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Ambient 27.9° Track 39.4° Humidity 60.1% Wind 0.5 m/s
In stark contrast to qualifying, skies overarching the grid were rapidly turning grey as the race gods again played with the teams as sport, rain arriving with 20 minutes to go, darkening the track and sending the engineers into full crisis mode regarding tyre choice. Equally intriguing, Honda switched out Verstappen’s PU, after finding a crack near the chassis mounts following yesterday’s sessions. The chassis being a stressed member of the suspension, it is not inconceivable that it affected his qualifying performance…
Prior to the rain, Pirelli was predicting 2 stop as the quickest strategy, with windows between laps 17 and 23 and again between laps 45 and 50 with Soft, Hard, Medium the ideal choice. One stop was rated “very close” with the window between laps 30 and 35, Medium to Hard the way to go… 30 minutes of variable intensity rain predicted as the minutes ticked down and Norris was of the opinion that with 10 minutes to go it was still going to be slicks at the start. Which would increase the value of the Softs that Red Bull were currently required to start on relative to the Mediums on the Mercedes.
Also a big focus was cooling, with Ferrari going so far as to change the brake shrouds on Leclerc’s car as the rapidly changing weather was generating increasing amounts of chaos amongst the engineers. Red Bull were running massive amounts of dry ice through their PU’s, vapor exiting the exhausts in a most dramatic fashion….
The run to Turn 1 is quite long and with the damp greasy pavement graining was predicted to be the big issue amongst the tyre cognoscenti, which might precipitate (get it!!!) some premature pit stops depending on how much the individual drivers are struggling as the race lengthens. And there it is, the entire grid on Inters as it was 25 minutes of rain predicted with the switchover now being a critical inflection point for drivers and teams….
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Hamilton as it was Bottas and Perez coming together with Norris sliding into Verstappen, the carnage in the first turn taking out a fair number of competitors. And sure enough by halfway round the first lap the Safety Car was called. On replay, it was Bottas, locking up the fronts under braking for Turn 1, punting Norris into Verstappen and leaving Bottas to slide into Perez. The absolute chaos very much benefitted Ocon, who found himself, after cleverly avoiding the cornerpacolypse, running in P2 followed by Vettel, Sainz and Tsunoda. Latifi had somehow threaded his way up to up to P6. Further casualties were Leclerc, taken out by Stroll who entirely got it wrong and tried to sneak through on the grass, and then going on to tip Ricciardo into a spin.
The massive amount of debris meant a full on red flag which was a bonus for those who had sustained damage, and managed to get back round to the pitlane where it could potentially be repaired. Norris was announced as retiring by McLaren and as a side note, Giovinazzi, who had bet on pitlane start with full Wets, turned out to have lost rather badly, as he was at the back when the Safety Car was called.
The championship implications of this were not insignificant either, with Verstappen not only having lost his right hand side bargeboard, but also restarting in P13 while Hamilton would still be in pole position. The sun had also emerged during the lengthy red flag period which opened up the option of a change to slicks potentially even at the end of the formation lap, with some dry patches already appearing as the rolled out of the pitlane, minus Bottas, Leclerc, Stroll and Perez.And in fact the entire field pits, minus Hamilton and thus he would be the only starter on the grid.
Lights Out!!!! Again! Great start by Hamilton, as he was the only one on the grid and off they, well he went. Out of the pitlane it was Russell up to P2 having nicked it from Ocon before the pitlane exit somehow….That didn’t last long as Ocon nabbed the spot from him and Hamilton was in at the end of the lap for some slicks, leaving Ocon in the lead of the race, followed by Vettel and Latifi in P4. Hamilton emerged dead last and it was a problem for Russell, who was down to P7 leaving Ocon to lead the race, with Vettel about a second back.
And it turns out that Russell was told to give back the places explaining his return to P7 and it was also Mazepin retiring, after Raikkonen was released directly into his path in the pits and the resulting contact having broken the HAAS rather thoroughly. The incident was announced as being investigated as the race rolled on.
Lap 11 and Hamilton finally was able to overtake Giovinazzi, telling the story of Hungary without using all that many words. At the front, Vettel and Ocon were now 10 seconds up the road from Latifi and Giovinazzi got a stop go for speeding in the pitlane. Hamilton, after dispatching Giovinazzi, found himself stuck behind Gasly, himself behind Verstappen and the entire train being driven by Schumacher at the moment. Mercedes warned Lewis about his brake caliper temperatures as the returning sun and being in traffic was complicating his life.
