Bottas leads another Mercedes 1-2

28/04/2019
NEWS STORY

On a recent trip into London, there in Leicester Square, among the levitating Yodas, buskers, preachers and ticket touts was a small portable table with a sign on the front bearing the words... "tarot card reading by Merlin Trotter".

Sadly, Mr Trotter was not around - possibly called away due to unforeseen circumstances as they say - but we can safely predict that even he would be hard-pressed to forecast the outcome of today's race.

While it might not be in the runes, it most certainly will be in the temperatures, the grip, the strategy, the stewards, those moves where ability out-runs talent and, for some, those red mist moments.

At the best of times there is the opportunity for calamity, but given the events of the last couple of years, not to mention what we witnessed on Friday and Saturday, today basically anything could happen. In other words, expect the unexpected.

Those who dismissed the thought of Sergio Perez taking a third podium here should think again, and while the stewards appear determined to outdo fate in mixing things up, only a fool would stick his neck out.

Much as we loathe hyperbole, we must admit that, thus far, this weekend has had everything, drama, comedy, sadness, frustration and admiration... not to mention Sebastian Vettel quietly ditching the 'tache.

While David Bowie claimed that "we can be heroes", we can also be idiots, and though Pierre Gasly, who starts from the pitlane, has the ideal opportunity to shine, he could just as easily screw it up at the first corner. Indeed, he might not even be responsible, for there are plenty of over-ambitious drivers out there keen to make (or win) a point, only too willing to help him.

And let's not forget that Baku has history in terms of teammate's what with the Force India pair in 2017 and last year's clash of the Bulls.

Not having been blessed with the gift of soothsaying we'll leave the predictions to other, and sit back and enjoy the ride.

That said, while Mercedes has the opportunity for a fourth successive 1-2, Sebastian Vettel could spoil the party, as could Max Verstappen who wrung the neck out of his Red Bull yesterday.

And while Perez, Kvyat and Norris start in the top ten, as do Sainz and Ricciardo, the man to watch surely has to be Leclerc, who following the exclusion from the qualifying results of Kimi Raikkonen, will now start from eighth.

Following yesterday's self-confessed stupidity, what better way for the youngster to make amends... and open his win account. Again, as Bowie said: "Watch that man".

According to Pirelli, a one-stop strategy is the clear choice, either going from soft to medium or medium to soft, which makes little difference. If starting on the soft, the best option is to stop on lap 25; if starting on the medium it's best to stop on lap 26.

Nonetheless, there's a very wide pit stop window, effectively from lap 15 onwards, so those numbers can be considered only as a guide. Indeed, as we've already seen this weekend and from the past, the strategy can be heavily influenced by safety cars, but on paper a two-stopper is definitely slower.

As the cars head out, Leclerc is warned of "slippery track" in T15. Hamilton reports that his car feels "very strange".

Ahead of the warm-up lap, the air temperature is 20 degrees C, while the track temperature is 41.6 degrees. It is bright and sunny.

Leclerc is the only driver in the top ten starting on mediums, though behind Grosjean, Russell, Kubica and Gasly are also on the yellow-banded rubber. The rest are on softs.

They head off on the warm-up lap, all except Kubica, Raikkonen and Gasly that is.

They're away... Hamilton and Bottas are side-by-side into T1, the Briton on the inside as the go through the corner and head on to the straight leading to T2. Hamilton still has the inside in T2, his teammate running worryingly close to the barriers. That said, Hamilton, on the dirty side of the track is struggling for grip.

Behind, as Vettel holds third, Perez goes around the outside of Verstappen to nudge ahead for fourth.

Bottas finally has some breathing space, but only a little a Hamilton falls in behind.

Meanwhile, Ricciardo has got ahead of Leclerc, the Australian making a typically cheeky move on the run to T1, and Norris is ahead of Kvyat.

Further back, Albon gives the wall at T1 a clout with his right rear, the youngster lucky to get away with that.

No incidents on the opening lap as common sense prevails. At the end of the lap it's: Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel, Perez, Verstappen, Norris, Kvyat, Sainz, Ricciardo and Leclerc. Bottas, after a hairy couple of opening corners, has 2.3s lead over his teammate.

Leclerc makes short work of Ricciardo and sets off after Sainz, however, the youngster is clearly struggling on his mediums. That said, no sooner has Sainz passed Kvyat than the Russian is passed by Leclerc also.

