Verstappen dominates as Mercedes struggle



Following his late Q3 crash, Leclerc reported a problem with his gearbox on his only pre-race lap to the grid – although Ferrari later announced a damaged driveshaft meant he could not take the start.

Lewis Hamilton finished seventh, frustrated with Mercedes strategy call after he lost two spots during the sole pitstop phase.

When the lights went out, Verstappen immediately moved to cover off Bottas’s run to the inside line for St Devote from his P2 grid spot, cutting off the Mercedes, which had made a slightly better launch off the line from third.

Verstappen’s aggressive defence easily kept him in the lead, with Bottas briefly locking his left-front as the pack steamed into the first corner.

The two leaders quickly surged clear of Sainz’s third place, the Ferrari initially unable to match their pace in the high 1m16-seconds/low 1m17s lap time brackets.

The opening phase of the 78-lap race featured the leading drivers managing their pace as they worked to create a pitstop gap to the runners using the medium and hard tyres in the pack behind.

Verstappen controlled the pace up front – his laps gradually getting quicker – with Bottas running just out of DRS range in second, as Sainz closed again on the two leaders until his gap to Bottas almost reached the two-second mark, where it remained.

The leader’s advantage extended to nearly three seconds by the one-quarter-distance mark, after Mercedes had asked Bottas to show his best pace, as the Finn in fact fell further back towards Sainz.

Bottas could not match Verstappen’s pace in the low 1m16s at this stage and the gap between them grew to nearly five-seconds once 25 laps had been completed.

After Hamilton had kicked off the pitstops by stopping for hards at the end of lap 29, in a doomed attempt to undercut Pierre Gasly’s fifth place, Bottas came in the next time around.

But a disastrous pitstop where the right-front soft remained stuck on Bottas’s W12 because the wheel nut machined onto the axle and could not be removed, meant the Finn’s race was ended.

Sainz came in two laps later, now comfortably in second, while Red Bull waited until lap 34 to bring in Verstappen, who emerged with a 6.5s lead over the Ferrari once all the stops had shaken out.

In the immediate phase after the stops, Sainz managed to cut Verstappen’s lead in half as he lapped in the low 1m15s, before the Red Bull upped its pace and the gap between the pair stabilised.

They regularly ran in the mid-1m14s during the middle phase of the race, exchanging quicker times over several tours, but the difference between them remained steady.

Heading into the final 15 laps, Verstappen was able to pull away slightly as he asserted control over the gap to second once again, eventually coming home with a winning margin of 8.9s as Sainz faded as the completed laps built up.

The result gives Verstappen the lead of the drivers’ standings for the first time in his career.

Bottas’s retirement meant Lando Norris moved up to third as McLaren negotiated the pitstop phase smoothly, with the Briton having something of a lonely race for the majority of the event to take the final spot on the podium behind the dominant leaders.

Norris did struggle for tyre life in the closing stages, with Sergio Perez closing in rapidly in the second Red Bull but he was unable to find a way by ahead of the finish.

Perez, who had started a net eighth with Leclerc’s absence, was the big winner during the pitstops, where Hamilton ended up immensely frustrated at Mercedes’ strategy.

Being the first driver to stop did not pay off for the world champion, as Gasly was able to stay ahead when he came in one lap after Hamilton, who then lost a place to Sebastian Vettel as well when the Aston Martin driver jumped up two spots by staying out longer and overcutting the AlphaTauri and the Mercedes.

But Red Bull left Perez out in clear air even longer, the Mexican eventually coming in one lap 35 having lapped in the mid 1m14s bracket as he enjoyed strong pace in clear air.

Perez actually cycled through to temporarily lead just before he stopped and handed his team-mate back the P1 stop Verstappen would not lose again, as Perez rejoined well clear of the Vettel-Gasly-Hamilton train.

After initially failing to make much in-road on Norris’s advantage in third, he rapidly cut the gap approaching the final 15 laps, but his chase ended up stalling with the gap to Norris just over a second, with the margin at the finish exactly 1.0s.

Vettel came home solidly in fifth, with Hamilton trailing Gasly by 14.3s at the flag after stopping to move back to softs late-on to chase the fastest lap point.

He successfully managed that quest, setting a new track record of 1m12.909s.

Lance Stroll gained from his net P12 starting spot by running the hard tyre from the start and then staying out until lap 58, where he maintained the eighth place he had risen too after switching to the softs.

Stroll was investigated for potentially crossing the pit exit line as he rejoined after his stop, but the stewards took no action and he came home untroubled in eighth.

Esteban Ocon defied late pressure from Antonio Giovinazzi, as the Alpine and Alfa Romeo drivers rounded out the top 10 – the former struggling for tyre life after being given mediums at his stop compared to the hards on his rival’s machine.

Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo were not far behind at the finish – the latter ending up a lap down on his McLaren team-mate – with Fernando Alonso 13th a chunk further back.

With Bottas the only retirement and Leclerc not starting, the rest of the finishers were Williams pair George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, Yuki Tsuonda – who stopped last of all on lap 65 and ended up with the second fastest race lap, 1.128s slower than Hamilton’s effort – and the Haas duo Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher.

Results



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