Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale
Ambient 30.6° Track 45.5° Humidity 39% Wind 2.2 m/s
Underneath a perfect bowl of cerulean sky, golden Tuscan sunshine poured onto the paddock, blowing out highlights on the telly as the mountains in the distance promised cool delicious relief from the inescapable sun as the teams worried away at their finicky beasts. Yesterday's qualifying promised much with regards to Red Bull's opportunities, with Albon lined up behind Max and Mercedes notoriously susceptible to the ever increasing track temperature, especially Bottas.
The F2 feature race saw drivers pitting off of the Soft tyres as early as lap 8, but Pirelli's best guess was 16-19 laps for a two-stopper, and 22 laps for those wanting to do a one-stopper, though adjudged to be the third fastest strategy according to the boffins. Nevertheless, the top teams, if they are fast enough relative to the midfield, are likely to gravitate towards it which makes Albon's performance at the start everything. If he can stay close enough to the top three at the start then Red Bull will have a potent strategy weapon with which to torment Mercedes' drivers.
The run to the start is, as always huge, and last week's poor start by Bottas will have been well marked both by his rivals and Mercedes themselves, who will very much want to prevent a repeat of that episode. Meanwhile lottery winner Leclerc will very much want to keep all his rivals as far behind as possible as Ferrari will very much be hoping to backdoor their way into a podium, or, at the very least, stay respectably in the points after the twin disappointments of Spa and Monza. The safety car, too, is quite likely to play an important part as the gravel lined chaos generator of a track has already demonstrated quite adequately in the junior series races....
Ooooh and as the clock ticked down to the formation lap, it was engine cover off on the left side of Verstappen's car and mechanics pouring over his car as plumes of dry ice fog wafted up the grid amidst their fervid efforts. After a short period it the engine cover was refit and the team promised everything was perfectly fine....Kvyat and Raikkonen in P12 and P13 opted to start on Mediums and they were joined by Grosjean in P15 along with the Williams in P18 and P19, adding a wonderful dash of complexity in the always brutal battle for the midfield.
Lights Out!!!! It was a great start by Bottas as he rocked by Hamilton as Verstappen was nearly up into P2 and looking to challenge for the lead before his PU lost power and adding insult to injury he was rear ended by Raikkonen in T2 as he dropped through the field. Gasly was taken out as well as contact with Grosjean during an ill-judged pass which on replay looked to be the instigating incident for the Verstappen chaos. Sainz had a proper spin on his own (with maybe an assist from a Racing Point) after an amazeballs start. This wound up taking Vettel to the back as the increasingly Heidfeld-like luck of the former champion continued to assert itself, whilst Leclerc sneakily went up the inside and when the smoke cleared he was in P3. Ricciardo also with the good start had leapt up to P6 as the inevitable Safety Car was pressed into action.
During the multi-lap stint Russell, who had rocked all the way up to P11 was on the radio trying to get Ocon ahead to pit by saying his brakes were properly on fire, but Renault refused to believe the report and they rolled on as the lengthy clean up continued. Lap 7 and the Safety Car was announced as in that lap and a long wait by Bottas and even as he rocked onto the throttle there was a huge crash with Latifi, Magnussen, Sainz and Giovinazzi all out of the race and even before the leaders reached turn 1 here came the Safety Car. It was down to Giovinazzi smashing into the back of Magnussen after Latifi narrowly avoided him, with the very back of the pack evidently under the impression the race had restarted whilst Bottas was still in the act of backing the field up.
RED FLAG! and into the pits they came, the 14 that were left and Grosjean was on the radio vehement that the front of the field was responsible for the carnage and it was unacceptable. A reminder that tyres can be changed, cooling adjusted and accident damage repaired under the red flag so it was an interesting wait to see who decided to start on what tyres. One advantage of the lengthy delay was the chance to learn exactly why clearing the track took so long. Apparently, there were only a few entry points for the JCB and that was the issue. As the time dragged on, it was announced that it was going to be a standing start and they were going to get to play the same game all over again. Despite that, Mercedes seemed to be a bit unhappy with Bottas' restart, even though it was entirely within the rules.
Lap 9 for the restart with 35 minutes of clock time gone, with 50 laps left to go. Ocon's car was in the garage, never a good sign, to have his issue sorted. Given the time, a replay of the restart it was Russell who looked to have left the gap and then accelerated, which likely triggered those behind to think those at the front had gone. Ocon was out, with toasted brakes as it turned out that Russell wasn't kidding at all and that left just 13 cars left in the race. And, as it turned out, put Russell into P10
As they rolled out for the restart it was Mercedes on the Mediums along with Russell and Raikkonen with the rest on the Softs, which would certainly yield them an advantage at the start. Lights out!!! Great start by Hamilton, whose brakes were smoking rather furiously as they waited for the lights, and he dove across and covered the inside, and then took Bottas round the outside of turn 1 as Albon dropped all the way to P7, for no immediately apparent reason. Behind, Raikkonen nailed Russell for P10 as the actual racing finally got underway. Stroll was in DRS on Leclerc during the first lap and he maintained the pressure as they waited for DRS to be enabled.
