Sunday, 8 September 2019

Italy: post-race analysis 2019

The race was engaging, and another great win for Leclerc. The bet came off, perhaps moderately fortuitous, but if luck’s going to play a role better it be good than ill. Only each way so modestly green, but I’m still pleased.

Off the line Leclerc was a little tardy and Hamilton came almost alongside but in a spot of foreshadowing the Monegasque fellow defended hard and kept his place. Further back Verstappen, Perez and perhaps Raikkonen too got tangled up in the first corner.

Bottas almost passed Hamilton but was unable to make it stick. Meanwhile Hulkenberg passed Vettel, leaving Leclerc without any rear gunner at all.

Ferrari’s younger driver was keeping ahead of both Mercedes but they were on a chain, barely slipping a second back from Leclerc (a similar gap between Hamilton and Bottas). Vettel eventually got past Hulkenberg but had lost time and was a little way back. And then he rather made a hash of things. The four time champion spun, without any contact at all, until he returned to the track and tagged Stroll. The Canadian, understandably displeased, got on the radio about Vettel’s unsafe rejoining of the track, only to do almost the exact same thing to Gasly. The Frenchman was pushed wide into gravel, although there was no direct car-to-car contact. Vettel got a 10s stop and go penalty (and had to pit one more time for a new nose anyway) and Stroll got a drive through.

It seemed Leclerc was struggling just a little with his tyres. Mercedes, having the luxury of two cars right behind him, sent Hamilton in for an undercut pit stop. Leclerc pitted the next lap and retained the (real terms) lead.

Bottas stayed out for a while longer, but it wasn’t working and seven or so laps later he came in. Both Mercedes were on medium tyres, Leclerc (whose Ferrari had gnawed on the medium rubber previously) had hard tyres instead.

A virtual safety car came out when McLaren made a schoolboy error and sent out Sainz without all his wheels properly attached. Unlucky for the Spaniard who has another DNF that wasn’t his fault.

After the VSC came in Hamilton put Leclerc under tremendous pressure, but the Ferrari’s power on the straight was unassailable. On one occasion only was the Monegasque at direct risk of being overtaken, and that was following a lock-up and cut first corner that allowed Hamilton to get within about two-tenths. That lap, Leclerc did weave a bit and did squeeze Hamilton.

Unfair? Dangerous? Robust defending?

I’m not a weaving fan, but Leclerc was still ahead when he squeezed Hamilton.

That was the only real chance. After that, the medium tyre advantage started ebbing. And Bottas was hoving into view. The Finn had been a bit screwed by the strategy call earlier, but not he was eating into the 7s or so gap to the top pair at about half a second a lap. Mercedes were spared a team orders decision when Hamilton thoughtfully ploughed straight on at the first corner, went through the slalom and this allowed Bottas to effectively pass him.

With Leclerc’s hard tyres a bit older and going off, the Finn got close, but couldn’t try a real attempt. He was there and thereabouts but the Ferrari driver withstood all pressure, as he had from Hamilton, to take a very impressive win. It reminded me a bit of when Verstappen held off a clearly faster Raikkonen (then driving for Ferrari) in the Dutchman’s first race for Red Bull at Spain, 2016.

Late on, Hamilton swapped his knackered medium tyres for fresh rubber and duly banged in the fastest lap.

Also worth mentioning a very strong Renault performance. I’d expected them to slide back a little at least in the race but they got 4th and 5th and (excepting Vettel’s self-inflicted punishment) it was entirely on merit. A tasty 22 point haul, which is an awful lot for the midfield when the top 6 places are usually locked out by the big teams. Not enough to pass McLaren but enough to put the team back in contention for best of the rest.

Albon was 6th. A bit lacklustre, perhaps? Only his second race with the team but he did try going around someone where he ought not, and ended up having a small excursion through a scenic gravel trap. Verstappen was 8th, which also isn’t fantastic, although he started from near the back of the grid.

