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.
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.
Red Bull 266
Toro Rosso 51
Racing Point 46
Alfa Romeo 34
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.