Bottas wins the race and Hamilton the title


What a time to be alive.

Today we have King of the Getaway, Valtteri Bottas on pole, alongside a back in-form Sebastian Vettel.

That said, amidst speculation over various aspects of its recent performance, in the wake of a technical directive from the FIA related to fuel flow, the SF90 has been somewhat off the boil in terms of sheer pace this weekend.

Again, considering Vettel was just twelve-thousandths off Bottas' time yesterday, the run to the first corner should be interesting, technical directive or no technical directive.

And then we have Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, who have history, not forgetting Lewis Hamilton, who in recent weeks has been fairly vocal about his Dutch rival, and vice-versa.

Who needs celebrity razzmatazz when you've got five young (and not so young) chargers very much up for the fight.

Of course, Hamilton has nothing to prove, whatever the maths might say the title is already his, and deservedly so. Consequently, rather than take on Messrs Verstappen, Leclerc and Vettel, the Briton can afford to take it easy, enjoy the day out and almost cruise to the title, but that's not his style.

However, as we know from experience, it isn't only Turn 1 here that tends to be a magnet for incidents, for Turn 12, at the end of the back straight, also has a certain reputation.

With a question mark over the Ferrari's outright grunt, and Red Bull very much in the mix, today is likely to be about strategy, and as witnessed as recently as last week, Mercedes tends to rule in that department.

Against all odds, Hamilton made his hards last an inordinate number of laps last week - seemingly having learned a lesson from Suzuka - and it will be interesting to see if Mercedes tries to repeat its winning strategy again today.

Indeed, other than the teams looking to different strategies to one another, one wonders if the drivers might be put on different strategies within each team, just in case.

Forget the title fight, such as it is, for there are other battles to be won here.

There is clearly growing needle between Hamilton and Verstappen, while at Ferrari Leclerc has a point to prove, and let's not forget Alex Albon seeking to impress Messrs Horner and Marko and thereby retain his seat.

Indeed, let's not forget that since transferring in from Toro Rosso, young Master Albon has scored 58 points to Verstappen's 39.

Another factor to consider, not just for the big guns but for everyone today, is track limits, with a number of drivers having had their times deleted over the previous two days after triggering the sensors at Turn 19, not least Hamilton and Vettel.

And let's not forget those dreaded bumps, which have proved problematic throughout the weekend for both drivers and cars, and could well play a part today as the urgency ramps up.

Indeed, in a further bid to prevent drivers taking liberties, a new kerb has been laid overnight at Turn 8 also.

Much like Hamilton has the title sewn-up, so too McLaren appears to have best of the rest in the bag.

That said, another woeful performance like Mexico would only allow the likes of Renault, Toro Rosso and Racing Point to gain ground.

Of course, Racing Point's cause isn't helped by Sergio Perez starting from the pitlane after the Mexican fell foul of the weighbridge rules.

As ever, the midfield battle should be fun, and while Alfa Romeo appears set to be running ahead of the Williams pair, Haas might benefit from home advantage as it seeks to turn its miserable season around.

In terms of the all-important tyre strategies, the quickest is a one-stopper, using the softs for 22 to 25 laps and the mediums for 31 to 34 laps. Second fastest is another one-stopper, using the mediums for 24 to 27 laps and the hards for 29 to 32 laps.

Finally, using the softs for 19 to 22 laps and the hards for 34 to 37 laps constitutes the third-fastest strategy. But there's really very little to choose between any of them, according to Pirelli, so we could see a lot of different tactics in play.

There's also a viable two-stopper, which is also competitive, using two sets of softs for 15 to 18 laps, then mediums for 20 to 26 laps.

All four strategies could work well, depending on the degradation rate of the soft tyre in particular, which will be influenced by weather and track conditions - we saw in Mexico the sort of difference that these can make.

The Mercedes par, the Ferraris and Verstappen all start on the mediums.

