An accident at the start, duels on the track and a well thought out strategy which delivered a third and a fifth place for Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. Scuderia Ferrari thus made the best of what turned into a bad situation right from the start. Vettel limited the damage, with Hamilton winning to turn things around and now head him in the championship by 14 points.
“Nose damage” shouted Vettel: just moments from the start, a collision with Bottas at Turn 1 produced damage that was clear to see. The Safety Car came out immediately because of a collision between Ocon and Gasly and the number 5 Ferrari pitted for a new nose, while Bottas also came in with a puncture. Vettel took on Softs, the hardest tyre, in order to rejig the race strategy. Raikkonen was now seventh after also having a moment braking into the first corner.
Five laps later and the race was on again. Vettel went round the outside of Alonso, who spun and Raikkonen got the better of Leclerc. Vettel gained a further two places before use of DRS was authorised. Raikkonen passed Magnussen to go fifth. Vettel had just passed Vandoorne to close in on the points zone when the stewards handed him a 5 second penalty for the earlier collision. Further up the order, Kimi showed that the SF71H had a strong race pace as he next passed Sainz.
On lap 12, Vettel pulled a great passing move on Hulkenberg to go tenth and next on his list was Perez, followed by Grosjean. On lap 16, Kimi set the fastest lap, as Vettel now passed Leclerc and Magnussen for sixth place.
Lap 20 and Vettel got past Sainz, braking from 330 km/h at the chicane and he was clear of traffic. The aim was to get ahead of Verstappen when the Red Bull would pit but was there was the added variable of the lurking threat of rain. Vettel asked which sector was costing him the most time. Verstappen pitted at the end of lap 25 and Vettel stuck right with him down the straight but also had to look after his tyres at the halfway point.
At the start of lap 30, Ricciardo pitted and this time Vettel managed to stay ahead, without counting the penalty. With 20 laps to go, Hamilton pitted, which meant Raikkonen was leading, before he too pitted to change tyres, going from Ultra to Supersoft. On fresher tyres, Ricciardo managed to get ahead of Vettel who now found himself ahead of his team-mate. Then Raikkonen put in a super lap in 1’34”819 and soon after Seb left the way clear for his team-mate who was racing Bottas. Indeed, it was Valtteri who came in for Supersofts but it was a slow stop. Ferrari reacted, bringing Vettel in for Ultrasofts, sitting there for longer to take the penalty too, comfortably maintaining his position.
Last few laps: Raikkonen was very quick and had Ricciardo in his sights, but there were backmarkers to be dealt with. The first scrap came at the start of lap 47 and then Raikkonen made the decisive move at the chicane and was in a podium position. Right at the end the Virtual Safety Car was used after Stroll went off. Scuderia Ferrari picked up 25 points, which one minute into the race had seemed an impossibility.
Maurizio Arrivabene: “It was a shame about the accident at the start, which meant we couldn’t show what we could really do. But on a track that is not best suited to the SF71H, it proved to be very competitive in terms of its race pace. That was evident from the great fight back up the order, featuring overtaking moves from Kimi and Sebastian. The team gave its all, making the right strategy calls to give the drivers every chance to get the best result possible in the circumstances. With such a tight calendar, we are already looking ahead to the Austrian GP, which gets underway in a few days and we have to focus on making up the lost ground.”
Kimi Raikkonen: “At the start we lost two places; I was on the outside and then the accident at the first corner happened, and it was a quite messy situation. I tried to stay out of trouble but chose the wrong side of the track. After that I was able to recover. I had a good feeling with the car, especially after we had our pit stop and put the Supersoft tyres on. We had a good speed through the whole race. We decided to do a very long stint with the first set and it lasted very well; only towards the end it got a bit tricky. Then, with the new tyres, the car was very good and I could race and actually pass other drivers; it was a lot more fun than the last two races!”
Sebastian Vettel: “I think my start was good, perhaps even too good, as I found myself very close to Lewis in front and, when I tried to brake, I had absolutely no grip and there wasn’t much space where I could go: Valtteri on my right was trying to get his position back and Max was also trying to come round on the outside. It’s a shame for Valtteri because he did nothing wrong and it’s a shame for us, because we could have obtained a better result. Fortunately, we could continue racing, we had a good car in the race, but the outcome was not want we wanted. It was my fault, but now let’s move on and think about the next weekend.”
Photos: Scuderia Ferrari - 2018 FIA F1 World Championship