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8 Oct 2018

Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale
Ambient 29° Track 40° Humidity 49% Wind 1.4 m/s


Oppressive heat blanketed the circuit, sunlight dripping on the paddock in a polar inverse to yesterday's weather. With the sweltering track will come tyre issues, particularly blistering and those worst off will be the runners on the Super Softs, which in the top 10 would be everyone but Mercedes and Grosjean. Not particularly good news for Vettel, in P8 after Ocon was indeed demoted for going too fast under the red flags in qualifying.

According to Pirelli the fastest strategy was either a one stop or a one stop, or possibly a one stop (notice a theme here) involving Softs and Mediums, or Supers being slightly slower, with a 2 stop listed as, well, even slower... Verstappen looked to be the joker at the start, with the best chance to get some sand in the gears of Mercedes, though with Ferrari's quick starts Raikkonen can't entirely be ruled out.

Lights Out!!!! Hamilton off the line and immediatley cut over in front of Bottas. Verstappen with a decent start was also in the mix and suddenly it was Vettel around both Toro Rossos. Hartley was the biggest loser off the line, down to P9 by time they exited the second turn. Vettel kept the pressure up and side by side with RoGro he went as they headed into Spoon and well in front on the way out. Verstappen had a lock up into the final chicane and went onto the grass, but kept it moving and when he re-entered the track he wound up punting Raikkonen off the track.

K-Mag had a puncture which he picked up from being tagged from behind from Leclerc at the start. Around the circuit he went, shedding carbon fibre shards as he limped back to the pits. 

The Verstappen/Raikkonen incident opened the door for Vettel who took full advantage of his opportunity and rocked by his teammate, and as the first lap rolled into the books he was up to P4 and the Safety Car was deployed as the marshals were charged with recovering the carcass of his tyre. Verstappen picked up a 5 second time penalty for not rejoining the track safely. The good news for K-Mag, as such, was that having lost a lap by time he boxed for new tyres, he would be able to reclaim it before the Safety Car was called in. The bad news was that the incident with him and Leclerc was being investigated, and it looked likely he would pick up a penalty.

Lerclerc was in for a new front wing during the Safety Car, along with Sirotkin and Ericsson for some Mediums. Lap 7 was to be the last lap before the race resumed and pretty much everyone was happy to get some slow laps to help save their tyres. Ricciardo had also had a fairly good start, up to P10 and as the weaving and tyre warming commenced in anticipation of the restart...
Lap 8 and they were off, just as Gasly reported RoGro with fire. Bottas was a bit slow and for a moment Verstappen looked to have an opening, but it was nothing doing. Behind Vettel was biding his time and into Spoon he struck, up the inside but Verstappen kept his foot in it and CONTACT, with Vettel picking up a spin and Verstappen losing bits and pieces of bodywork. P19 for Vettel with ALL the work to be done in front of him, as at the front, Hamilton swanned about without a care in the world.

On replay, Verstappen's PU was clipping and Vettel was suddenly closing at a massive rate, just not quite enough to get him by before Max wheeled over to take the apex. In other exciting overtaking news, Ricciardo was up and by Perez with his trademark latest of brakers move, executed with surgical precision. Lap 12 and Raikkonen, being told that he was now 3 seconds back of Verstappen pointed out he was going as fast as he could... Hamilton reported some hesitation in turn 5 on throttle, which Mercedes promised to have a look at whilst Ricciardo continued to carve through the field, by Grosjean and into P5.

Vettel was up to P15 as it was reported that Raikkonen had some damage to his car from the incident with Verstappen, and it was beginning to show in his lap times with Verstappen, who was just about to clear his penalty the following lap. Delightedly for the phlegmatic Finn, it was also having a negative effect on his tyre wear, as Ferrari's day was going exactly as one might expect as the racing gods had clearly turned their backs on the Scuderia...

Lap 18 and Raikkonen was in and out with a set of Mediums, as he was looking to avoid getting jumped by Ricciardo, and was P10. given Verstappen's penalty the door was now opening for Ricciardo to snatch the last podium spot from his teammate, needing just 4 more seconds as the Hamilton kicked off the 20th lap. Vettel was up to P12 but his tyres were basically done. Danny Ric was chunking nearly a second a lap out of Max and with the undercut, he would have already been good. Of course, as the trailing team member on circuit, he was not entitled to that so it was going to be the hard way for the Aussie. Lap 22 and Red Bull brought in Verstappen to forestall him being stuck behind Raikkonen, who had just about got into his pit window. Alonso picked up a 5 second penalty for going off and gaining an advantage in his battle with Stroll, who, you guessed it, also picked up a 5 second penalty for forcing Alonso off.

No further action for the Vettel/Verstappen incident, and Ricciardo was then in the next lap, and out on a set of Mediums, ahead of Raikkonen who was bleeding large chunks of time. Hamilton was in on lap 25 and also out with a shiny new set of Mediums. This left Ricciardo vs Verstappen for the last podium position as the most interesting thing on track. Verstappen had the immediate advantage with the Softs, but Danny Ric on the harder compound was playing the long game.

