Ferarri had this track figured out in qualifying this race, compared to Mercedes. It was thrilling to see record lap after record lap being set. Hamilton complained of tire vibrations in Q3 and just never could pull it completely together in the last few minutes when Vettel and Raikkonen could.
But when the race started, it was Red Bull who had the most trouble–Verstappen hit Ricciardo and took him out of the race on the opening lap. They had to release the safety car since Ricciardo’s car covered the track in fluids.
It led to Verstappen getting a 10 second penalty (which he didn’t serve until MUCH later)–frankly, it’s becoming apparent Verstappen isn’t working for the team any more, he’s working only for himself and trying to move to a better team. Ricciardo called him a “f*cking sore loser” over the radio and later immature during an interview and I’m starting to think he was being too kind. It’s one thing to be competitive, but it’s another to be so selfish that you piss away the entire team’s chances for the most points. Last time I checked, Verstappen needs the entire Red Bull team to race and he’s not doing himself any favors.
Then Grojean had a slow leak in his tire, so the team brought him in for his pit stop. It didn’t work out, as the left rear wheel nut got cross threaded and they immediately called over the radio for him to stop. The guy who was on that tire knew it as soon as the car was released and he looked dejected when he let the rest of the team know. So Haas continues to see just how complicated and difficult it is to build a successful Formula 1 team.
Around lap 28, Vettel started complaining of his steering pulling to the left and said it was getting worse when his team inquired about it. Kimi started closing the gap by several seconds, so Vettel was clearly having trouble with his car. Horrible timing to have a technical issue with Vettel only having a 1 point lead over Hamilton for the championship going into the summer break.
Not long after that radio transmission, both Mercedes came in for their pit stops. Ready to attack Ferrari with Vettel in his weakened car. Vettel came in first, seemingly only for tires. No adjustments to the front end of the car. Raikkonen came in second and came out JUST behind Vettel–If Kimi hadn’t been held up by Di Resta (standing in for Massa, who was ill) before the stop, he might have gotten out in front.
The radio started going nuts. Kimi clearly wanted to get past Vettel’s troubled car to give the team the best chance to win the race. Hamilton’s radio wasn’t working at all, so he couldn’t tell his team he wanted to get by Bottas. He finally got it back on lap 44 and he immediately told them he can go after Ferrari and his old tires were going great and he didn’t need to pit yet. Ferrari kept telling Kimi they understood but wouldn’t make a change. Italy wasn’t willing to accept reality that Vettel didn’t have the car to win the race today.
Lap 45, Mercedes finally let Hamilton get past Bottas and the fight was officially on with Ferrari. With less than 20 laps to go, Hamilton got within Kimi’s DRS zone and then lost it again. Mercedes gave him 5 laps to make some moves or they’d let Bottas back in front. I appreciate that Mercedes really lets their drivers fight, even when they’re fighting other teams.
But, for whatever reason, Hamilton couldn’t make his move. He had one or two looks, but after that he dropped off. Verstappen was coming after Bottas the whole time and he got close, even with the 10 second penalty served. The last second of the last lap, Hamilton let Bottas back by to get the podium–classy move even though it hurt his point standings against Vettel. That never would have happened between Hamilton and Rosberg.
The shocker for me, though, was seeing Alonso finish the race… and in 6th. That’s the best finish McLaren has had in a long time. Vettel is now going into the break with all the momentum and Hamilton will be the one chasing. But I won’t leave Hamilton out–he’s chased down the leader before and snatched the championship away. Risky overall strategy by Ferrari today, but they were a bit lucky that it paid off. Hamilton will use today to fuel him when they start back up in Spa, and I can’t wait to see it.