Despite that, when they measured for the first time Leclerec managed to be just outside the margin, but behind Ricciardo was in DRS of Perez and making a serious effort to climb up the ladder. Russell took P10 back from Raikkonen as lap 14 got underway. Raikkonen was unhappy with his wing level, saying the change during the red flag made the car "horrible" as Stroll had managed to rock into DRS after a bit of trying. Even more fortunate for him, Perez' defense of Ricciardo effectively gapped him off from his teammate, giving the Canadian room to manuever. Ricciardo got the job done fairly easily on lap 15 and it was just 2 seconds up the road to Stroll, who was failing to find a way round the very wide Ferrari of Leclerc. Lap 24 was the new pit window, as it was adjudged that no one was going to one stop with their current tyres.
Lap 16 and Stroll had a bit of a go round the outside but was not successful and Ricciardo was now joining the party. By lap 18 he was inside DRS on Stroll, and apparently that was the motivation he needed and he was right on by, dropping Leclerc into the clutches of Ricciardo behind. Albon, who had been tracking down Perez, took advantage of a mistake and was able to get round the Racing Point on the outside through turn 1. Ricciardo nailed Leclerc lap 19 and the battle for 3rd was joined with the Renault just a second and a half back of the Racing Point. Albon, in his chase of Perez, had complained of a lack of power and it was evident, that the Honda was not delivering down the start/finish straight.
Despite that, he was closing rapidly on the Renault/Racing Point battle as Leclerc was already desperate to get onto a new set of tyres. He was in lap 22, after Perez rocked by him, and asked about plan C, to which he replied, "I don't care, we are so slow"... Out on the Hards he went as the battle for the last podium spot was joined, with Ricciardo just one second back of Stroll.
Raikkonen was on the radio to tell his team that at the next stop, the team WILL get the number right on the front wing, suggesting that somehow the team sent him off with the wrong angle dialed into the flap adjuster. AT the very front, Bottas was holding Hamilton within two seconds but looked to be losing a tenth or two a lap and it was Ricciardo, into DRS for the first time on Stroll. Further back it was Vettel, following Russell, into P10 as Raikkonen dropped down the field with his incorrect settings. Hamilton was not exactly happy with his tyres, but he was still ahead.
Lap 27 and Norris in P7 was just about in DRS and the radio talk was whether or not to undercut Perez, which meant, of course, that they were trying to dummmy Racing Point into pitting Perez. Their lovely strategem didn't work and on they went, waiting to see who would blink first. It was Ricciardo, in fact, lap 29 in for a set of Mediums and out in P8 and right behind Kvyat.
Perez was next up and he was out on the Mediums but Racing Point held Stroll out hoping that Kvyat would hold up Ricciardo enough to nullify the advantage. Vettel and Grosjean were in as well and out on the Hards they went, with Grosjean now in P12 ahead of rival Raikkonen after a bad pitstop.
Following lap was Norris, Kvyat and Russell in for Mediums and that was the end of Racing Points hope, they pitted Stroll and he was out nearly 3 seconds back of Ricciardo. Bottas pace had dropped suddenly, and as the midfield frenzy drew all the attention, Bottas was in nearly 8 seconds back of Hamilton.... So on lap 32 it was now Albon P2 but looking like he was still behind Stroll once he pits and Bottas emerged 5 seconds back of the Red Bull with a shiny new set of Hards to see him to the finale.
Lap 33 and Hamilton and Albon were both in, and both elected to rock the Hards as well as the final turn of the key was revealed. The next lap saw Norris by Leclerc, taking P6 from the hapless Ferrari. With the dust at the front settling, Bottas had gained nearly 2 seconds on Hamilton through being pitted first and was now just 6 seconds back of the leader. Raikkonen nailed Grosjean for P12 as on the radio McLaren told Norris that over the first stint Perez had 50% more tyre degradation.
Kvyat was next up to have a go at Leclerc and that brought him in lap 38 for a set of Mediums as apparently plan C was not working as predicted. Hamilton and Bottas both were warned to stay off the "high load" kerbs as Albon was now the quickest of the three way battle for P3 over the full lap. By lap 42 Albon was all but in DRS and Mercedes was thinking that the kerbs may have been responsible for Bottas' tyre issues in the first, post red flag stint.
Lap 43 and it was all to change as Stroll was off and into the gravel and brought out the Safety Car. Bottas and back were all in, but Hamilton fortunately was ahead of the Safety Car, meaning that he would get round and out before the Safety Car collected him. On replay it was a puncture for Stroll that sent him off, and out came the red flag. Looking at the safety car pit lane tyre lottery it was Merc on the Mediums, and the rest onto Softs and yet another standing restart, this time a 13 lap stint. The order minus Stroll was Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, then Albon, Perez and Norris. Kvyat, Leclerc, Russell and Vettel rounded out the top 10 with Raikkonen and Grosjean the last two on the ever dwindling grid.
