(Photo credit: Habeed Hameed)
The simple answer is yes.
Before the lights went out, there were signs the fight for the front would be a live one. Starting from second place, Kimi Raikkonen looked blazingly fast all weekend, having narrowly missed out on pole himself. Meanwhile, last year’s pole sitter, Valtteri Bottas, lined up third. Also, a smart strategy call from Mercedes during qualifying left Lewis Hamilton – starting all the way back in ninth position – on a more durable tyre compound and in with a chance of being an outside factor. It would be up to those three men to take the race from Sebastian Vettel. Add that the race is traditionally won from a position other than pole, but still inside the top four, and the chance of a lead change were strong. However, few could have predicted the wild ride we saw today (check out our race report here).
Early advantage to Vettel
While positions four through 20 were jockeyed for in the opening laps of the race, the front remained more stable. Daniel Ricciardo, starting from fourth and already in top form this season, retired with a mechanical fault after one lap. This left Vettel, who got away from the line brilliantly ahead of Bottas and then Raikkonen, untouched until the first round of pit stops.
Another master strategy call from the Mercedes pit wall sold Ferrari on a two-stop race while the Brackley team’s intention all along was dual one-stop races utilising the medium compound until the end (remember, this year’s medium tyre is a degree softer but still longer-lasting than the compounds below it). Ferrari were committed to a second stop, but it was questionable whether they would achieve sufficient advantage to bring them out ahead of the Mercedes.
Ferrari hopes fading
After 20 laps, it looked as though Mercedes had done enough to win. The nasty incident during Raikkonen’s second stop that cost both the driver and the team only compounded the situation for the Scuderia. They were forced to run the remaining 39 laps on the soft tyre (originally due to be changed) with no coverage from a teammate. Essentially, Vettel would limp his car home, with two faster-paced Mercedes chasing him down.
Victory there for the taking
For a change, it was the drivers who let the team down. Hamilton bungled his lap times and never got close to Vettel. He was possibly held up by traffic or confused by shoddy radio communications but, as noted during the Sky broadcast, he was given target times but didn’t achieve them consistently.
This left Bottas as the lone driver to challenge a rapidly fading Vettel. The final 10 laps saw Bottas take three quarters of a second a lap out of Vettel’s lead, with clear track between him and the eventual winner. His tyres were fresher and his car was faster, yet Vettel defended his position and kept the W09 in his mirror, and crucially, just out of DRS range right until the end.
Missed opportunity for Bottas
As far back as the second round of pit stops, it looked as though Bottas had the win in the bag, but Vettel fought like the crafty champion he is to keep his position. The German was totally out-gunned for the last and most-critical part of the race and would have succumbed the lead with a few more laps been scheduled.
Had the Mercedes’ driver roles been reversed, it’s almost inconceivable to think that Hamilton would not have won the race, but even he will be disappointed with his performance here (despite starting in ninth). Ultimately, the combination of team strategy and improved tyre compounds provided a golden opportunity that was squandered by the drivers.
Should Bottas have won the race? Would Hamilton have won from that position? Give us your opinion in the comments below.
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