Perez got 7th for Racing Point, which is useful. And he also started near the back of the grid, which makes it all the more impressive. Giovinazzi got 9th, keeping Alfa Romeo’s points tally ticking over on a rare Raikkonen off day. Norris picked up the final point for McLaren. Sainz would’ve been tussling with Hulkenberg, probably, had his car retained the traditional number of wheels.

Bit rubbish for Toro Rosso. Gasly was 11th and Kvyat was doing very well until his car broke. Haas had a pointless Grosjean and a broken Magnussen.

Hamilton 284
Bottas 221
Verstappen 185
Leclerc 182
Vettel 169

Bottas nibbled away 2 points of Hamilton’s lead. If the season had another 32 races, he’d be on course to win by 1 point. The season does not have another 32 races. The battle for 3rd is rather more competitive. Probably advantage Leclerc, although Verstappen will do well at circuits like Russia and Singapore.

Mercedes 505
Ferrari 351
Red Bull 266
McLaren 83
Renault 65
Toro Rosso 51
Racing Point 46
Alfa Romeo 34
Haas 26
Williams 1

Renault’s very strong weekend has allowed them to leapfrog Toro Rosso and significantly reduce the gap to McLaren (although the latter team still has a reasonable lead). The midfield remains rather tight. Mercedes will win the title again, and Ferrari will probably retain the advantage over Red Bull.

In some mathematically pleasing round numbers, backing both my tips would net you a precise 50% return. Both came off due to the each way aspect. Not huge wins, but nice to be green.

The next race is Singapore, in a fortnight.

Morris Dancer

Italy: pre-race 2019

Mixed feelings about a farcical qualifying. My judgement was sound and the bet came off but only on the each way aspect. It could’ve easily been fully green, or failed, so a bit ’twixt and ’tween. Still, not bad.

Q1 was more or less as one might expect, with the Williams the slowest. Perez lost another engine and failed to proceed (which is quite understandable).

In Q2, Hamilton was the fastest, which made me a bit hopeful for my bet (the Q1 times were rather more Ferrari-tastic). Renault looked tasty in both sessions and both drivers advanced into the final part of qualifying. In the elimination zone for Q2 were: Giovinazzi (two-thousandths behind his team mate), Magnussen, Kvyat, Norris, and Gasly.

And so to Q3. After the first runs, Leclerc was a few hundredths ahead of Hamilton, who was a few thousandths ahead of Bottas. Vettel, who had the misfortune to be first and not benefit from even the whisper of a slipstream, was next, a tenth and a half behind his team mate. Raikkonen smashed into a barrier outside the parabolica, and the red flag emerged.

Then we were treated to one of the most clownish spectacles I can recall in Formula 1. A comedy for the ages. A farce par excellence.

As usual, they all waited until the end and tripped over one another. To the extent that only Sainz and Leclerc reached the line in time. Everyone else couldn’t improve (and Leclerc had pole anyway). Albon and Stroll didn’t set times at all. Vettel was denied any opportunity to improve. Pretty bloody ridiculous.

Penalties: Verstappen, Norris, and Gasly start at the back due to changing many engine parts. Perez also goes to the back due to his engine failing, and Raikkonen has a 5 place grid penalty for a new gearbox.

Weather: at the time of writing that’s a roughly 50/50 chance of rain each hour of the race. It will likely have some impact, although if it comes, showers are expected rather than a full-blown downpour.

Early betting thoughts:
Hamilton to win
Safety car
Ricciardo top 6

Hamilton was further off, by far, Leclerc in qualifying at Spa but on race pace was clearly the faster. Starting higher up the grid and with a smaller performance deficit (possibly, it could be the Mercedes used its best mode this time), the Briton stands a good chance of spoiling the Prancing Horse’s party. However, he’s 2.2 to win, which is a bit short.

Gravel traps, close barriers, high speeds, and the potential for rain mean that a safety car is a very credible possibility. And only 1.5.

Renault have been rather impressive in qualifying and Ricciardo’s looking good. With Verstappen starting at the back and Albon behind him, it’s plausible he could retain a top 6 place. He’s only 2.37 to be top 6, which is perhaps a bit tight.