Into lap 15 Verstappen finally took his shot and they were banging wheels through the first turn, with Verstappen persisting, getting wide to have a go at Turn 3 and Schumacher parking himself on the racing line, with Max ultimately being the winner as he swung out and tapped Schumacher’s front wheel after they went side by side for 3 consecutive turns. Gasly and Hamilton followed him through and off they went in search of Ricciardo, next up the ladder.
Raikkonen was in lap 17 for a set of Hards and the following lap saw Vettel start to make his move on Ocon, into DRS for the first time since the restart. Further back it was Hamilton into DRS on Gasly as Verstappen was still about 2 seconds back of Ricciardo. Ocon replied the following lap, matching Vettel’s times and by the start of lap 20 he was back out of the Aston’s DRS. Hamilton, however, was growing impatient and sensing something, Mercedes brought him in and put him out into clean air on a set of Hards, in effect an attempt to undercut Gasly and Verstappen.
But it was Ricciardo and Verstappen replying, in the following lap in riposte but too much time lost and Hamilton, who split them as they exited, was able to rock around Ricciardo as well and was off, with Schumacher ahead his next target. Lap 22 and Russell was in to cover off Ricciardo and he was successful, ahead of Ricciardo and Verstappen and playing rear gunner for Latifi as Williams were all in to score their first points.
Sainz, contra orders, argued to stay out as he felt he still had pace, and indeed, he was the last of the runners inside the pitwindow of Ocon. Latifi was in lap 24 and that promoted Alonso into P4 as Vettel once again crept into DRS only to see Ocon respond the following lap to take himself back out of danger..
Lap 28 and only Sainz and Alonso were in the pit window for the top two, as further back Hamilton rocked by Latifi but was a full 37 seconds back of the lead with 42 laps left in the race. Given the window for the one stop (which effectively this had become, due to the red flag) was predicted to officially open on lap 30 things were looking good for the two at the front, with Hamilton already 10 laps onto his set of Hards.
Lap 31 and Ocon was beginning to pull away from Vettel, the gap up to 2 seconds and it was Alpha Tauri, seeing the writing on the wall as Gasly’s pace began to flag, bringing him in for a set of Hards to run to the end. Lap 33 and Sainz was in, just after Hamilton made a beautiful overtake round the outside of Tsunoda in turn 4, putting him provisionally ahead in the WDC in their current positions on the road.
Russell was next to make a bold move, round Schumacher in Turn 2 and up to P9. Ricciardo was next up to have a go at the HAAS and both he and Verstappen were by, leaving Max just one place out of the points.
Lap 37 and Vettel was in, having fallen nearly 3 seconds back of Ocon, but it was a slow in and a slow stop, despite which he was out ahead of Sainz. Given that, Ocon was in the following lap and the pressure was on for Alpine…ohhh and it’s spicy he was out just ahead of Vettel and it was all on, as Alonso was now leading the race. Vettel chased the Alpine all through Sector 2 and for a moment all looked lost for Ocon, but as his tyres came up to temperature he began to eke out a gap and by the end of the lap had put Vettel just the wrong side of DRS… Alonso was in lap 40 as the battle for the lead raged, both drivers dancing around the DRS and only hundredths between them….
Lap 41 and Verstappen was in for a second stop, saying that his car was broken. The team was not willing to throw the towel in just yet, sending him back out on a set of Medums. Ahead, Sainz was being quite clear with the team that Hamilton might yet have another stop to make, and that they should be careful of the undercut…
At the front, Vettel went deep chasing Ocon, but wasn’t quite able to pull it off, and this freed the Alpine driver as the gap went out to 1.5 seconds for the first time since the pitstopapalooza…. Sainz, still defending from Hamilton now, was on the radio complaining that the helicopter was too low and the wash was affecting his car. Lap 45 and Vettel was again bringing the pressure, the correct side of DRS this go round as Hamilton said that the tyres were coming back in, to the great relief of his engineers…
Lap 48 and Hamilton was in, as at the front it appeared that the Aston was being favoured by the Hard tyre a bit. Mediums for Hamilton and with 22 laps to go, it was all on with 25 seconds to the lead as he exited the pitlane. Damage done for the lead as he was already inside the pit window and Vettel had quite a go as Ocon was passing Giovinazzi, the backmarker very nearly changing the complexion of the race. Alpha Tauri told Tsunoda to let Gasly by and at the front Ocon again managed to eke the gap out as Schumacher was the last in a train of traffic he needed to bypass to regain free air.