With DRS enabled Verstappen closes on Perez.

Raikkonen, running 17th, is passed by Gasly.

Leclerc sweeps past Sainz to take 7th, the next target being the other McLaren, that of Norris.

Courtesy of DRS Verstappen hunts down Perez and captures 4th as they enter T1.

Kvyat pits at the end of lap 5.

6.6s down on Hamilton, Vettel is told to push. Meanwhile, teammate Leclerc passes Perez for 5th.

Raikkonen pits at the end of lap 6, the Finn receiving an adjustment to his front wing. Meanwhile, Gasly is up to 12th.

Next time around Magnussen pits, as does Giovinazzi.

Closing to within 1.4s of Verstappen, Leclerc is the fastest man on track.

Sainz passes his McLaren teammate for seventh.

Hulkenberg pits from 16th at the end of lap 8.

Leclerc is lapping around a second quicker than the Mercedes pair, both of whom appear to be struggling.

Verstappen reports a loss of engine braking in two particular corners. To add to his misery, moments later he is left for dead by Leclerc.

Next target for the youngster is a certain Mr Vettel, who is 3.5s up the road.

Stroll, in 8th, leads a train of cars that includes Gasly, Ricciardo and Stroll.

Perez, Stroll and Ricciardo all pits at the end of lap 10, rejoining in 10th, 18th and 17th respectively.

Vettel pits at the end of lap 11, which conveniently allows Leclerc through without any radio calls. The German rejoins in 5th ahead of Sainz.

Bottas is told that Vettel is in the pits, the Finn responds by following suit. No double stacking today.

Meanwhile, 4.6s down on Hamilton, Leclerc posts a new fastest lap (47.326).

As Bottas rejoins in fourth, Sainz and Albon pit.

Next time around Hamilton gets the inevitable "box, box, box, box".

2.3s later the world champion is heading down the pitlane again, emerging in fourth, 4.2s down on his teammate. 2s behind the Briton, Vettel posts a new fastest lap (46.931).

As Verstappen pits, at the end of lap 14, Kubica is given a drive-through for being driven to the pit exit early at the start.

Hamilton responds with a new fastest lap (46.588), as Leclerc enjoys a 12.7s advantage over Bottas.

Verstappen closes in on his Red Bull teammate who is up to 5th. The Frenchman puts up no resistance when his colleague makes his move.

"Leclerc still has the safety car gap, so we want to pull him in," Bottas is told.

10.9s down on Leclerc, Bottas posts a new fastest lap (46.087), as the race leader posts a 47.436.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Baku, here.

Lap 18 sees Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (45.867), as he closes the gap to his teammate down to 2.8s.

"Keep reeling Leclerc in," Bottas is told.

Another fastest lap for Hamilton (45.683), who remains third, ahead of Vettel, Verstappen, Gasly, Perez, Norris, Sainz and Kvyat. Of those ten, only Leclerc and Gasly have yet to stop. Grosjean, in eleventh, also has yet to stop, all three having started on the mediums.

Lap 20 sees Verstappen post a new fastest lap, the Dutchman stopping the clock at 45.569 as he seeks to close the 9.4s gap to Vettel.

Though losing ground to Hamilton (3.4s), Hamilton is told he is faster than Bottas who is running second.

"We're confident the opportunities will come at the end of the race," Hamilton is told.

Meanwhile, Verstappen posts another fastest lap (45.387).

Vettel is lapping around 0.8s quicker than Hamilton, the gap now down to 2.253s.

At the end of lap 24, Kubica pits, having previously served his drive-through.

Ricciardo goes eleventh, after a mistake by Grosjean sees the Haas driver head down the escape road at T1 and subsequently slip down the order to 17th.

After 25 laps, Leclerc is lapping the backmarkers, or rather Williams as they are now known.

On fresh medium rubber, Albon goes quickest in S3. The Thai driver is currently 16th.

Having passes Magnussen, Raikkonen sets off after 12th placed Stroll.

Vettel goes quickest in S1 as the gap to Hamilton extends to 3.2s.

Bottas is advised that the leaders are bunching up behind Leclerc as he negotiates the back markers. Indeed, the top four are covered by 7s.

Lap 29s sees Hamilton take 0.6s out of Bottas' advantage. The Finn remains 1.3s down on race leader Leclerc.

