LONDON – Red Bull’s Max Verstappen shocked Mercedes to end the world champions’ winning run in an intense and thrilling race at F1’s 70th Anniversary GP, as Lewis Hamilton snatched second from Valtteri Bottas in the closing laps.
On a day when Mercedes’ previous Achilles’ heel – tyre performance in hot weather – resurfaced at a sweltering Silverstone, Red Bull’s decision from qualifying to start on Pirelli’s hardest compound tyre paid handsome dividends for them and a brilliant Verstappen.
The Dutchman ran longer than either Mercedes in the first stint to set up the victory, and although he dropped back behind early race leader Bottas after his first pit stop, he swiftly and decisively overtook the Finn for the lead.
“I didn’t see it coming,” admitted Verstappen of his first victory of the year and ninth in F1.
Bottas then suffered further disappointment when team-mate and title rival Hamilton overtook him with two laps to go after the Briton had stretched out his second stint, despite suffering severe rear blistering.
To compound matters for a frustrated Finn – who failed to score at Silverstone last week after a late puncture – Verstappen now moves ahead of him in the Drivers’ Championship as Hamilton’s nearest challenger after five rounds.
Hamilton still leads by 30 points, while his 155th F1 podium ties the all-time record of Michael Schumacher.
“It was a massive challenge,” said Hamilton. “Firstly, congratulations to the Red Bull team and to Max. They definitely didn’t have the qualms we had today. Definitely unexpected to have the blistering as hardcore as we experienced. But I’m really grateful to progress and manage my way through until the end.”
In another storming performance in a struggling Ferrari, Charles Leclerc finished a stunning fourth after completing what had been considered an unlikely one-stop strategy.
Alex Albon returned to the top five in the second Red Bull, with Racing Point pair Lance Stroll and stand-in Nico Hulkenberg losing ground late on and ending up sixth and seventh respectively.
But it was another dismal day for Sebastian Vettel, the ailing four-time champion.
The German spun on lap one after clouting a kerb and dropped to the back of the field, before rebuking his Ferrari team for a strategy call over the radio en-route to a point-less 12th place.
70th Anniversary GP: Top 10 result
1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
3. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
4. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
5. Alexander Albon, Red Bull
6. Lance Stroll, Racing Point
7. Nico Hulkenberg, Racing Point
8. Esteban Ocon, Renault
9. Lando Norris, McLaren
10. Daniil Kvyat, AlphaTauri
Verstappen: ‘I’m not sitting behind like a grandma!’
Mercedes had absolutely dominated the first five weekends of the delayed 2020 season, claiming every pole and race victory up to Sunday.
That sequence looked unlikely to change after Bottas and Hamilton locked out the front row again, particularly when Verstappen – their only likely challenger so far this year – qualified behind the impressive Hulkenberg in fourth.
But Red Bull still had what turned into the ultimate ace up their sleeve – the hard-compound tyres that Verstappen had used in Q2 to make the top 10, which he then had to start the race on.
The Mercedes’ and the rest of the top 10 were starting on the less durable, albeit theoretically faster, mediums.
But once Verstappen had overtaken Hulkenberg at the start of the race, and stayed within striking distance of the leading Mercs through the opening laps, it became clear that the world champions had a battle on their hands.
And Verstappen knew it.
Asked by his race engineer to cool his tyres and engine when running within DRS of Hamilton’s second place, Verstappen pithily replied: “Mate – this is the only chance of being close to the Mercedes’, I’m not just sitting behind like a grandma!”
Struggling with blistering, Bottas stopped first, with Hamilton soon following, allowing to Verstappen to take the lead and set about making what was now clearly a strategy advantage count.
“After the first stint it seemed like we were really good on tyres,” said Verstappen afterwards. “Of course there was a question mark how Mercedes were gonna go on the hard tyre. We had a lot of pace in the car and I didn’t really have a lot of tyre issues at all. We just kept pushing.
“An incredible result of course to win here, everything worked out well. I’m incredibly happy.”
Hamilton increases Bottas frustration
Despite an initial advantage of fresher tyres after their respective stops, Bottas and Hamilton again soon struggled with blistering on the hard compound and slipped further adrift of Verstappen.
Hamilton, who pondered on the radio at points whether Red Bull were running lower tyre pressures or whether something was wrong with Mercedes’ car, did inherit the lead when Verstappen and Bottas stopped simultaneously for the second time.
The left-rear tyre on the Englishman’s W11 appeared shot but Hamilton kept a decent pace and stretched his stint as long as possible, before Mercedes had to also pit the world champion.
He returned behind Leclerc in fourth place and, after dispatching the Ferrari, he set about catching Bottas on his fresher tyres. He overtook with two laps to go out of Luffield.
Source: Sky Sports