In the previous seven Grands Prix here, the winner has never come from outside the front row, while perhaps Vettel can draw additional comfort from the fact that last year's winner - a certain Mr Raikkonen - started second.

Interestingly, both Ferrari drivers have a brand new set of softs available.

The pitlane opens, and as ever the drivers begin heading out.

Slightly warmer than yesterday, and decidedly warmer than Friday, the air temperature is 20.8 degrees C, while the track temperature is 29.7 degrees. It is bright and sunny. There's a tailwind through the first sector and, lie yesterday afternoon, a headwind into Turn 12.

Incidentally, Verstappen and Carlos Sainz start their 100th Grand Prix today, while Ferrari boss, Mattia Binotto celebrates his 50th birthday. All three will be keen to celebrate.

As the national anthem is sung - not too well in our opinion - mechanics are working on the rear of Verstappen's car, the Dutchman citing a "cracked endplate".

Other than the Mercedes, Ferraris and Verstappen, Magnussen, Stroll, Grosjean, Giovinazzi, Russell, Kubica and Perez all start on mediums, while Hulkenberg and Kvyat are on hards. The rest, including Raikkonen, are on softs.

The field heads off on the warm-up lap, all getting away cleanly.

The grid forms.

They're away! A great start from Bottas, Verstappen also, but both Ferraris are slow getting away. Indeed as they reach the top of the hill Verstappen is alongside Vettel, going around the outside of the German in Turn 1 and thereby having the inside line for Turn 2. Further behind, Albon and Sainz run wide, the pair touching as they jostle for position. Stroll subsequently going cross-country in Turn 3.

Replay shows Albon having to go wide in order to avoid Leclerc in Turn 1 and thereby clouting Sainz, the Red Bull driver momentarily going airborne.

Following his poor getaway, Vettel continues to struggle and is easy prey for Hamilton and then his own teammate.

Vettel attempts to re-take the position, and draws alongside his teammate, they appear to touch with the front of the German's Ferrari jumping slightly.

To add to his woes, Vettel is subsequently passed by Norris, who passes Ricciardo and the Ferrari in successive corners.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Bottas, Verstappen, Hamilton, Leclerc, Norris, Ricciardo. Vettel, Gasly, Sainz, Magnussen. Vettel reports "understeer like crazy". Albon pits, rejoining in last position.

Vettel is now under pressure from Gasly, the German wondering if he has damage even though he's not aware of hitting anything.

Albon and Sainz are under investigation for the first lap incident.

As Ricciardo shadows Norris, Vettel is tucked up behind the Renault.

The stewards announce that no further action is required in terms of that first lap clash involving Sainz and Albon.

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"Do I have a puncture," enquires Stroll. "Not at the moment," comes the reply.

Vettel is really struggling with a car that appears to have no grip.

After 5 laps, Bottas leads Verstappen by 1.8s, with Hamilton a further 1.9s behind, 4.5s clear of Leclerc.

Hamilton is told that he's losing out to Verstappen in The Esses and through Turns 17 and 18.

Raikkonen is hard on the heels of tenth-placed Magnussen, with Hulkenberg in hot pursuit. Grosjean is under pressure from Giovinazzi.

"We are going to Plan B," Leclerc is told, "but you need to close the gap to Hamilton." The Monegasque is 6s adrift of Hamilton.

"You are faster than the leaders," Albon is told, you will catch the Williams at the end of this lap."

On lap 7, Vettel slows dramatically, his suspension having failed after running wide and over the kerbs at Turn 9.

"I don't know what happened," says the German, "the suspension has completely failed". He parks the car considerately, thereby avoiding the need for the safety car or VSC.

Meanwhile, Ricciardo has passed Norris in Turn 12 for fifth.

Kvyat makes short work of Magnussen, and while the Dane attempts a fight back, his car is simply not up to it.

Stroll pits at the end of lap 9.

Verstappen askes to be told when Hamilton is within DRS range.

Perez, who started from the pitlane, is up to 15th, and as he makes short work of Giovinazzi moves up to 14th. The Italian is now under pressure from Albon.

