It was a team effort from the Mercedes AMG Petronas organization that handed championship leader Lewis Hamilton
another victory. Valtteri Bottas
led the first half of the race but a team order to allow Hamilton past handed the British driver his eighth win of the season and 70th of his Formula One career.
Bottas finished second, giving Mercedes a maximum of 43 points in the constructor’s standings. Sebastian Vettel
could do no better than third, falling to 50 points behind Hamilton in the championship with five races left.
Bottas pulled away on the start. Behind him, Vettel got a great jump off the line and was wheel to wheel with Hamilton into the first corner. But Hamilton got a slipstream from his wingman, Bottas. That pulled him clear of Vettel through the first sector.
From there, Vettel never challenged the top two on speed. While Ferrari had the most engine power through the second half of the season, it appears Mercedes has retaken that advantage. Bottas and Hamilton pulled away from Vettel and Raikkonen easily throughout the race.
Verstappen had an incredible start, proving his reputation as a brilliantly aggressive overtaker. He lined up 19th on the grid after starting from the back for an engine change. But by lap 8, the Red Bull driver was all the way up to fifth. His teammate, Ricciardo, also started in the back and could only get up to 11th by comparison.
Bottas was the first to pit and kept his advantage over the the top four. Vettel then came in before Hamilton and was able to pull the undercut. That moved him up to what would’ve been second after pit stops. However, a couple of laps later, Hamilton pulled up with DRS on the main straight. He pulled to the inside into Turn 5 and took the position back from Vettel.
The Red Bull strategy of not setting a lap in Q2, starting on the soft tires while the leaders were on the far less durable ultra softs allowed Verstappen to stay out way longer than the top four. That put him in the lead by lap 18. Verstappen actually ended up leading the most laps in the race despite starting in 19th.
With Verstappen holding up the leaders on older tires, the Mercedes team launched the wings on Bottas, the wingman. The call from the pit wall was for him to slow down, allowing Hamilton by to protect him from Vettel and not allow the Ferrari a chance to gain points on the championship. Once Verstappen pitted on lap 44, Hamilton was given the lead and from there, he cruised to a smooth victory.
Bottas wasn’t happy on team radio when they told him to allow Hamilton by. One could say that he shouldn’t be. Valtteri had run a perfect weekend where he was the fastest on track, poised to get his only win of the season to date. However, the idea of Hamilton potentially losing three points to Vettel when he entered the weekend up by 40 with five races to go was too much of a risk. Perhaps the team was a little too cautious and took away a win from Bottas, who deserved it?
Formula One moves on to Japan next weekend. For the American viewers, it will be some Saturday night racing. For Vettel? His campaign for the title is turning desperate. It will take some dramatic developments for this championship to become anything less than Hamilton’s drive for five.
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