing fail and was out of the race. Of course, one could be pardoned for not realising he was in the race given the miserable season they were having….
Lap 50 and just when you thought it was safe to grab one more beer from the icebox before the finish and it was Bottas suddenly going wide into Club and just like that Verstappen was by and into a rather unexpected P2. On replay it was Bottas’ tyre that delaminated, just after he passed the start/finish and as he braked for Club that was what sent him wide as the tread block fully detached. Which, of course, likely sent the collective blood pressure at Brackley through the roof as they still had 2 more laps to get Lewis home. Further back Albon got the job done on Vettel for the last championship point. Verstappen pitted ahead of Bottas as he now had the free pass for P2 and Sainz was the next to have tyre issues, again with the tread detached, on the penultimate lap, which promoted Vettel back into the points as well as moving up the back half of the top 10. Final lap then and Albon got Stroll and…Holy crap and then it was Hamilton, on his last lap at the end of the Wellington straight headed into Luffield when HIS tyre delaminated (left fronts all) and he slid through the twisty bits and with Verstappen chasing from behind on a new set and a 20 second gap to close. Into Copse then and with the tread flapping in the breeze he bled time down the Hangar straight and through Copse, and with the left front wheel wheel not even rotating into the Vale chicane, Hamilton slalomed through the last turns and crossed the line just 5 seconds ahead of Verstappen in a stunningly slow and utterly amazing 1:55.484, as Verstappen, behind took P2. Leclerc was able to hang on to P3 ahead of a hard charging Ricciardo P4 with Norris and Ocon rounding out the top 5, happily promoted 2 spots due to the multiple tyre failures. However Bottas, despite being on a set of Softs, was unable to close the gap and get round Vettel and thus finished P11, the timing of his failure resulting in a huge loss in the championship standings, especially in this shortened season, with Lewis taking a 30 point lead into next week’s race over his nearest competitor.
Not far behind him in the championship standings, and clearly living his best life, was Lando Norris, P4 in the WDC and ahead of both Ferrari drivers and Albon, surely easing the sting a bit for McLaren over the loss of Sainz in the final laps. Despite that, McLaren still made a big move on their nearest rivals Racing Point up 10 points and still up 8 points over Ferrari, currently P3 overall in the Constructor’s. Racing Point’s no good awful terrible race opened the door for Renault, who with Ricciardo P4 and Ocon P6, who have lofted themselves back into contention, just 10 points back and a strong result for them. Gasly, too, had a real treat and happy news for Alpha Tauri as having won the tyre lottery, he pulled off a P7 and finished one place ahead of Albon, albeit with one less pitstop. And it may be worth examining whether or not Kvyat suffered a similar failure as on replay it did look suggestive of a tyre issue, regardless of what the team said during the race.
Ferrari, too, had some reason to be pleased, though they were significantly slower than either Mercedes or Red Bull, to finish P3 with Leclerc and stay ahead of the rest of the midfield at a very power sensitive circuit had to be called a victory given their current straights. Red Bull will happily take their P2, despite the fact that had they not pitted Verstappen they could have won. Of course, they also could have suffered a failure in a high speed corner and not finished at all and the fact they are clearly far closer to Mercedes than any other team is the moral victory the needed, and Albon, well, he just had a cursed weekend.
Happily enough for the losers, we do it all again next week, with softer tyres and reportedly even hotter temperatures on the way…. So hello two stop my old friend and we’ll see what happens in just 5 short days…
And remember to play nice in the comments!!