Well, I feared It would be boring. In the event, the race was a slow burn with a nail-biting finish. Far better than I’d expected (although Murphy’s Law continues to apply to my betting this season. Sainz was nowhere but the Aston Martin bet I decided against came off).
From the line Verstappen held the lead only to lock up in the second corner and allow Hamilton to seize the lead. That order remained at the sharp end, with small gaps. In the initial pit stops, Bottas went first (of the frontrunners), but Verstappen was next and he was close enough to be able to pass his title rival (just barely) by undercutting.
Perez, meanwhile, stayed long on his mediums, the Aston Martins (having started on hards) doing likewise. The undercut also worked very well for both McLarens, Norris staying out longer than Ricciardo. Both looked far sharper in the race than the Ferraris, whose pace fell off a cliff (possibly due to chewing up tyres or the recent tyre pressure regulation changes). Sainz was the lead Ferrari but neither troubled the scorers.
The Aston Martins went long and thereby managed to haul themselves both into points positions (9th and 10th) having both started in the lower half of the grid.
At the sharp end the top three, Ver-Ham-Bot, were covered by about a second a half and the Mercedes looked faster than the Red Bull. But first Bottas and then Hamilton fell a couple of seconds back. Everyone was moaning about their tyres.
Then Red Bull did something that was going to look very clever, or very stupid. From the lead, they boxed Verstappen for a fresh set of medium tyres and had him chase down Hamilton, to whom he had just gifted the lead. Perez obligingly let his team mate through and the pair first of all went for Bottas, Verstappen gaining 2s a lap.
The Finn had earlier complained of his tyres and said they wouldn’t make it to the end. Their lack of performance meant he couldn’t hold the Dutchman back for even a single lap, and, in the end, he also lost out to Perez and lost his podium spot. Bottas did not hold back his views on the radio.
Verstappen still had 5s and several backmarkers to pass and just a handful of laps to do it. At this stage, I thought it’d be a case of close but no cigar. Verstappen had saved enough of his tyres that it was almost anticlimactic how easily he passed Hamilton on the penultimate lap before cruising away to a glorious victory that extends his title lead. And with Perez 3rd, Red Bull also increase their Constructors’ lead.
Should Mercedes have pitted? Problem is that once Verstappen had done it, they would’ve lost time to the undercut and have to close the gap *and* pass him too. They’ve pulled this trick themselves in the past, but this time were on the receiving end of some smart strategy.
Norris and Ricciardo ended a very strong 5th and 6th, although there was some wheel-to-wheel action and I wonder if there’s some tension there. The Aussie seems to be getting to grips with the car now, and taking a chunk of points over Ferrari is worth a lot in the battle to be best of the rest.
Gasly once again put in a solid performance in his AlphaTauri for 7th, and Alonso’s 8th is pretty good too (neither of their team mates scored).
Perez has, like Ricciardo and Vettel, gotten to know his car now and it’s really starting to bear fruit for Red Bull. A 12 point lead for Verstappen is decent but the season’s still way too close to call.Red Bull 215
Aston Martin 40
Alfa Romeo 2
A series of sub-battles here, beneath the title fight. McLaren and Ferrari tussling to be king of the midfield while AlphaTauri, Aston Martin, and Alpine try to outdo one another. I think Red Bull, McLaren, and Aston Martin will win their respective contests.
Next race is next weekend, in Styria. It’s one of two races on the trot in Austria.