It’s advantage Verstappen in the title battle.
Verstappen had secured pole position in an exciting battle during qualifying on Saturday, but was beaten off the line by the seven-time world champion starting next to him. The Dutchman ran car number 44 to the very edge of the track, with plenty of heartbeats rising amid visions of the pair coming together once again when they reached the first corner.
They successfully navigated it, however, with Hamilton emerging in front.
It quickly became apparent that it would not be a comfortable day at the front for the Briton, with his rival able to follow comfortably within one second throughout the first stint – denied only from passing by the prodigious straight-line speed of the Mercedes.
Red Bull therefore chose to go for an aggressively early undercut on lap 10. With the Austrian team for once having a two-on-one advantage, thanks to Sergio Pérez in third, Hamilton was unable to go long and pitted three laps later, rejoining eight seconds behind Verstappen.
The two drivers endured a stint of pace management in the middle of the race but, when Verstappen pitted for a second time, with his team wary of Hamilton having worked his way to undercut territory, the pair had opened up a sufficient gap to Pérez that Hamilton was this time able to extend.
He eventually pitted on lap 37, eight laps after his rival, and set about closing down a nine-second gap in 19 laps.
After a period of gently bringing in the tyres, Hamilton put his foot down and the gap began to reduce rapidly, with the 400,000-strong crowd realising they were going to see the winner decided in the final few laps.
Hamilton got to within two seconds but his progress then stalled, as is often the case, when his car hit the dirty air of the leading Red Bull. The Silver Arrows’ inability to follow another car is a real weakness – one which was not overly exposed during the previous two seasons at the front, but it is now costing them in a tight championship battle.
The World Champion finally broke into the DRS window on the final lap but it was too late and Verstappen came home to complete a measured drive under intense pressure and extend his championship lead to 12 points.
Pérez held on to take the final step of the podium – the Mexican finding some form at the perfect time for his team – ahead of the excellent Charles Leclerc, who started and finished an impressive fourth.
Valtteri Bottas recovered from yet another engine penalty to finish sixth, behind Daniel Ricciardo on a stronger weekend for the Honey Badger – and one where he also fulfilled his dream of driving Dale Earnhardt Sr’s NASCAR stock car – with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris finishing seventh and eighth as the gap between McLaren and Ferrari reduced to just 3.5 points in their battle for third in the Constructors’ Championship.
Further down the road, Fernando Alonso showed he has lost none of his fire – nor his penchant for double standards – during a battle with the Alfa Romeos. First, accusing old foe Kimi Räikkönen of passing off the track, after he had forced him there, and then complaining of hypocrisy when he outbraked himself at the end of the back straight and stayed ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi by not really taking the corner.
This led to an entertaining snippet of radio with Alpine Sporting Director Alan Permane dealing out a healthy dose of passive-aggressive sarcasm to Michael Masi.
Just think of all the gold we have missed in past years before these team radio broadcasts were introduced.
A Decisive Blow in the Title Battle?
COTA always looked likely to be a track that would suit both the leading teams evenly and produce a closely fought battle.
The next two races, however, look very much like Red Bull tracks.
The thin air at the high altitude of Mexico City’s Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez has hampered the Mercedes engine since it returned to the calendar in 2015. Verstappen took back-to-back victories in 2017 and 2018 in a comparatively far-weaker Red Bull and Hamilton’s victory at the last running in 2019 was down to some tyre-whispering mastery and a questionable Ferrari strategy.
Red Bull have also historically been strong at the Brazilian Grand Prix – which follows seven days later as part of a triple-header also featuring the maiden Qatar Grand Prix – with Verstappen winning at the last race, also in 2019.
But if the flying Dutchman and his team come good on their potential at those two events, they could well be more than a win’s worth of points ahead of Hamilton with just three races remaining.
Answering the Burning Questions
Will Mercedes or Red Bull be on top around COTA? It was close but Red Bull appeared to have a slight edge.
Can Ferrari continue their good form and close the gap to McLaren in the Constructors’ Championship? They can – getting mighty close now!
Will there be any major announcements over the weekend? Nope, although rumours around the Andretti takeover of Sauber are building momentum.
Return back to News
Return back to Home