Well, tickle my tangerines. That was quite the race. A classic, I dare say.
Off the line Verstappen left the handbrake on, entered anti-stall and got passed by half the grid (scarcely an exaggeration, he ended up behind his team mate). Vettel had a good start, Norris roared up to just behind Leclerc and Bottas (briefly).
Early on, Leclerc simply drove away from the Mercedes with little apparent effort. Hamilton got past Norris easily enough but wasn’t able to progress further. Vettel and Verstappen made slightly heavy weather advancing against Raikkonen and Norris (both of whom were driving very well) but eventually managed to effect passes.
The Ferraris, of course, were on the soft tyres, the Mercedes on the medium, but the Mercedes were struggling intensely with overheating, to the extent they had to lift and coast not for fuel preservation but to stop the car becoming molten.
The Mercedes weren’t so hot on their tyres so Bottas pitted at the same time as Vettel (clever by Ferrari as Bottas had to be held momentarily, but a radio failure meant that the tyres weren’t ready and they had a slow stop). Leclerc also pitted in and around the same time. Hamilton waited a bit longer and for a time had pace comparable to or even faster than Bottas (then on the hard tyres), but he had a front wing problem which started costing him significant time, and his tyres weren’t great, so he emerged behind his team mate once again.
Verstappen notionally led due to not having pitted when his rivals had. The Dutchman, whose pace was very tasty, stayed out about 10 laps longer than the rest of the frontrunners.
And he was very fast. He soon caught up to Vettel, and passed him. Bottas was just a few seconds down the road. About 12 laps left, and Verstappen passed the Finn as well. Leclerc had about 5s advantage with 11 laps to go.
Could Verstappen recover from his dreadful start to achieve an unlikely, thrilling victory?
He closed up. Leclerc was unlucky with traffic, one car costing him about a second. Verstappen was more fortunate (including when Gasly, whom he lapped despite being behind at the first corner of the first lap, moved over more helpfully than when Leclerc was going through). Verstappen was right there but only had a couple of laps.
He dove down the inside, but Leclerc drove a perfect defence, they were side by side, but the Monegasque managed to retain his position.
Verstappen had another go, feinting this way and that, Leclerc defending very well. Then the Dutchman had another dive, and this time left no room. He did take the racing line, and that left no room for Leclerc whose choices were to go wide (he did) or back out. The Ferrari driver was furious, asserting he was forced off track (there was wheel-banging contact). Verstappen was reassured by his team over the radio that there was nothing wrong with the pass.
The Dutchman duly won, and F1 duly announced a stewards’ inquiry into the overtake. Asked for his view, Vettel said: “We’re not racing for the kindergarten cup. We’re adults, some older than others, they should leave us alone.”
Bottas got a lacklustre 3rd, barely a whisker ahead of Vettel, who had pitted late on for soft tyres, come out behind Hamilton, passed the Briton with only a lap or two to spare and was breathing fire down the back of Bottas’ neck. Given he started 9th, a good result for the German, who would’ve challenged for the victory without his qualifying misfortune.,
Hamilton ended up 5th in his worst performance of the year, largely due to the car (although he was never in danger of passing his team mate, it must be said). He was also the last man not to be lapped.
Norris’ strong qualifying was backed up by a great race. He didn’t put a foot wrong and finished 6th, best of the rest. Gasly followed him, and it’s hard to imagine the Frenchman keeping his seat next year. Sainz had a cracking race, starting from the back and finishing 8th, making this a very strong result for McLaren in their tight midfield battle.
It was also a strong result for Raikkonen and Giovinazzi, who went backwards a bit from grid to flag, but still held on for 9th and 10th, getting the Italian his first point of the season and Alfa Romeo a valuable double points finish.
Perez finished just outside the points, ahead of Ricciardo and Hulkenberg (the Aussie passing his team mate late on). Not a great day for Renault, and frustrating for the Mexican. Stroll was 14th.
Not a single car retired, which is remarkable given the wind problems of second practice and the high temperatures throughout the race.
I think Verstappen also got the fastest lap.
I’m a bit tired so we’ll see if I cocked this up, but according to my calculations, the drivers stand thus:
Verstappen 126 [assuming he keeps the win]
Pretty tight for 3rd and Bottas closed the gap a bit on Hamilton but it’s still hard to see anything but Hamilton winning this and the Finn probably coming 2nd.
Red Bull 169
Alfa Romeo 22
Racing Point 19
Toro Rosso 17
Still pretty big gaps at the top. McLaren have moved some distance ahead of Renault, who have looked a bit up and down this year. Alfa’s double finish puts them narrowly ahead of Racing Point, but those two, Toro Rosso, and Haas are covered by just six points. Very competitive midfield, just a shame Williams is so far back.
Does Verstappen deserve a penalty?
If he gets one then the last three races will see a boring French Grand Prix the filling in a Stewards’ Inquiry sandwich, with both the Canadian and Austrian races determined by stewards after the race, and two men who finished the race first demoted.
That’s not great for F1, and would be a bitter note to end a race weekend that saw a modern classic.
Oh, and the Verstappen bet came off, the Hulkenberg one did not. The greenness or redness of the race weekend depends on the stewards.
The next race is in the UK, in a fortnight.