"I'm all over the place," reports Russell, "I'm struggling to keep my tyres in the window."

Albon subsequently passes Giovinazzi for 15th.

"Try to avoid apex kerb at Turn 8," Leclerc is told, "Sebastian had a suspension failure there."

As Hamilton is told to mind his brake temperatures, Verstappen pits, switching to the hards. He rejoins in fourth.

Next time around Bottas pits in response to Verstappen, the Finn rejoining in third, behind Leclerc.

Told that turns 6 and 18 where he risks damaging his tyres, Raikkonen is having none of it. "Do you want me to slow down or race," he responds.

On their fresh rubber, Bottas and Verstappen trade fastest sectors, the Finn making short work of the struggling Leclerc in Turn 1 in the process. Shortly after, Verstappen also passes the sole remaining Ferrari.

"Just be sensible," Verstappen is told, as teammate Albon is advised that he has damage following that first lap clash with Sainz.

"Other cars are on a two-stop strategy," Hamilton is told, "so we'll stick to the original plan." Which suggests a one-stopper for the Briton, as in Mexico.

Giovinazzi pits at the end of lap 17, with Sainz pitting from 8th a lap later. Indeed, Raikkonen and Magnussen also stop.

Leclerc is in 'no man's land', 9.9s down on Verstappen and 8.9s ahead of Ricciardo.

At the end of lap 19, Norris and Gasly pit, rejoining in 10th and 12th respectively. The Frenchman rejoins just ahead of Grosjean, who is immediately passed by Raikkonen.

Leclerc pits at the end of lap 20, as does Albon. The Ferrari driver rejoining in 6th behind Hulkenberg following a slow stop.

Ricciardo and Kvyat pit, leaving Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Perez, Grosjean and Russell as the only drivers still to stop.

Ricciardo passes Perez in Turn 1 to take 6th, as Mercedes prepares for the world champion to pit.

Told to "box, box, box, box," Hamilton replies, "I want to go longer, there's more life in these tyres".

"You can attack him now," Bottas is told. The Finn duly sweeps past the race leader.

Hamilton pits at the end of lap 24, rejoining in third, like the majority of other drivers, he switches to hards.

As Perez and Grosjean pit, Ricciardo passes Norris for 5th.

"You will be close to Verstappen at the end of the race," Hamilton is told. "Can I win," he replies, the Briton clearly more focussed on his teammate. Meanwhile, Bottas asks his engineer: "Am I still safe?"

Sainz passes Hulkenberg, as the McLaren pair run 6th and 7th.

"It is critical that we make the one stop work," Hamilton is told. "You managed 24 laps on those mediums."

"Give me a target, Bono," says the world champion.

Yet to stop, Hulkenberg is sliding down the order. He finally pits at the end of lap 27, switching to mediums.

At 'half-time', it's: Bottas, Verstappen (+6.3), Hamilton (+ 11.7), Leclerc (+25.4), Ricciardo (+ 14.2) and Norris (+ 1.1). Sainz is seventh, ahead of Albon, Gasly and Raikkonen.

"These lap times will put you in contention for the win, but we need to have tyres for the end of the race," Hamilton is told.

A great move sees Perez nail Kvyat in Turn 15 to take 12th. Meanwhile, Stroll makes his second stop of the afternoon.

Bottas is told that he's pulling away from Verstappen. Indeed, 7s down on the leader, the Red Bull driver is only 9.7s ahead of Hamilton.

Bottas complains about the very strong winds as he also has backmarkers to contend with.

At the end of lap 32, Kubica is pushed into his garage.

Verstappen pits at the end of lap 34, rejoining in third, a lap later Bottas responds. Both switch to the mediums.

Consequently, after 36 laps, Hamilton leads Bottas by 6.3s with Verstappen a further 6.4s behind.

Albon passes Ricciardo in Turn 11 for 5th, a great fight back from the Thai driver following his first lap stop.