2 laps later and Vettel was in, and out with a set of Softs, P16 and chasing Sirotkin, whom he was by with nary a fuss an equal number of laps late. Leclerc banged past Hulkenberg for the last points position as well, firmly by into the final chicane. Hamilton continued to complain of minor annoyances, this time upshifts, as the lack of an opponent gave him ample time to examine all the potential faults in his car.

Lap 30 and Grosjean was in for a set of Mediums, out behind Sainz in P7. Vettel had come upon a serious scrap between Ocon, Leclerc and Perez, and was by Leclerc without too much fuss, but only after a bold move on Ocon. Gasly's pit stop saw him out behind Ericsson and he was having quite the lengthy battle with the Sauber, which he finally won on lap 34. Vettel reclaimed P6 from Grosjean the following lap and it was now a rather lengthy 40 second gap to his teammate. Lap 37 and Gasly picked up, get ready, fastest first sector for the race to that point. Yes I did just use the word fast and Honda in the same sentence without irony. Less happy was Leclerc, whose tyres were going rather savagely off and entertainingly, Lewis interrogated his engineer as to whether he'd been on a break. Indeed he had been and mystery solved, the lack of radio chatter explained.

Hulkenberg in with a problem and retired, lap 39 and Danny Ric was on the radio with a gear question to do with a PU performance issue. Red Bull were not particularly fussed and told him to carry on, holding 5th gear if he chose. Leclerc was off with an issue, something broken according to him, after he had a trip through the gravel outside Degner 1. Virtual Safety Car was deployed, even though Leclerc parked up rather smartly by a marshals post.

It was a quick one, thanks to the thoughful driving of the Sauber, and although Mercedes made their way to the pits, it was nothing doing as the VSC ended before they made it to the pit entry. The VSC advantaged Max, and he was inside DRS on Bottas as they rounded on lap 43. RoGro complained that Perez had ambushed him under the VSC, and the Frenchman was certain that Perez had broken the rules in order to get past him.

Lock up for Bottas into the hairpin as he came upon Alonso and suddenly, the door was wide for Verstappen. Not for long, though, as with full deployment the Mercedes was off into the distance once more. Hartley was the next backmarker to slow Bottas, and once again Max was just within DRS. The issue for Bottas, and Ricciardo as well the others on the Medium, had to do with losing temps in the Mediums under the VSC and thus performance on the restart of the race.

Lap 48 and the tyre issues were on the other foot, as Verstappen now had some concerns, about his Softs. Again Red Bull seemed not too fussed, as Bottas missed entirely the last chicane, which put him once more within DRS of Verstappen, entirely wiping out his hard won 2 second lead with his mistake. Not for long, though, as Verstappen was forced tail off the back of the Merc, according to Max due to the PU. Lap 51 and it was Sainz, sticking the knife in deep as he rocked past Gasly, putting the Toro Rosso out of the points with 2 laps to go and crushing Honda's chance of scoring points in their home grand prix. Although they cold take solace in the fact that it was his chewed up tyres that were mainly at issue.

But Gasly still had a role to play in the race, and it was to bring Verstappen back into DRS on Bottas, as Valterri was balked before getting by him as the last lap got underway. A lock up into T11 for Verstappen ended the dramatic chase, and it was Hamilton, across the line, extending his lead to in the WDC to 67 points. Putting Danny Ric onto the Mediums forestalled any internecine drama as he finished 5 seconds off, though by the regulations they had little choice. If one wanted to be pedantic, they did bring him in a bit early, but given his start from P15, it was a good result all round for Red Bull.

Less happy was Grosjean, who was still banging on rather firmly about how he was overtaken at the end of the VSC period by Perez. According to Romain, he lost a 2.4 second gap and that was with him positive by just 0.3 seconds. Of course, at least he FINISHED the race, which was not true for his teammate who retired rather anonymously on the 9th lap due to the damage the punctured tyre did to his car. The retirement of Hulkenberg allowed Perez to sneak into a 3 way tie with Kmag and Hulk, for the lead of the Formula B championship. On the Constructor's side, it was a 6 point gap as HAAS gained another 3 on Renault. Down to the wire that one will go.

Also a shame for Honda, who looked strong in the race and, but for the the tyres running out, would've finished with a very well earned point. Regardless of that point, the point was that the proof of concept for their spec C engine had been established, and perhaps that does indeed go a long way towards explaining the fairly relaxed attitude at Red Bull, their long PU nightmare nearly at an end...
With COTA up next, Ferrari will be looking to salvage some glory and no doubt Mercedes will be keen to deny them any balm for the savage wounds that have been inflicted as Red Bull look to play spoiler, but the it's the battle for the midfield, fierce and completely unpredictable, that's stealing focus as the circus heads for its savage and inevitable denouement.


And remember to play nice in the comments!!


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