As always, I checked the markets to see if there was anything I liked. It was shortly before 7am so I was surprised there were no alternative match bets, groups, or #Getaprice markets, but otherwise everything seemed to be up. And so:
Vettel, win, each way 8
Bottas, win, each way 9
Renault, double points 1.72
Albon, win, each way 301

Vettel looked a bit off the pace but it’s worth remembering he was the only one of the top chaps not to have a slipstream so I think that’s exaggerated. Similarly, but even more so, Bottas was within half a tenth of Leclerc’s pace and came extremely close to beating Hamilton. The main problem with those two bets is that I can see either one coming off, so picking between them is tricky.

Renault were very strong in qualifying and start with the third row to themselves. If they both finish I think they have a strong chance of double scoring.

Albon starts 8th due to the qualifying shambles. On pace, he looks very similar, in qualifying, to Vettel/Bottas. Red Bull should benefit from being relatively faster in the race due to an inferior qualifying mode. Very much odds against, but I do wonder if the odds are nevertheless too long. At Spain 2016, Verstappen was 251 in a Toro Rosso, and fell to 51 in a Red Bull. Verstappen’s odds, starting from the back, are 41 in today’s race. This does require a slice of luck (and a very big one at that), but the odds do feel too long to me.


I’ve decided to back Bottas, each way at 9 (9.5 with boost), for the win. Third the odds top 2. Things are tighter than in Spa, when the Mercedes closed up significantly on the Ferrari from qualifying to race (and was, indeed, faster in the race).

If you’ve got a spare pound, might be worth putting it on Albon, just in case. 301 (376 with boost) for the win, each way, could be a shade excessive.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Italy: pre-qualifying 2019

Ahead of FP1 I saw it was wet and backed the slower half of the field to be top 3 (tiny stakes). Ironically and annoyingly, McLaren had spots 2 and 3, but I didn’t back them.

In first practice Leclerc pleased the home fans by finishing fastest, with Sainz and Norris following. Hamilton, Albon, and Kvyat were next, with Verstappen, Vettel, Bottas, and Gasly rounding out the top 10. It was slippery with plenty of sliding and spinning, and a number of red flags.

Second practice was drier, but still saw Leclerc as top dog, half a tenth ahead of Hamilton. Vettel was next, followed by Bottas. Verstappen was three-thousandths off the Finn, but a quarter of a second ahead of team mate Albon. Gasly was one place and half a second behind his Red Bull replacement, followed by Grosjean, Ricciardo, and Kvyat.

Third practice had Vettel fastest, three-hundredths ahead of Verstappen and a tenth ahead of Bottas. Leclerc was officially 4th but had racked up the best time only for it to be deleted due to exceeding track limits. Ricciardo was next, apparently ahead of Hamilton, followed by Hulkenberg, Albon, Giovinazzi, and Kvyat.

Pre-practice I’d expected Ferrari to dominate, but things have been a lot closer. I do wonder if Mercedes/Hamilton should be favourite here.

With the margins seemingly closer, I think it’s worth backing Hamilton, each way (third the odds top 2) to be the fastest qualifier at 5.

Check the weather forecast ahead of betting on the race, as it’s entirely possible that there’ll be rain. If there is, that may relatively help the likes of Verstappen.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Belgium: post-race analysis 2019

One bet red, the other green, modestly profitable overall. A race that started well, and had an exciting end, but a bit of a lull for much of the middle.

Off the line, Hamilton passed Vettel. This was a mistake as it immediately gave the very powerful Ferrari a slipstream which allowed the German to immediately retake his place (had this not happened, it’s likely Hamilton would’ve won the race).

Further back things were less serene. Verstappen misjudged a narrow gap and collided with Raikkonen, who couldn’t see him. Raikkonen’s race was ruined due to car damage, and Verstappen soon discovered his car couldn’t turn as he wished. The Dutchman ploughed into the wall and his race ended after just a few corners. The safety car came out.

One or two pitted, some due to necessity (such as Raikkonen). A strange thing happened as the safety car was coming in. At the final chicane Sainz, whose clutch appeared to be misbehaving, went off in the run-off area and his car couldn’t be moved. The safety was wisely kept out a lap longer to allow the McLaren to be cleared out of harm’s way.

