The first victory this season for a non-Mercedes car saw Verstappen’s Red Bull take a well strategized win from Hamilton and Bottas.
I am not going to fluff this up as the most exciting race in the world. It wasn’t! This does happen in any sport, a goal-less soccer match, a dull football game, it is part and parcel of sport. There may not have been a great amount of action on the track, but this race really did highlight the importance of race set up, strategy, and tyre choice.
With the drama of last weeks tyre chaos there seemed a lot of trepidation about how the tyres would hold out during the race– resulting in a two stop race for most: some even pitting three times to change tyres– compared to last week where most only pitted once.
A clean first lap saw Verstappen pass Hulkenberg into third and Stroll pass Ricciardo into fifth: Norris was another first lap winner– gaining two places to move into eight place. The big losers were the Ferrari’s: Leclerc dropping two places to tenth and Vettel having a rookie moment– briefly losing control of the car– which dropped him to last place.
Verstappen was the only car in the top ten of the grid to start the race on the harder compound tyre, laying down the strategy of a longer first stint. Tyre concerns began very early on, with Bottas’ front and rear lefts being ‘critical’ by lap six. The Finn pitted from the lead on lap fourteen, followed by second place man Hamilton– allowing Verstappen to move to the front. The Red Bull driver proceeded to draw out a lead of almost twenty seconds by the time he pitted twelve laps later. Despite coming out just behind Bottas Verstappen– on much fresher tyres– soon dispensed with the Finn and once again set about establishing a good lead over the two Mercedes. Verstappen and Bottas both pitted on lap thirty three: the Red Bull choosing only a short seven lap stint on the medium tyres. This now put Hamilton in the lead of the race, but knowing he would need to pit again the victory was really between Bottas and Verstappen at this point. The Mercedes was no match for the Red Bull’s pace this weekend though, and it soon became evident that this was Verstappen’s race to lose. Hamilton stopped for a final set of tyres on lap forty two and as Verstappen cemented his lead the last ten laps saw Hamilton– on much fresher tyres– catch and pass Leclerc and Bottas to come in second. Red Bull really connected with their tyre strategy this weekend where the Mercedes seemed unable to make the tyres work for them. It highlights some of the dark arts of car set up and tyre performance: the cars are finely tuned and– to be honest– a little bit moody! Some prefer warmer conditions, some don’t like certain tyres, I’m sure there are very complicated, engineering reasons for this– the science of which goes way above my head! But, ultimately, when a team can connect with the right tyres and right conditions they can really perform, as we saw the Red Bull of Verstappen do this weekend. On the flip side, Mercedes failed to really get the connection this weekend– hence being unable to beat the Red Bull– despite technically having the faster car this season. This bodes well for the next race for Red Bull. Both this weekend and the first race of the season in Austria saw hot track temperatures with little wind, and both races saw the Red Bulls perform well: these are obviously conditions that that car enjoys, and I expect we’ll see similar conditions in Spain this coming weekend– which should make for some competitive racing between the top two teams.
Elsewhere in this race Ocon in the Renault and Leclerc’s Ferrari were the only guys to opt for a one stop race, both men putting in great drives to see the teams strategy pay-off: Ocon finishing in eighth and Leclerc– who started eighth– finishing fourth.
Further down the field positions were swapping for most of the race as pitstops were dotted throughout. The Racing Points put in a good performance running fourth and fifth for a lot of the race, losing fourth as Leclerc’s one stop strategy paid off for him. Unfortunately Hulkenberg had to make a late stop for new tyres– dropping him from fifth with only a few laps to go down to seventh. Still an amazing drive for someone who hasn’t been in an F1 race for over eight months– hopefully this will stand him in a good position to secure a drive next year. Albon put in a good performance, executing several brilliant overtakes around the outside and both Luffield and Cops to finish a well-deserved fifth. The Alpha Tauri’s again ran well finishing a respectable tenth and eleventh, outpacing Vettel, Sainz and Ricciardo- three stalwarts of the top ten this season so far.
Driver of the day- Max Vertappen
Honourable mentions- Albon, Hulkenberg, Leclerc.
Numpty of the day- Kevin Magnussen– running wide and returning to the track into another car! doh!
F1 70th anniversary race results
- Hamilton (fastest lap)
Watch the race highlights here-
Next time out we’re off to Spain! Conditions should suit the Red Bulls, and after proving it is possible to beat the Mercedes in a genuine fight they’ll be desperate for a repeat performance.
Where to watch-
USA Sunday 16th August live on ESPN– race starts at 9:05am EST
UK Sunday 16th August live on Sky Sports F1– race starts at 2:05pm
Highlights on Channel Four at 6:30pm and Sky One at 5:30 pm Sunday 16th August.