I can’t speak too much about this race, as I haven’t seen most of it, so I’ll speak about what I have seen, and speak a little about what I’ve read too. This was a triumph for Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari, despite the early promise for a comfortable Mercedes win.
That promise was founded on the qualifying performance of Bottas and Hamilton, that saw the former claim his first ever F1 pole and Mercedes enjoy a half-second edge over Ferrari, light years in Formula 1 terms. Quite where that extra pace had come from was a mystery, given how close the practice times had been, yet Mercedes were a lot quicker when it counted. They would not make that advantage pay.
At the very start, Bottas got away well and led but Vettel got by Hamilton and was keeping within a second or so of the Finn, undercutting Bottas at the first set of stops. There was a safety car when Stroll and Sainz (Williams and Toro Rosso respectively) came together, but I haven’t seen the incident and can’t judge as to who caused it. Having not seen the race I can’t speak too much of the permutations that followed, but Hamilton got a five-second penalty for slowing down when entering the pits and holding up the Red Bull of Ricciardo whilst the safety car was out, and twice Bottas would be asked to let his faster teammate past.
Hamilton would chase down Vettel during the final twelve or so laps, but was too far behind to catch the German, and one has to wonder if Vettel was taking it easy. A second win in three races for Vettel means the title race is firmly on, but if not for that penalty, might it have been closer? We’ll never know.
Meanwhile, there was more pain for McLaren. Vandoorne didn’t even make the start of the race, whilst Alonso retired with two laps to go, casting a frustrated figure as other cars outpaced him easily. Three retirements in a row (two of them from points-scoring positions no less) for arguably the most talented man on the grid will continue to raise questions about his future. There was better news for Renault, with Hulkenberg following up his good qualifying performance with 8th place and four points, whilst Force India got both cars into the points, with Perez climbing from 17th to 7th. Ricciardo was 5th for Red Bull, with teammate Verstappen crashing out early on due to brake failure.
So, after the opening three rounds the scores look like this: P1: Vettel – 68 points. P2: Hamilton – 61 points. P3: Bottas – 38 points. P4: Raikkonen – 34 points. Ferrari are on 102 points in the constructor’s championship, with Mercedes on 99. There remains hope that Red Bull can close the gap but they need to do so sooner rather than later. Next up, Russia.