Norris had risen to 5th due to avoiding the carnage around him. Nobody was in danger of passing him but the top four were rapidly pulling away. Hamilton appeared to have the edge on Vettel, whose tyres seemed to be going off, but the Ferrari engine was making passing very tricky.

The German pitted, the rest of the top four staying out for significantly longer. When they did pit, it had been so long that Vettel led the race (ahead of Leclerc, Hamilton, and Bottas). Further back, Norris was still all by himself, the Haas were sliding down the order, and Albon was making decent progress.

But there was a price to pay for Vettel. His tyres were going off again. He let Leclerc through, and then was a very helpful roadblock, keeping Hamilton behind him for a few laps and costing the Briton several seconds. Vettel pitted, coming out a clear 4th but with shiny new soft tyres to crack on for the fastest lap.

Further back, Albon was rising through the order and had the pace to try and pace Perez late on. A chance he took. And, to cap it off, Norris’ car failed on the penultimate lap. Woe for the Briton, who had driven flawlessly, but delight for the Thai who ended up with a very strong 5th on his début (including a splendid pass on Ricciardo, amongst others).

Back to the sharp end. Hamilton was whittling away Leclerc’s lead and the Monegasque was running into traffic. The champion was gobbling up the lead a second a lap. But he ran out of laps. Leclerc held his nerve and kept his place for a maiden victory. Well deserved, and a little overdue. Hamilton got 2nd, with which he won’t be unduly displeased, and Bottas completed the podium.

Vettel’s tyre degradation cost him. That said, his defensive skills got his team and team mate the win. He also ended up with the fastest lap.

Very much a tale of two drivers for Red Bull. The established star made his first mistake of the season, and the chap who hasn’t completed a year in the sport got 5th, which is probably the best possible result he could’ve got.

Terrible for McLaren. A double DNF when they were a lap away from an impressive 5th for Norris (he was classified 11th). Perez had a solid race and gets valuable points for Racing Point in 6th. Stroll also grabbed the final point, despite his significant penalties. Toro Rosso also had a great day with Kvyat (who also had huge penalties) getting 7th and Gasly 9th.

Renault, after their qualifying pace, were lacklustre. Could be wrong but I think they pitted Ricciardo early and it hurt him. Either way, Hulkenberg got 8th and Ricciardo was well out of the points in 14th.

Squabbling children Magnussen and Grosjean got 12th and 13th. The Alfas and Williams were well off the pace. A shame Raikkonen had the early collision as he might’ve had a very good result otherwise. Giovinazzi crashed on the final lap but was fine.

Note: it turns out an Albon-Perez incident is being investigated by stewards.

Hamilton 268
Bottas 203

This title is effectively over.

Mercedes 471
Ferrari 326
Red Bull 254
McLaren 82
Toro Rosso 51
Renault 43
Racing Point 40
Alfa Romeo 32
Haas 26
Williams 1

If Albon can keep up his performance level, Red Bull might yet overtake Ferrari. The gap should widen at Monza, which should be a happy hunting ground for the Prancing Horse, but a lot of other circuits might rather suit the Red Bull. McLaren will be glad they built up such a big lead over the rest of the midfield that they can afford a double DNF, but they won’t want to make a habit of it. Renault’s lacklustre performance and Perez’s strong result means Racing Point are just a few points behind the French team. Alfa Romeo could’ve made up ground too, perhaps, had Raikkonen’s race not been compromised at the first corner. Haas remain becalmed, and I’d be somewhat surprised if Williams can add to their solitary point.

The next race is Monza, next weekend.

Morris Dancer

Belgium: pre-race 2019

Sad news has to be added to the start of this blog. In the F2 race that took place after F1 qualifying, a fatal accident tragically occurred. I don’t follow F2, but by all accounts Anthoine Hubert was a talented young man with a bright future ahead of him. A sad day for motorsport.

A modestly green start to the Belgian weekend, with the bet’s each way aspect coming off.