"We need eight-tenth a lap on Hamilton if we are to catch him before the last lap," Verstappen is told.

Down in fourth, Leclerc is 20s adrift of Hamilton and 26s ahead of Albon. Not the birthday present Mattia Binotto was hoping for.

Kvyat goes cross-country in his bid to hold off Hulkenberg, but with little success.

Meanwhile, Perez is reeling in Raikkonen, the last of the points runners. Kvyat also pits, as does Giovinazzi.

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Hamilton wonders how much longer his tyres are going to last, as Albon makes his third stop of the afternoon, switching to the softs. Raikkonen also stops.

"Has anyone else made these tyres last as long," asks Hamilton. "We're a bit concerned these might not get to the end," he is told, "we may have to stop near the end and battle for second."

Leclerc pits from fourth at the end of lap 42, rejoining still in fourth. Norris also pits, the Briton rejoining in 10th.

Leclerc asks about the fastest lap.

A great scrap between Raikkonen and Hulkenberg for 11th, the German eventually winning out, though the Finn questions his use - or rather abuse - of the track limits. Hulkenberg claims he was pushed off track.

As Leclerc posts a new fastest lap (36.169), Sainz is told to stick to Plan A. The Spaniard is subsequently passed by Albon.

"That's Lewis ahead of you at the top of the hill," Verstappen is told, the Dutchman 5.7s down on the Briton.

Told the gap is 2s, Bottas replies: "Yep, no more talking now".

Meanwhile, ordered to give the position back to Raikkonen, Hulkenberg now passes the Finn on the back straight.

Albon passes Ricciardo in Turn 1 for 5th.

As Bottas closes in on his teammate, the Briton is still having to negotiate backmarkers involved in their own little squabbles.

No sooner has Gasly passed Norris than the Briton re-takes the position (8th).

As Bottas closes to within DRS range of Hamilton, Verstappen is a further 4.7s behind.

"You've got 'em in your sights, come on," Verstappen is urged.

Bottas makes his move, but Hamilton is having none of it and as they scrap the Finn runs wide.

With 4 laps remaining, it's game very much on.

Next time the attack comes it's with the benefit of DRS, and Hamilton is helpless as the Finn sweeps by on the back straight leading to Turn 12.

In no time at all, Bottas has a 1.4s lead over his teammate.

Norris passes his McLaren teammate for 7th, as Perez passes Gasly for ninth.

"I want power, full power," says Verstappen as he closes to within 1.8s of Hamilton. Told of the gap to Verstappen, the Briton tells Bono to "leave him to it".

As they begin the penultimate lap, Gasly pits as Magnussen goes off and into the gravel at Turn 12. It looks like brake failure.

The resultant yellows are good news for Hamilton.

Bottas takes the flag, but all eyes are on Hamilton who claims second, and with it his sixth Formula One World Championship.

Verstappen is third, ahead of Leclerc, Albon, Ricciardo, Norris, Sainz, Hulkenberg and Kvyat.

Perez is eleventh, ahead of Raikkonen, Stroll, Giovinazzi, Grosjean, Gasly, Russell and Magnussen.

However, the stewards are looking at an incident involving Perez and Kvyat.

For the second time in seven days, Kvyat is handed a post-race time penalty for causing a collision, dropping the Russian to twelfth and promoting Perez into the points.

As the drivers gather in the ante room ahead of the podium celebrations, Sebastian Vettel enters to congratulate the world champion. A nice touch.

So typical of Lewis to want to secure the title with a race win, and as the Briton targets Michael Schumacher's seven titles, it is no coincidence that the Mercedes driver shares the same remorseless approach to his racing... albeit without the scandals.

While credit must go to Valtteri also, one has to wonder what on earth happened to Ferrari, Leclerc having the most anonymous of races.

Hopefully with the title done, we can have some gloves off racing in the remaining races, particularly in Brazil, another one of the better tracks on the calendar.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Austin, here.

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Published: 03/11/2019
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