As it was being winched off the circuit by the JCB, the car burst into flames and there was dramatic footage of marshals ripping the bodywork off the Racing Point and emptying extinguisher after extinguisher into the guts of the car in order to suppress the fire. Worth remembering that Ricciardo nabbed two spots at the start of the race and he, along with Albon and Perez, were sporting a reasonably useful tyre advantage as the teams all awaited the 3rd standing start of the race. Also interesting, was the fact that on each start the polesitter lost out so there's that to be contemplated as well. Raikkonen was under investigation for a pitlane entry violation, to make life even more entertaining.
Raikkonen and Grosjean were sent round to regain their lost lap before the rest of the grid rolled out on their formation lap. Out went the rest of the field and it was Mercedes, having elected to switch to the Softs making it a clean sweep across the remainder of the field (and nullifying the tyre advantage earlier mentioned) though Grosjean and Raikkonen will have had an extra lap to get their tyres and brakes up to temperature as the sun began to dip and the track temperatures fall....
Lights Out!!! All Over again!! Great start by Ricciardo!!! Oh my he was by Bottas on the way into turn 1 as Bottas tried to take it back but couldn't get there as Albon, losing out to Perez at the start, stuck some wheels into the gravel to seize P4 back. Raikkonen and Grosjean were up to P8 and P9 but Raikkonen was sporting a 5 second penalty for his infraction, slightly complicating the maths.
The following lap Bottas got a massive run on the Renault, and was able to retake the spot round the outside of turn 1 as behind, Perez wanted to follow suit but was unable to get round the racy Red Bull. The laptimes did not favour Renault in the slightest as Leclerc reclaimed P9 from Grosjean. Albon was all over the gearbox of Ricciardo and the start of lap 51 saw him by the Renault and Vettel by Grosjean to boot, the HAAS driver right back out of the points. Raikkonen was livid about the penalty as apparently the team had failed to inform him of the outcome during the red flag, or, possibly, he'd just forgotten.
The following lap Albon was now just about in DRS on Bottas and suddenly P2 seemed not an impossibility with 6 laps left in the race. Bottas responded the following lap, setting fast lap with a 1:19.432 and clocking back nearly a second. Lap 55 and the defense from Albon had now brought Bottas within 2 seconds of Hamilton whilst further back Vettel had made a mistake and brought Russell into DRS on him for the final points paying position.
Albon nibbled a tenth back out of Bottas as Russell continued his quixotic pursuit, at least until Vettel pulled the gap back out and then George lost a further second to Raikkonen, now 7 seconds back and not in the window to be promoted thanks to Kimi's penalty. Two laps to go and the battle for P2 was well over and done, but the battle of the fast laps was not, and Hamilton lit the board up purple, going into the 1:18's to take the singular point away from his teammate. Onto the final lap they went and after the first sector it was clear that the victory was final, as Bottas first sector was 2 seconds off Hamilton and it was bring it home time, his one shot at glory spent. And across the line they flashed, 90th win for Hamilton, first podium for Albon and the sole saving grace for Ferrari being that both drivers managed to finish in the points, at least once the majority of the midfield had been unceremoniously retired due to the ridiculous level of carnage in the race.
Magnificent race for Mercedes and a stunning victory for Hamilton, while the depths of despair for Bottas who, having seized the win saw it all slide slowly and inexorably from his grasp, all while providing us with a thoroughly entertaining battle for the top spot. If you ignore the disaster of Verstappen, Red Bull have every reason to be thoroughly delighted as well, as their young protege finally delivered the result they sought, perservering through a terrible start and making the overtakes that mattered most late in the race, the reason he was brought up in the first place.
Equally, ignoring the loss of Ocon, Renault had to be pleased as at a track where they were not thought to be favoured, the clearly were the best of the rest and Ricciardo displayed very clearly why he was a highly sought after driver, with McLaren no doubt supremely happy he would be on their side soon enough. The tale of two cities continued with Perez salvaging a P5 for his team, while the loss of Stroll as he was chasing the last podium spot near then end of the race ruining an otherwise solid performance from the team. McLaren was in similar shape, with Sainz being lost to the carnage but Norris hanging on to achieve his P6.
Points for both Ferraris was the best they could do, and even to achieve that the need significant help, so cold comfort at best for the tifosi, even though early on Leclerc did give them a thrill by running up in the podium spots. Despite having an old man yelling at clouds kinda day, Raikkonen did pull some more points for Alfa which was the best they could hope for after Giovinazzi played demolition derby with the back of Magnussen's car (and yes, that was not really his fault) and even HAAS felt they had an OK day, despite Grosjean basically circulating at the back with 60 points of aero damage hampering his race.
Even Williams almost scored a point, though, frustratingly it remained just out of reach after Stroll's incident near the end of the race. Still, being that close has to be counted as a moral victory at least for the team as the new owner's were on hand to inspect their prize firsthand. The teams will be delighted with a bit of a break, a chance to rest their weary bones, heal their wounded and bury their dead before they head off to Russia, where they will do it all over again...