Mercedes were still bolting Hamilton’s car back together following his crash in third practice as the qualifying began. They were gifted five extra minutes, which probably weren’t needed, when Kubica’s Williams emitted a huge plume of smoke from its dying engine. After Perez suffered likewise, Mercedes may be feeling a bit nervous about their engine (and it’s worth considering for the race). Later in the session, Giovinazzi’s new Ferrari engine also went kaput.

Unsurprisingly, Russell failed to escape Q1. Both Toro Rossos were unable to progress, but more surprising was Sainz being eliminated (behind Gasly). Early signs were that Ferrari were a second or so faster than Mercedes. Ominous.

In Q2, Giovinazzi had a place but not a working car, so qualified 15th. Haas were 10th and 11th, Magnussen advancing and Grosjean not (rumour has it Hulkenberg may end up in the Frenchman’s seat). Norris, Stroll, and Albon all got eliminated here, with the latter two having back-of-the-grid penalties. The top chaps all qualified on the soft tyre, which apparently can fall off a cliff pretty damned quickly, so anticipate swift early stops tomorrow (this may aid Red Bull, who seem to be a bit kinder to their tyres). In this session, Mercedes appeared closer to Ferrari.

And so to Q3. Would Leclerc continue his dominance? Could Mercedes get a car on the front row? Yes and no. On the first runs it was Leclerc-Hamilton-Vettel-Bottas, but on the second go, Vettel snuck a hundredth or two ahead of Hamilton to make it an all-Ferrari front row. But he was three-quarters of a second off his team mate. Which is an embarrassingly enormous gap. Hamilton was about a tenth ahead of Bottas.

Verstappen had some off-on power problems but managed to get 5th, three-tenths off Bottas (in a seemingly fully functional car). Race pace will be better and he stands a chance of a podium. He shares row three with Ricciardo, who was over half a second slower but a few tenths up on Hulkenberg, who leads row four ahead of Raikkonen (just a hundredth off the German).
Row five is Perez and Magnussen, although I’m not sure if Perez has an engine-related penalty.

The race should be dry and fairly cool (as an aside, 18C or so, which is about 10C cooler than the earlier BBC forecast a few days ago).

Stroll, Albon, and Kvyat start at the back [Kubica at the very back due to qualifying engine woe] due to multiple power unit changes. Kvyat also gets a five place penalty for changing his gearbox. Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, and Sainz drop five places each due to changing parts of power units. This means Sainz actually starts higher than he qualified… (16th versus 17th).

Bets to consider:
Hamilton/Bottas DNF (engine woe)
Verstappen podium
Leclerc win/fastest lap

Hamilton is 8 and Bottas 7 not to be classified. Given the new Mercedes engines have blown up a third of the time so far this weekend (Kubica and Perez) and there’s always the chance of a lap 1 pileup, this is quick tempting.

Verstappen is 2.62 for a podium. Mixed feelings on that. He’s driving extremely well this year, but is down on power compared to others and, worse, suffered power problems in qualifying. If they recur even briefly that could easily cost him 10s or so.

Leclerc is 1.72 for the win. He’s rightly the favourite, and was miles ahead of everyone else in qualifying. The downside risk is that the Ferrari’s tyres reportedly crumbled quickly. There’s also the minor possibility of rain, (like certain other races, Spa has a bit of a micro-climate). Not so fond of such short odds generally. Leclerc is also 4 for the fastest lap. He’s only had two so far this season, at Bahrain and Azerbaijan. One of which he was dominating, and the other of which he had great pace but buggered up qualifying (if memory serves). If he gets to the latter stages this might be good, the problem is that the top few drivers/teams know how things work and are likely to pit a chap with a stop in hand over the midfield to try and get that final point. Bottas/Verstappen at 5.5 each may make more sense. The combined odds of win/fastest lap at 5. Not a fan of that, as either bit can fail.

As usual, I perused the markets to see if anything caught my eye. The following did:
Verstappen to beat Bottas, 1.9
Hamilton to beat Vettel, 2.2

Verstappen will be relatively faster in the race due to the swankier engine modes for Mercedes in qualifying (reportedly increased with the new, exploding engine). If the Dutchman’s own power problems stay at bay, he has a good chance of getting Bottas. I think.