Appraised that the gap is down to 1.4s, Bottas is told to "have a look".

Bottas is within DRS ranges of Leclerc while Hamilton is within DRS range of the Finn.

Bottas makes his move at T1 and passes Leclerc with ease. However, out come the yellows as Ricciardo and Kvyat trip up one another at T3. It's not a significant incident, not until Ricciardo reverses into the Toro Rosso.

Next time around Hamilton passes Leclerc in exactly the same place, the Ferrari driver unable to offer any resistance.

Ricciardo pits, and climbs out of his car, his race over.

Now Vettel closes on Leclerc, Ferrari leaving the youngster out there worryingly long.

He moves aside for Vettel, to be told that "it will be soon", Ferrari knowing that when he switches to the softs, though quicker they do not have the durability.

From out of nowhere, Verstappen produces a 45.046.

Unsurprisingly, the Kvyat / Ricciardo incident is under investigation.

Leclerc pits at the end of lap 34, leaving Gasly and Grosjean as the only other drivers yet to stop. The Ferrari driver rejoins behind the Red Bull of Gasly, which is not what he wanted.

Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Kvyat all pits at the end of lap 35. While Hulkenberg and Grosjean return to the race, Kvyat retires.

Following a couple of false starts, Leclerc finally nails Gasly and sets about closing the 20.2s gap to Verstappen.

After 38 laps (of 51), the leading three are covered by 3.8s, the other battle to watch being Leclerc's pursuit of Verstappen, Norris, Sainz and Perez and Albon and Giovinazzi.

Since his stop, Leclerc has actually lost ground to Verstappen. Down in 15th and 16th, Hulkenberg and Grosjean are also on the softs.

Gasly has a problem, the Frenchman driving very slowly as he seeks a place to stop. He reports a loss of power.

The VSC is deployed.

Just before that, Verstappen had posted a new fastest lap (44.794).

Norris, Russell, and Kubica all pit. As does Grosjean, but the Haas driver is actually retiring. Teammate Magnussen pits.

Leclerc is now 38s adrift of Verstappen.

The all-clear is given, Verstappen getting up close and personal with the barriers but keeping it all together. A tardy re-start for Vettel also.

After 41 laps it's: Bottas, Hamilton (+ 3), Vettel (+ 2.3), Verstappen (+3.3), Leclerc (+ 28.9), Perez (+ 28.9), Sainz (+ 2.9), Norris (+10.6), Stroll (+ 8.3), Raikkonen (+ 10.1).

Verstappen is told to "stay off the exit kerb at Turn 16", a reference to what possibly what caused Gasly's retirement, which is understood to be driveshaft related.

A new fastest lap from Bottas (44.488), as the Finn eyes another 26 points.

The Finn is told that Verstappen and Leclerc may well go for another stop at the end of the race in order to go for fastest lap.

With 6 laps remaining, Leclerc has got the gap to Verstappen down to 28s. However, he's over a second off the pace.

4.999s down on Vettel, Verstappen continues to lose ground to the German.

In the pitlane, the Ferrari crew runs out, Leclerc stopping moment later for a brand new set of softs.

Hamilton goes quickest in S2, as Bottas is told of Leclerc's pit stop. Hamilton crosses the line at 44.166 to post a new fastest lap, while also closing to within 0.8s of his teammate.

Bottas responds by going quickest in S2, while Leclerc hasn't got to grips with those new softs.

That said, as Bottas begins his final lap, having posted a new fastest lap (44.024), Leclerc goes quickest in S1. The Ferrari driver goes on to post a 43.009.

Bottas holds on, or does Hamilton back off, either way the Finn takes the win, ahead of his teammate, Vettel, Verstappen, Leclerc, Perez, Sainz, Norris, Stroll and Raikkonen.

Albon is eleventh, ahead of Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Russell and Kubica.

Not the epic we had hoped for, indeed, another 1-2 for the Silver Arrows.

That said, a well-deserved victory for Bottas, and while the Ferrari challenge has yet to truly emerge, certainly on Sunday afternoons, it's clear that both Mercedes drivers are up for it.

As we look ahead two weeks to the start of the European season, should any of you be in Leicester Square in the coming weeks, will you please be so kind as to have a word with Merlin Potter and find out if we are looking at another brace of titles for Mercedes.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Baku, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 28/04/2019
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