Verstappen, on his fresh tyres, had managed to regain P11 and was once again faced with getting round Ricciardo in order to get into the points. A deft pass by Ocon on lapped traffic helped him take the gap over Vettel out to 1.3 seconds and Aston was telling him that they had the pace, but Hamilton on his fresh set was nearly 4 seconds a lap faster as he reeled in Sainz. McLaren were considering bringing Ricciardo in to give him a chance to get by Russell and with 16 laps to go options were rapidly beginning to narrow.
Hamilton’s pace continued to burn, taking another 2 seconds out of the leaders as he had now rocked up to the gearbox of Alonso, whose clear job was to make this pass as hard as possible…Giovinazzi exiting the pits gave Hamilton a huge chance and Alonso kept his foot absolutely in as Hamilton made every effort to get round on the outside as the wound their way into the seconds sector. Alonso managed to keep his nose ahead and it was another lap then that Lewis would have to wait….
Or 2 laps as the case was as with DRS on lap 57 the Mercedes driver once again had a go but again Alonso perfectly positioned his car to keep Lewis from getting round the outside of Turn 2 and again into Turn 4.
Onto lap 60 and again Hamilton was well into DRS but it wasn’t enough and the Alpine driver again was able to keep the Mercedes behind him as ahead his teammate continued to frustrate Vettel. But the only battles weren’t at the front as Verstappen at last was able to get round Ricciardo and was up into the points… Bottas was dinged 5 places at his next start for the party he started at Turn 1 and Alonso continued to gleefully ruin the glorious comeback drive of Hamilton. As the duel continued, word that Stroll, too, was going to be docked some grid spots come Spa.
Ahhhh lap 63 and Hamilton was round the outside as Alonso got a bit wide defending through Turn 2 and into Turn 4 they were side by side and Alonso swept across Hamilton’s bows on exit which brought Mercedes’ radio to life as Lewis was complaining about the Spaniard’s defensive tactics.
The following lap Alonso locked up into Turn 1 and it was Hamilton up the inside and now it was Alonso’s turn to be on the outside and Lewis easily was able to close off the riposte, but having won that battle he may well have lost the war as it was still 10 seconds to the lead and only 4 laps to go. Lap 66 and it was Sainz’ turn to deny Hamilton a place.
The following lap it was Hamilton getting the job done as Sainz left him entirely too much space and he was up the inside and gone, P3 now his. 2 laps to go and it was 5 seconds to the front as Ocon continued to hang just outside of DRS on Vettel. Onto the final go round they thundered Ocon still out of the DRS of Vettel as Hamilton had closed the gap to Vettel to inside of 3 seconds. 2 corners to go then through the last corner and across the line he went, first win for Ocon, an amazing result for Alpine and full marks to his teammate Alonso who guaranteed the chance at a win by keeping Hamilton at bay for a multitude of laps. Vettel gutted as he was convinced he had the car to win and somewhat hilariously, Ocon failed to stop at the winners mark in the pits and had to jog back down the pitlane as Vettel, who had to stop his car on track, was jogging down the pitlane in the opposite direction to the utter delight of the commentariat…
There will be no happier team than Alpine, whatever the outcome of the Constructor’s this season as today’s result will be what they need to garner continued support for their program, a win and P5 being a stunning result for the team from Enstone. Despite Vettel’s disappointment in not being able to overtake Ocon, Aston will be delighted with the podium finish, especially after losing Stroll at the start.
Mercedes will be kicking themselves for not pitting Hamilton at the restart, but given the circumstances it will feel like a win as a podium from the back of the grid was a nearly inconceivable when they brought him in, such was the difficulty of overtaking even with the massive advantage the Mercedes had.
Ferrari is another team that will be playing the woulda coulda shoulda game after Sainz left entirely too much space for Hamilton and let him easily by, watching his podium disappear in a flash of black and silver. Still, given Leclerc’s untimely exit and the carnage at McLaren it was still an important haul of points in their epic battle for P3 in the Constructors.
Alpha Tauri also cleaned up with Gasly and Tsunoda coming P6 and P7 and happy days indeed for them but the quiet story of the race was Williams, coming directly behind with Latifi ahead of Russell but both drivers firmly in the points and it was cheers all the way round as an important marker for the team had finally been cleared. That just leaves Verstappen, with a brutally wounded car still able to take a single point that might yet be the difference between winning and losing the championship at the end of the season. Cold comfort for the team from Milton Keynes as not only did they wind up having to replace Verstappen’s PU, but potentially Perez had damage from the incident as well. A more dramatic cliff hanger for the summer break would be hard to imagine, as it was clear, even amidst the rush to pack up and catch planes commenced, that the season was far from over….
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