Hamilton was essentially on pace with Vettel in qualifying, despite the Ferrari’s seeming pace advantage. Race pace is expected to be a bit lower for the Prancing Horse, which might well need to come into the pits for new horseshoes and hand an advantage to the Silver Arrows (Hamilton is 4 to win, incidentally, or 4.33 enhanced win only, compared to 5.5 yesterday, pre-qualifying).

One or two tasty morsels there.

I’m going to split one stake for equal profits between Bottas at 7 and Hamilton at 8 to DNF. The new engines and possibility of lap 1 woe is too high to ignore.

I’ve also backed Hamilton to beat Vettel at 2.25. Little bit iffy due to engine stuff, but if the rain of the morning persists, that helps Hamilton. He should have better tyre life too. And in Bahrain, where Leclerc was dominant until gremlins attacked, Hamilton had the better of Vettel by a clear margin.

Race start is just after 2pm UK time.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Belgium: pre-qualifying 2019

Been some news during the break. Bottas stays at Mercedes next year. Ocon is taking Hulkenberg’s seat at Renault next year. Currently the German is without a seat for 2020. I think Ocon’s talented but it’s a shame for Hulkenberg.

We also saw the provisional calendar for 2020, which has 22 races. Vietnam is new, and an early race. The Netherlands make a return after quite some time. Hockenheim, as expected, isn’t on the calendar.

Pre-practice I tipped, with tiny stakes, a couple of Red Bull focused things. Albon to top FP1 each way at 14, Verstappen for a podium at 2.8, and Verstappen to ‘win’ qualifying, each way, at 9. My thinking is that the car’s developed ferociously, and Mercedes may face overheating problems.

On the grid front, Albon starts the second half of his début season in a top team, and the back of the grid. Upgrades/replacement parts means he’ll be at, or very close to, the back. This might not be a bad thing for him as it reduces the pressure on his first race result, and qualifying becomes a theoretical exercise.

Stroll and Kvyat also have back-of-the-grid penalties, so there’ll be a squabble over who’s last. Five place grid penalties are doled out to Ricciardo, Hulkenberg and Sainz. So qualifying’s going to be a vague guideline rather than actually determine the grid.

In first practice Vettel was quickest, two-tenths ahead of Leclerc and a comically enormous nine-tenths faster than Verstappen. Annoyingly, Albon was just eight-hundredths off his team mate, making my bet red. Bottas was three-tenths further back, a little ahead of Hamilton. Stroll, Ricciardo, Perez, and Sainz round out the top 10.

Second practice Leclerc was six-tenths ahead of Vettel. Bottas was two-tenths further back, a small margin ahead of Hamilton. Perez was just a tenth off the Briton, and three-tenths ahead of Verstappen. Raikkonen, Stroll, Ricciardo, and Albon followed.

A little bird told me that Mercedes have a new engine worth three-tenths of a second, Perez being forced to revert to the old one after his new engine exploded somewhat. Ferrari also have a new engine but, weirdly (according to Twitterland) it’s going to Haas and Alfa Romeo first. Hmm.

Third practice saw Hamilton put his car into the wall. Mercedes have estimated they’ll be ready for qualifying.

Leclerc was fastest in final practice, nearly half a second ahead of Vettel and Bottas, who were very close to one another. Ricciardo was three-tenths behind Bottas and a similar margin ahead of Verstappen, though I think Red Bull must be sandbagging. Perez and Hamilton were next, followed by Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, and Gasly.

Right now, Leclerc looks tasty for pole, although Vettel, Hamilton, and maybe Bottas cannot be ruled out. For Red Bull, it appears to be damage limitation.

Hamilton was 7.5 to win qualifying. I decided to back that (and tip it now) each way, fifth the odds top three. Even if Ferrari is faster, the bet can still be green. If Mercedes is faster, it is likely to be green. I was quite surprised at the odds, can only presume the possibility of the repairs not being finished in time is lengthening the odds (Bottas is 8.5, incidentally).

