Race Watch 12
70th Anniversary Grand Prix
The first Grand Prix ever to not be named after a geographical location also produced a first non-Mercedes victor of the year, with Max Verstappen’s Red Bull first past the chequered flag. As predicted, the hotter temperatures and softer tyres in comparison to last week meant greater flexibility in strategy, and a more tactically intriguing race ensued. But what exactly happened? Let’s have a look at a few of the main talking points.
Charging Bull vs Tyre Troubles
The pair of Mercedes drivers faced crippling tyre blisters throughout the 70th Anniversary GP, whilst Verstappen, in stark contrast, was able to Max-imise (sorry) his strategy thanks to his exceptional tyre management. Red Bull rolled the dice on Saturday by sending Verstappen out on the hard tyre in the second part of qualifying – something nobody else attempted – and this laid the foundation for the dutchman to push in clear air whilst Bottas and Hamilton had to work their way through traffic after their first stops. This added variable meant the Mercs were unable to properly bed in their tyres at the start of their stint, and they paid the price for it.
The Red Bull was able to use the overcut strategy to move from third before the pit phase, to side-by-side for the lead upon re-joining from his box. A short, six-lap push on the medium tyres gave him track position, enabling him to switch back to the hards and nurse them to the finish. Bottas and Hamilton were both put on the medium-hard-hard strategy, with Bottas taking pretty equal stints, whereas Hamilton eked out his almost-shredded first set of hards in order to give himself fresh tyres with which to attack toward the end. This worked to an extent, after the Briton worked his way past his teammate, although Verstappen’s Red Bull was too far away.
One-Stop vs Two
Whilst the double stop strategy was the preferred option across the field, two drivers in particular managed to nail the single stop strategy. Starting eleventh, Frenchman Esteban Ocon managed to work his way into eighth at the flag, and earning four deserved points to move himself into the top 10 in the Drivers’ Championship.
More impressive, though, was Charles Leclerc. Having qualified eighth, the Monegasque racer was not expecting to take any forward strides in the race, yet after a mammoth stint on the hard tyres, the Ferrari crossed the line in the ‘best of the rest’ 4th place. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he was just ten seconds off a podium spot. On a day when some drivers had to stop for fresh tyres three times, these two men drove superbly to maximise their points hauls.
Mixed Fortunes For Bulls of Past & Present
Ironically, whilst one Ferrari and one Renault pulled off blinders, the other Ferrari and Renault both suffered from spins. For Sebastian Vettel, this has unfortunately become a bit of the norm, with a number of high-profile spins occurring over the last two seasons or so. This time, it was a big moment on the apex of the first corner on the first lap that he struggled to collect, although he and Carlos Sainz both did well not to tangle with each other. Daniel Ricciardo, also a former Red Bull racer, also spun whilst up the inside of Sainz’s McLaren – the car the Australian will take over next year.
In contrast, Alex Albon produced the sort of race that reminded us all why he was promoted to the Red Bull seat. After a couple of tough races in Hungary and Silverstone last week, Albon was back to his passing best. Moves were flying in left, right and centre, with passes around the outside of Raikkonen and Gasly at Copse particular highlights. Ninth in qualifying is still not quite at the level Christian Horner and Helmut Marko will be happy with, but the fightback will hopefully instil some confidence back into the Thai driver.
So, after the first – and presumably last – 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, we head off to sunny Spain, and the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya for the final leg of this triple header set of weekends. Whilst the magnitude of Hamilton’s championship lead didn’t alter, his nearest challenger did, with the mercurial Max Verstappen now posing a bigger threat than Hamilton’s teammate. Whether this will make a difference to the team dynamic or if it’s too early for team orders at Mercedes, we’ll find out at the same time next week.