A red weekend all round, but if it must be red I’d like the race to be good, and this race was fantastic.
There was an odd moment after the parade lap when Massa missed his mark in his grid slot and a second formation lap was necessary (Massa got a 5s time penalty added to his pit stop).
Off the line, the Ferraris galloped ahead of the Mercedes, Vettel claiming first and Raikkonen managing to get past Hamilton, who had yet another poor start.
Hamilton then exited the track on lap 1, went for a rally detour through the gravel and ended up well down the field.
Hulkenberg had a strong start, making up several places, whereas Ricciardo went backwards (not for the first time this year).
The two Ferraris pulled away from Rosberg, with Vettel building a decent gap to Raikkonen and a massive one over his fellow German. Hamilton was trapped behind Massa for several laps and ended up around half a minute behind the leader before he could pass the Brazilian and start climbing through the field.
Behind Bottas, trailing the top three, were the two Red Bulls, Kvyat ahead. He was ordered by the team to let Ricciardo through, which he duly did. The Aussie was the faster and started making up places (driving as fast as the leaders or perhaps even more so).
About halfway through the race Raikkonen suffered a power failure with the ERS. This isn’t necessary for the car to run but the power loss is immense.
Then Hulkenberg had a total front wing failure (it fell off and disintegrated into the first corner), which saw him crash after littering the track with debris. He was fine, thankfully, but it necessitated a safety car. Which was irksome. Initially it was just a virtual safety car but the amount of rubbish strewn across the circuit demanded the real thing emerge from the pits.
This closed up the field (the frontrunners properly, less so the backmarkers and lower midfield as, thankfully, the safety car didn’t hang around for an extra 5-10 laps waiting for everyone to be in a nice line behind it). Most people pitted, with the result that we had Vettel, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Hamilton and Ricciardo on medium tyres for the first four and the faster soft tyres on the Australian’s car.
Raikkonen’s energy problems meant he was easy meat and, after a failed attempt to reset the system, he had to be retired. Great shame as he was on for second spot and drove well throughout.
Ricciardo and Hamilton came together due to a small lock up by the Briton (it would’ve been a minor incident had Ricciardo not been passing him at the time), which caused some damage to Hamilton’s car and a drive-through penalty for the Briton.
Very near the end Ricciardo and Rosberg made contact in a racing incident. The Aussie lost part of his front wing and had to pit (emerging in 3rd), but Rosberg suffered a rear puncture and slumped down the order as he trundled round the track to change tyres. This allowed Kvyat, who had let Ricciardo through some time earlier, to rise into 2nd (although he had a 10s time penalty for shenanigans earlier, he was about 20s ahead of his team mate so it made no difference).
Vettel won a deserved victory, which is great for Ferrari but, more importantly, provides some variety. I’d feared a Mercedes procession, instead we had a rollercoaster race crammed with twists and turns. Red Bull had a triumphant return to the podium (the first since Brazil 2013 not to feature a Mercedes driver), and it’ll be interesting to see if that was just due to the aerodynamic aspects of this circuit or whether Renault and Red Bull have taken a real step forward.
No less impressive was Verstappen’s 4th, the best result of his fledgling career. He must also be relieved as well as pleased, given Sainz had to have his car retired.
In 5th was a young Spanish fellow called Alonso. Nice to see a backmarker team achieve such a great result, and his team mate got 9th. More seriously, that doesn’t alter McLaren’s Constructors’ position but does place them much closer to Sauber.
In the end, Hamilton was 6th. He’ll be pretty unhappy at that, particularly given he’s had four wins at this circuit in the past. Ultimately, he extended his lead, when it appeared it might have vanished entirely, so it’s not all bad. Rosberg finishing 8th is almost entirely bad. The only upside is that he lost fewer points than if he and Hamilton had finished where they started, but there was a golden opportunity today, and he missed it.
Grosjean was largely anonymous but got 7th, in contrast to his penalty-accruing team mate. I think Maldonado got or was under investigation for about four different alleged offences. The dodgems Venezuelan finished in 14th.
Ericsson got the final point, ahead of his team mate.
Williams had an awful day. Both cars finished, but a rather paltry 12th and 13th. This was never going to be their best circuit but for both cars to score nothing was pretty poor. They’ll be better at places like Monza, though.
Force India also had a weekend from hell. Perez was retired during the race (missed it at the time), and Hulkenberg had the aforementioned crash, so they scored nothing and their rivals for 5th in the title race closed up.
Just on the start, electronic aids are being reduced from Spa onwards so it’ll be more about drivers and less about technology. It remains to be seen whether this will harm or help particular teams and drivers.
Drivers’ title race:
Although Hamilton extended his lead over his team mate the result saw Vettel close up on them both. I don’t think the German’s a serious title contender unless there’s a sea change during the mid-season interval.
Red Bull 96
Force India 39
Toro Rosso 31
The top two are pretty much done. I think Williams will keep 3rd spot, because it’ll be better than the Red Bull at the faster tracks (notably Monza), and has a cushion of over 50 points.
The battle for 5th is very tight. I reckon Force India, despite this bad weekend, remain favourites. The Lotus is unreliable and Toro Rosso also have reliability troubles (and, more importantly, aren’t that quick in a straight line).
Sauber need to improve or I think they might well get overtaken by McLaren.
Obviously not pleased about the two red bets. I was very confident and very wrong about both, utterly misjudging the pace in qualifying and getting a bit unlucky in the race. However, the race was exciting from start to finish, which is good.
The next race is Spa, in four weeks. Between then and now I’ll put up a mid-season review of a rather odd first half.