Qualifying’s at 2pm UK time. As is now usual, the pre-race ramble will be up on Sunday morning.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Hungary: post-race analysis 2019

An interesting race, not on a par with the recent three but certainly more entertaining than the average Hungarian outing. Betting-wise, bad. One bet didn’t come off, the other was right on judgement, wrong on luck. Not much can be done about the latter case.

In addition to Giovinazzi’s three place penalty for impeding during qualifying, Ricciardo started from the back due to a new engine (he was the only man to start on the hard tyre).

Off the line it was formation flying. Bottas got a good start but locked up, and from there the only way was backwards. Hamilton passed him, then so did Leclerc. The Finn and Monegasque had light contact with major consequences, compelling Bottas to box for a new nose and hard tyres, and pretty much ruining his race (and my bet, alas).

Another chap with a terrible start was Gasly. Given what happened last race (and, for Bottas, the impending decision between him and Ocon for the second Mercedes seat) this is not good timing. The Frenchman lost about three places and although he was helped a bit by Bottas’ woe, was never able to make much impression. Norris had a rubbish stop, helping Gasly out a bit more, but he finished behind Sainz, who is the most impressive Spaniard since the last one. [On a serious note, he’s driving rather well this year].

At the front Verstappen and Hamilton were close to one another but leaving behind the Ferraris like Rasputin and a married woman leaving an imperial ball. Ferrari were very much the third team here (Vettel ended up on the podium because of the aforementioned Bottas/Gasly situation).

After the pit stops Verstappen was about 5s ahead of Hamilton, both on hard tyres. The Briton immediately pushed, closed the gap in about two laps and then had a fair but earnest crack at passing the Dutchman, who also defended very skilfully. Hamilton wasn’t quite able to do it and his brakes were marginally hotter than the sun so he dropped back a bit before his car melted.

Further back, Bottas had passed some chaps then become bottled up behind Ricciardo. As mentioned, the Aussie had started on the hard tyre and was going long. And Bottas couldn’t get past.

At the sharp end, Mercedes did a clever thing. With Ferrari a day behind them and Verstappen barely ahead, they pitted Hamilton for medium tyres. He retained 2nd and went charging after the Dutchman. Hamilton complained about Mercedes’ strategy. Verstappen complained about Red Bull’s strategy. Who was right?

Mercedes. Hamilton closed up with about half a dozen laps left. The hard tyres on Verstappen’s Red Bull had gone and the pass was a rather lame end to an interesting duel. Verstappen pitted for soft tyres and duly banged in the fastest lap, but he must be disappointed. Close racing and clever strategy. Quite good stuff.

Late on, with differing strategies, Vettel passed Leclerc to nab the final podium position. Sainz finished 5th, again, further cementing McLaren’s position as best of the rest. Gasly was only 6th. Raikkonen finished 7th, ahead of fellow Finn Bottas. Having a good season is Raikkonen, and is clearly worth his place on the grid for Alfa Romeo.

Despite his ropey pit stop, Norris got 9th, making it a double points finish for McLaren, and Albon got the final point for Toro Rosso.

There was no safety car and the only retirement was Grosjean, who pitted his Haas to end his race.

Hamilton 250
Bottas 188
Verstappen 181

Gap to Verstappen is now about 70 points. If things had swung the other way it’d be mid-50s. Difficult for Red Bull and Verstappen, even with excellent development and very good driving. A shame, but I do think the title is pretty much over. On the plus side, we could see more exciting racing at the sharp end.

Mercedes 438
Ferrari 288
Red Bull 244
McLaren 82
Toro Rosso 43
Renault 39
Alfa Romeo 32
Racing Point 31
Haas 26
Williams 1

Worth noting that Gasly has a third the points of Verstappen (63 versus 181). Not great. Even with that, Red Bull have a shot at overtaking Ferrari. Lower down, McLaren have tightened their grip on the midfield crown but it’s competitive behind them.

The next race is in four weeks, at Belgium. Let’s hope the races stay entertaining but the bets turn out a bit greener.

Morris Dancer