The venue named after a modern F1 success story has, ironically, not proven to be a successful track for Red Bull Racing – would that be changing here?
Not if the qualifying story would bear out in the race. As is more or less normal, it was a front four comprising of the Mercedes’ and Ferraris – though Lewis Hamilton would not in fact start in third – an unauthorised gearbox change meant a five-place grid penalty – he would start eighth. His teammate Valtteri Bottas took his second career pole, fending off Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen would slot the second Ferrari into third, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen putting the Red Bulls fourth and fifth respectively.
Also between Hamilton and the leaders would be the Haas of Romain Grosjean, who was impressive in qualifying, and the Force India of Sergio Perez. Up until qualifying Force India had looked out of sorts, yet managed to get both Perez and Esteban Ocon into Q3. Ocon would start ninth, with the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz (who had his wings clipped a little by Red Bull bosses for expressing a desire to move on earlier in the week) completing the top ten.
There was considerably less joy for Williams. After Lance Stroll’s excellent showing to snatch third in Baku, an upgrade to the car on a circuit that would surely benefit from the powerful Mercedes engine proved anti-climatic. Stroll was 18th and Felipe Massa 17th – a dismal performance.
The main sideshow though, was about the fallout from Hamilton and Vettel’s contentious collision in Baku. Did the two men now hate each other? Hamilton had made it clear he felt Vettel’s punishment was too lenient – and refused to shake Vettel’s hand when asked to by a reporter. Christian Horner, the boss of Red Bull, who had been Vettel’s boss for several years, was on record as saying he believed the pair now hated each other. Would this intensifying rivalry provide extra spice going into the race?
As for the race itself – I haven’t seen it. I was working, plus couldn’t get my tablet set up, so I haven’t seen one tiny bit of footage. From what I can gather, the race was pretty uneventful – a minor controversy over whether or not Bottas jumped the start (according to the FIA, he didn’t), and a first-lap accident that put Verstappen and Fernando Alonso out. Aside from that, Hamilton was able to rise to fourth place, whilst Bottas held off Vettel to claim his second career win. The results mean Vettel now leads Hamilton by 20 points, with Bottas a further 15 points back.
Bottas a Contender?
Valtteri was largely expected to play second fiddle to Hamilton but a few moments of bad luck and a few off-days for Lewis, plus a couple of wobbles from Vettel, have brought the Finn firmly into play. If he were to get a couple more wins, with Hamilton and Vettel tripping over each other, and there would be no doubting Bottas as a serious title challenger. It remains to be seen as to whether he can put such a run together – we shall find out, starting with Silverstone on Sunday.