In what was an otherwise processional race, one where Lewis Hamilton won and Mercedes-Benz cemented the constructors’ championship, it took a misguided move from a backmarker to add spice.
Esteban Ocon had pitted for new tires in a need for pace. On lap 44 he attempted a pass on race leader Max Verstappen, a driver he’d had issues with during their joint F3 days. The pass was possibly not in the best location and resulted in a collision between the two.
Verstappen’s car was damaged but not to the point of Red Bull retiring the car, with Verstappen going on to finish second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Max’s radio traffic quickly turned the atmosphere blue and would result in him saying “I hope I can’t find him now in the paddock because that guy has a f***ing problem.”
Hamilton said “I saw it happen. I wasn’t surprised by it. I saw them racing and they weren’t racing for the same position.”
Ocon, unsurprisingly, had a different take on the situation, stating: “I had fresh tires basically and the rules say you are allowed to unlap yourself if you are faster, and that is what I did on the second lap because I had massive pace. I went around the outside of him, the same move I did on Fernando [Alonso], the same move I did on many other drivers, coming from last on the first lap.
Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo would eventually claim fourth, with that finish easing the pain Ricciardo felt after yet another grid spot penalty prior to the race start. Mercedes and Valtteri Bottas held off P2 qualifying Sebastian Vettel with Ferrari’s from Sauber and Haas claiming 7th, 8th, and 9th, with Charles Leclerc, Romain Grosjean, and Kevin Magnussen ahead of 10th place getter Sergio Perez. Surprisingly there were just two DNFs, with Marcus Ericsson and Nico Hulkenburg failing to see the chequered flag whilst retiring former champ, Fernando Alonso, finished a lowly 17th.
Ericsson’s car appeared to have lost a part of his exhaust before the race had started, with Ricciardo reporting that he saw an object fall from the Swedish driver’s Sauber and fly over his own Red Bull. Ericsson did make the start, though, only to fall back in positions quickly. Just a few laps in and both Red Bulls were on a charge, with Verstappen on supersofts making a pass on Vettel.
Verstappen continues his charge, and with Raikkonen closing, the young Dutchman slides pass Bottas to grab second in the race so far. It’s lap eight and more parts are seen coming from Ericsson’s car. It’s lap 15 and both Red Bulls are getting the hurry up, with Christian Horner telling the pair it looks as if the Mercedes cars aren’t as quick as first thought. Verstappen is just over a second shy of Hamilton and his blistering tires, Ricciardo just over two from Bottas, in sixth and third respectively.
Alonso pits on lap 17 and a slow pit stop drops him from 15th to 17th. Bottas pits shortly after and opens the bottleneck that faced Verstappen. Hamilton is called in on lap 20 and hands the lead to Verstappen. Just a lap or two later, and after his swap to new tires, Ericsson finally retires his car after a spin and seeing the handling making his car almost undriveable.
It’s lap 26 and the first signs of Verstappen’s frustration comes through via the radio, with the call being about back markers. The other Red Bull driver is still on his supersofts from race start and Ricciardo lays down the fastest lap of the race so far. Vettel’s been brought in, an interesting decision given Raikkonen is further ahead and possibly in more need of a tire change.
Laps 33 and 34; Verstappen pits finally, hands the lead to Ricciardo, and emerges behind Hamilton, and Hulkenburg benches his car after an unspecified issue. Rain is approaching and a somewhat frustrated Hamilton says he’s praying for the rain to hit and equalize circumstances.
Red Bull finally call in Ricciardo, who’s managed to get his tires out to 40 laps. Verstappen’s fresher tires have had him sneak past Hamilton, and places him back in the lead. Meanwhile, Ricciardo looks at a pass on Vettel but his former team mate opens the shoulders, blocking the Australian. Just minutes later it’s the incident that will have Verstappen steaming for the remainder of the race, with Ocon going for a pass and finding that room he thought was there wasn’t.
Ricciardo and Vettel continue their on-track dicing with the Australian eventually claiming fifth on lap 46. Verstappen continues to launch blistering words at Ocon, with vision showing some potential damage to Verstappen’s car floor. Hamilton radios in that his Mercedes is experiencing power deliver issues again.
Ricciardo needs a break as traffic is holding him up and that comes in the form of Vettel pitting again on lap 54. The Aussie has Bottas in the gunsights and gets past him soon after. Ocon is notified of a ten second penalty for his impact on Verstappen who’s managed to keep going.
Ten laps left and Ricciardo starts to rue the grid spot penalty as he nails two fastest laps in a row as he he’s now consolidating P4. Five laps to go and traffic for Hamilton, with Alonso and Lance Stroll proving to be problematic. Alonso would be given a five second penalty for ignoring the blue flags being waved to allow Hamilton through. Ricciardo is within DRS range of Raikkonen and looks on track to claim third with four laps to go.
Hamilton is driving on badly blistered tires and with a lap to go Ricciardo has closed to under a second on Raikkonen. The chequered flag sees a luck Hamilton across the line and a clearly upset Verstappen in second. Ricciardo would finish just 4/10th behind the taciturn Finn.
The FIA have directed Verstappen to perform two days of public service after his pit lane scuffle with Ocon. Verstappen commented in the post race presser: “I think at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what penalty he gets. I already have the penalty of not winning the race so even if you disqualify him, give him two drive-throughs or whatever, it’s not going to make a difference to our race.”
The next and final race for 2018 is in Abu Dhabi in two weeks time.