It looked like being a tough race, with penalties and problems at the start, but it ended with both Ferrari men on the podium. Kimi Raikkonen finishing second ahead of Sebastian Vettel was not something that would have been predicted going into the race. The result was down to the drivers of course, but also to a great job from the team, a well-planned strategy and an SF71H which seemed particularly good at managing its tyres.
Raikkonen was third on the grid on the left-hand side. Vettel had been given a three-place grid penalty after qualifying and was sixth. Both men were running the Ultrasofts, as track temperature came close to 50 degrees, the hottest it had been all weekend.
The Finn attacked to move up to second but ran wide at Turn 3 and then was hit from behind by a Red Bull to find himself back in fourth. Vettel also had to run wide to avoid an incident at the first corner and lost ground. But he quickly retook Magnussen to go seventh, before dealing with Grosjean with a brilliant pass.
Both Ferraris picked up the pace a bit. On lap 12, Hulkenberg’s engine let go, spraying oil onto the track at turn 1. Raikkonen set the fastest lap, under the 1m 9s mark. Two laps later, Bottas parked at the side of the track and the Virtual Safety Car came out. The team therefore called in both cars and fitted the hardest tyre (the Softs.) Red Bull covered the move, but Raikkonen managed to rejoin ahead of Ricciardo.
When the race restarted, Vettel overtook Magnussen again. The two SF70Hs were now third and fifth, but Raikkonen locked up under braking and Ricciardo went past. Hamilton pitted on lap 25 and emerged between Raikkonen and Vettel. Verstappen now led, with his four pursuers covered by 4 seconds. Raikkonen, following Ricciardo and Hamilton behind the Ferrari, could use DRS, for attacking and defending.
With half the race completed, Raikkonen could see from the cockpit that the left rear on Ricciardo’s Red Bull was blistered. The remote garage back in Maranello was also on the case. Meanwhile, Vettel was closing on Hamilton in the DRS zone and so began the duels: Raikkonen attacked on the outside of the climb and then passed Ricciardo who pitted. On lap 39, Vettel passed Hamilton!
Ferrari were now second and third. It was time to look after the tyres. The gap between Vettel and Lewis moved like an elastic band, while ahead of them, Raikkonen seemed comfortable. On lap 53, Hamilton had to pit again, this time swapping the Softs for Supersofts. He re-joined behind Ricciardo, but the Red Bull immediately parked at the side of the track on the pit straight.
The Ferraris did not drop their pace with Raikkonen nibbling at the gap to Verstappen. With 7 laps remaining there was more drama as Hamilton retired. Raikkonen upped his pace, setting the fastest lap on lap 66. It was not enough to win, but it proved that “never give up” is more than a slogan.
Maurizio Arrivabene: “The real story today is that there are six Ferrari power units in the top ten on the race result sheet. And, apart from that, we are leading both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships. Today’s result was not ideal, but it is definitely useful. The team did a great job, at every level, to make up for a difficult Saturday. During the race, the handling of the car, the perfect management of the tyres, the strategy and reliability, all made the difference. On paper, next weekend at Silverstone looks difficult for us, partly because it’s a home race for our main rivals. But we will tackle it with our usual level headedness and determination.”
Kimi Raikkonen: “At the start I had a good getaway, but I found myself between two cars and I had to lift off to avoid them squeezing me, while I hoped they would see me. I lost momentum, speed and the chance to challenge them in the first corner. It’s a pity, because without that, I think I could have been in the lead. The first lap was quite hectic, then the situation calmed down for a while. Tyre management played a big part today: it was hard to know when to go flat out and be on the safe side at the same time. The beginning of both stints was a bit tricky; we struggled a bit to get the grip and to make the tyres work, but then it got better and in the end we had very good tyre. We were obviously hoping to catch Max, but by then it was perhaps a bit too late. Today we had the speed, but there just weren’t enough laps left in the race… Of course, we wanted to win, we tried very hard, giving our best, but it was not enough. The good thing is that, as a team, we did a solid job. It was a strong weekend.”
Sebastian Vettel: “We did a good job and a good race. I had a very solid start, but in Turn 1 things got a bit messy. I tried to recover, but there was no room and lost some positions in Turn 3. From them on, I had to fight with Renault and Haas and lost some time. However, the car was very good, we had a very good pace and we didn’t have any issues with the tyres; in fact, the car was very good on them, even if I had to manage the Softs for a long stint, which again proves we have made good progress since Barcelona. Obviously, I am happy with the points that we’ve got and the podium, but I am not satisfied 100 per cent, because I think there would have been more up for grabs today if I hadn’t got the penalty. We were the only cars that could be there with the Mercedes in terms of pace, but in the end, we proved more consistent.”
Photos: Scuderia Ferrari - 2018 FIA F1 World Championship