Dry qualifying with record-setting laps lent itself to a damp start to race day. With everyone expecting the track to dry out quickly in the opening laps, it was Carlos Sainz who was the only one to gamble and start on the super soft tires instead of the intermediates.
More or less a safe start, with Vettel sneaking in a less than proper grid place start in second. Despite it, Hamilton got to the first turn quicker and seemed to comfortably set the pace.
Thanks to a couple of spin outs and crashes, Sainz would be advantage was completely lost. Saber’s Italian fill in destroyed the car twice in one weekend–something that team simply can’t afford.
Thanks to the safety car having to lead the cars through the pit lane, virtually everyone was able to pit and get back out without losing much in way of position. Verstappen made some amazing moves to get all the way up to second for a while, until he got on the grass/turf and sent him flying off the line and Vettel was there to take advantage. Tires were gone for Verstappen, so he pitted (seemingly unexpected for his team) and came out behind Bottas but passed him fairly quickly.
Alonso managed to hang back for a while in 7th, until Sainz pushed him for the pass. But it didn’t last long after that… once again. I miss seeing Alonso in a car that’s competitive.
But the chase became lap 37 when Hamilton came in for his final set of tires. He got out in front of Raikkonen, a much better result than Australia. After that, Hamilton and Vettel trade blows setting fast laps, but Vettel chipped away at the 12 second lead lap after lap. Hamilton kept checking with his team about the pace, and they kept telling him that Vettel was pushing but that he was putting in good times as well.
Magnussen had a hell of a move to get around Perez on lap 49 which put him in 8th. Much needed points for the Haas team. Force India did well to have both cars finish in the points. And then poor Williams seems to have taken yet another step back instead of forward, even with Paddy Lowe added to their management.
Watching the two Red Bulls duke it out in the final laps was thrilling. Verstappen is without a doubt the chosen one for the team, but Ricciardo had no trouble reminding everyone that he’s no slouch and deserves his due. Verstappen was quick to voice his frustrations with Grojean in front of both of them, but Grojean was trying to get into the running for points and it felt a bit like whining to me. Ricciardo’s car was more upset by the wash than Verstappens and he just kept driving. That’s part of the race. Verstappen got to keep his position this time, but Ricciardo made his point.
The race finished with Hamilton and Vettel now tied for the championship, as their finishes were swapped. Verstappen rounded out the podium, instead of the other Mercedes. Overall, a great race–lots of on track passing and thrilling battles between drivers on the same team, as well as different teams. And these cars are SO fast. Mercedes has to work for the win this season–they’re not going to walk away with it as in seasons past.