Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel is back in business after a few tough races, the German made the right strategy calls and kept calm under pressure to win for the first time this season. Following him home was Pole-sitter and team-mate, Charles Leclerc and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who rounded-out the podium.
1.Leclerc 2.Hamilton 3.Vettel 4.Verstappen 5.Bottas 6.Albon 7.Sainz Jr 8.Hulkenberg 9.Norris 10.Giovinazzi 11.Gasly 12.Raikkonen 13.Magnussen 14.Kvyat 15.Perez 16.Stroll 17.Grosjean 18.Russell 19.Kubica 20.Ricciardo
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel left the track on Saturday knowing that he had the pace and that Pole Position should have been his but a few mistakes on his final lap let team-mate Charles Leclerc steal pole. However, the 4 Time World Champion drove magnificently to win for the first time this season.
The top 6, consisting of Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen, Valterri Bottas and Alexander Albon held their grid positions as the lights went out. Leclerc was able to pull away as Vettel challenged Hamilton but the Brit defended well and stayed ahead. Behind, Carlos Sainz Jr and Nico Hulkenberg made contact meaning that Sainz had damage to his rear-right tyre which left the limping McLaren to trundle back to the pits.
By lap 10, nothing had changed. The top 6, with Leclerc still leading, were not sprinting away as they normally do and were protecting the tyre life of the Soft tyre. By managing the pace upfront, Leclerc was controlling the race and the strategies for all of the top 6. Kevin Magnussen and Pierre Gasly had made up a number of places and were now in 9th and 10th.
Daniel Ricciardo should have started inside the top 10 in 8th but by being disqualified for a breach of using too much power, the Aussie found himself at the back of the grid and a lot of work to do to get himself back into contention. He was taking no prisoners and was showing why he is considered to be one of the best overtakes on the grid after overtaking Daniil Kvyat for 12th.
The average pit-stop time for this track is around 27 seconds and with the top six not sprinting away, when they pitted, they would rejoin in around the bottom half of the mid-field and would have to overtake drivers on different strategies. Who would blink first?
With the knowledge of the tyre life and the performance of the under-cut, Vettel and Verstappen decided to pit on lap 20. They were running in 3rd and 4th and rejoined in 10th and 11th. On his out-lap, Vettel pushed hard and by the time that Leclerc pitted on lap 21, the German found himself ahead. Leclerc was not happy and told Ferrari about the strategy choice. What were Mercedes to do? They had kept Hamilton and Bottas out but by doing this they were potentially going to lose their original positions in 2nd and 5th.
And so they did. As Vettel lead the charge, Leclerc and Verstappen followed and it was until this point where Mercedes’s strategy was either going to make or break. The trio had come out behind the likes of Ricciardo, Lance Stroll, Gasly and Antonio Giovinazzi, who were on the Medium and Hard tyres and were not going to pit for a number of laps. Mercedes were now banking on that the trio, especially Vettel, were going to get bogged down and stuck behind these drivers so that a gap would build up and Hamilton would rejoin ahead.
As the laps went on, the gap between Hamilton to Vettel kept reducing until Mercedes gave up and pitted Hamilton and Bottas. A Safety Car would have played into their hands but it wasn’t to be for now. The race order had changed, Vettel was now effective race leader ahead of Leclerc, Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas and Albon. For a brief number of laps, Giovinazzi, led the race until Vettel, caught and overtook the Italian on lap 31. Trying to overtake Giovinazzi, Ricciardo made a late move which resulted in contact and left the Renault driver right-rear puncture. The drivers who hadn’t pitted, Giovinazzi, Gasly and Stroll, made their stops and this left Vettel in the lead.
Williams’s run of getting both cars home in one piece this season came to an end after a battling Romain Grosjean tagged George Russell into the barrier hence the record of Safety Car appearances at the race continued. No further action by the stewards was required and the drivers kept behind the Safety Car. On lap 41, racing resumed with Vettel staying ahead.
Hulkenberg’s fight-back continued and made a very nice move on Stroll for 12th but the Canadian, who clipped the wall, trundled back to the pits with a puncture. There was more anguish for Racing Point as Sergio Perez pulled over and retired just a lap later – marking his second non-finish of the year.
After being told to stop the car on the track, another Safety Car was called to remove the stricken Racing Point from the track. Would any of the top drivers pit? They would all stay out and under the Safety Car, the car was removed and racing resumed on lap 48.
Ricciardo’s enduring day continued and dropped two places after trying to overtake Kvyat for 13th but instead dropped to 16th as Gasly made a fantastic overtake to go round the outside of Kevin Magnussen for 8th. Hulkenberg followed through into 9th as Magnussen’s pace started to drop-off.
Onto lap 50, a late move by Kvyat trying to nab 12th off of Raikkonen ended badly as the pair made contact at turn 1 – breaking Raikkonen’s left-front suspension and forcing the Finn into retirement. This was Raikkonen’s first DNF of the season and only leaves Robert Kubica, Hamilton and Vettel to have finished each race so far this year. Again, another Safety Car was deployed.
Despite everything going on behind him, Vettel, managed to stay calm under pressure to win for the first time this season and for the first time in 13 months – dating back to the Belgian GP last year. Leclerc followed home a frustrated 2nd while Verstappen rounded-out the podium.
Hamilton and Bottas finished in 4th and 5th and remarkably, this was the first time that a Mercedes driver had not been on the podium for only the 2nd time in last 27 races. Hamilton still keeps his lead at the top by beating Bottas but suspects Mercedes are going to find it “hard to beat” this motivated Ferrari for the rest of the season.
Albon drove a quiet race to 6th ahead of Norris, who thoroughly deserves his 7th place. The McLaren driver failed to score points in Belgium after stopping on the last lap and started towards the back in Italy and picked-up a point for his efforts. His 6 points helps McLaren stay ahead of Renault in the championship.
Gasly was one of the stars of the race and seems to be settled in his Toro Rosso. He pulled off some great moves and his strategy worked well for the Frenchman to finish in 8th and gain 4 points. Hulkenberg recovered to 9th with Giovinazzi, another star of the race, finishing in 10th and crucially has taken 3 points in the last 2 races for Alfa.
Outside the points, Grosjean headed home Sainz Jr, Stroll, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Kubica and a distant Magnussen, who made a late pit-stop and for his efforts, set the fastest lap for the second year running but does not receive the bonus point because he finish outside the top 10 – the first time that this has happened.
- Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 61 Laps
- Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, +2.641s
- Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing Honda, +3.821s
- Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, +4.608s
- Valterri Bottas, Mercedes, +6.119s
- Alexander Albon, Red Bull Racing Honda, +11.663s
- Lando Norris, McLaren Renault, +14.769s
- Pierre Gasly, Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda, +15.547s
- Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, +16.718s
- Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari, +27.855s
- Romain Grosjean, Haas Ferrari, +35.436s
- Carlos Sainz Jr, McLaren Renault, +35.974s
- Lance Stroll, Racing Point BWT Mercedes, +36.419s
- Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, +37.660s
- Daniil Kvyat, Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda, +38.178s
- Robert Kubica, Williams Mercedes, +47.024s
- Kevin Magnussen, Haas Ferrari, +86.522s
- Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari, DNF
- Sergio Perez, Racing Point BWT Mercedes, DNF
- George Russell, Williams Mercedes, DNF