In a race categorised by a steady chase between the Red bulls and Mercedes, Hamilton managed to edge away to victory.
The opening few corners were largely uneventful with everyone getting away cleanly, however
Perez did drop a place to fifth to Sainz and Norris got Ocon to move up to sixth. That all changed when Raikkonen went into the back of his teammate coming down the main straight, putting him out and forcing a safety car.
It wasn’t until lap 7 when the racing resumed. Hamilton mistimed the restart behind Bottas and Verstappen overtook him into turn 1 to split the Silver Arrows. Norris had a sensational restart moving up to 4th whilst Perez managed to get past Sainz to maintain his fifth position.
Thus a cat and mouse ensued between the top 3 that would run until the end of the race, albeit with positions swapping. Initially it looked like the three cars would cancel each other out in a DRS train. Hamilton snuck back past Verstappen with a gutsy late move to the inside of turn 1 after the Dutchman made an error at turn 14 allowing Hamilton to close in. Once past, Hamilton soon closed up behind Bottas but appeared to be stuck, as their equal machinery balanced each other out. Meanwhile Norris’s soft tyres tyres started to fade and Perez took his place to 4th.
In another opportunistic move on lap 19, in typical Hamilton fashion, he swept around the outside of Bottas at turn 1, initially looking like he wouldn’t slow down in time. This Promoted him into first place where he could control the remainder of the race. Gradually stretching a lead of a few seconds that he would hold for much of the race.
Sainz was the first to stop, changing from his worn softs to new Mediums, on lap 21. He was quickly followed by the rest of those who started on the soft, on the next lap. On lap 29 Leclerc then came in and surprisingly swapped to the hard compound. This gave the lead cars, who had to choose between the soft and hard tyres, valuable information about how the hard compound was performing. By Lap 29 it was clear that they were giving good lap times.
Russell was having a torrid day, starting from his highest position in a Williams in 11th he had dropped right to the back, even behind his team mate Latifi, who overtook him on lap 31. George did later get some places back once the pit stops had settled but it will still be a day to forget for the young Brit.
The big action at the front came during their pit stops. Verstappen attempted the undercut on lap 35, putting on the hards. Bottas who was about a second ahead before that dived in the next lap. He came out just ahead of Verstappen but couldn’t turn on his cold tyres and lost the place at turn 5. Thus the status quo had been set. Hamilton pitted a lap later but came out ahead of Verstappen and Bottas. Perez had however stayed out and decided to play the long game, so was running first. This was a clever strategy as a safety car would have meant he could pit and come out in front of Bottas. Unfortunately for him that never came. As Perez tried to maintain his lead he was almost taken out by Mazepin as he lapped the Russian, who was awarded a 5 second penalty.
Alonso and Ricciardo lit up the final third of the race, making their way up to 8th and 9th. Alonso pulled off some great moves on Gasly, Ricciardo and Sainz to show that he still has it upon his return to F1.
Eventually Perez pitted on lap 51 handing Hamilton the lead. He dropped to fourth, and left enough time for Verstappen and Bottas to both stop for softs to attempt fastest lap. Hamilton didn’t risk the same allowing him to cruise to victory. Bottas set the fastest on the penultimate lap, before Verstappen surpassed it on the final lap, but this was then deleted for exceeding track limits. Verstappen didn’t find this out until the interviews and clearly looked frustrated.
The Season moves on to Catalunya in Spain next weekend. It continues to look like an epic battle between Hamilton and Verstappen.
Full race results:
- Raikonnen DNF