Max Verstappen pushed Mercedes to its limits in the heat of Silverstone to clinch victory in the F1 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton locked out the front row after a dominant qualifying performance but couldn’t cut it in the warm weather, succumbing to severe blistering that left them defenseless against the ice-cool Dutchman in his Red Bull Racing cars.
Bottas led Hamilton cleanly off the line, and after a brief spar at Brooklands the Finn consolidated first place. Verstappen had also aced his start, cutting past Racing Point’s Nico Hulkenberg for third to begin his siege on the Mercedes ahead.
Although the first part of the race was dominated by tire management — only one week ago at the same circuit three tire failures marred the end of the British Grand Prix — the Mercedes drivers had to nurse the medium compound whereas Verstappen had more freedom to push on the hard tire.
After only a handful of laps it was clear Verstappen was doing a substantially better job of keeping his rubber alive, and he reveled in pressuring the hamstrung Mercedes ahead.
“Mate, this the only chance of being close to the Mercedes,” he responded to calls from his engineer to moderate his pace. “I’m not just sitting behind like a grandma!”
By Laps 13 and 14 Bottas and Hamilton respectively pitted to abandon their unfavored yellow-walled rubber, but the relief of improved pace was short-lived. It took only another 10 laps for both to radio back to the team that their tires were ailing again.
The momentum was swinging towards Verstappen, whose shrinking advantage in the inherited lead started to grow again. “My tires feel good, mate — it’s all good,” he radioed his engineer reassuringly.
He ran until Lap 26, switching to an obligatory set of delicate mediums. His advantage was such that he emerged from pit lane fractionally behind Bottas, taking only until Luffield to repass him for the lead around the outside.
First place was his on merit, and for the middle stint he needed only match Bottas’s times behind to maintain it, doing so until Lap 32 when both made their final stops for fresh hard tires.
Hamilton was left out in the lead but on badly blistered tires, chunks of rubber escaping from their tread at will. For a moment he and the team contemplated the Hail Mary strategy of remaining out to the end in an unlikely defense of first place, but with the near-death experience of the previous weekend fresh in their minds, he relented on Lap 40 for a final push to the end.
The world champion was immediately rapid, but he needed to close almost 12 seconds in as many laps just to catch Verstappen, never mind pass him. He also had to overtake Charles Leclerc for third — which took five laps to execute — and then teammate Bottas for second, which he couldn’t get done until Lap 50.
By the time he’d assumed second place the gap stood at eight seconds with only two laps remaining. Mercedes had been defeated and Max Verstappen reaped the rewards.
“I didn’t see it coming!” Verstappen said. “An incredible result to win here.
“We had a lot of pace in the car. We didn’t really have a lot of tire issues at all — we just kept pushing. Everything worked out well — we had the right strategy, everything was running smooth. Very happy to win.”
The win moved him to second in the drivers championship, 30 points behind Hamilton.
“It was a massive challenge,” he said. “Definitely unexpected to have the blistering as hardcore as we experienced it, but I’m really grateful to have progressed and manage my way through the race. I’m sure the team will be working as hard as it can because we’ve not had that before.”
Bottas, having started from pole and kept title rival Hamilton in check for most of the race, was visibly distraught to lose precious more ground to the Briton in the championship fight.
“Very frustrating, obviously,” he said dejectedly. “Starting from pole and finishing third is not ideal.”
He was scathing of his team for leaving him vulnerable to attack from behind on an inferior strategy.
“I think as a team we were sleeping at some point when Max managed to get ahead of us, and my strategy was far from ideal, so lots to learn from today I think.”
Charles Leclerc was sensational to finish fourth as one of only three drivers to finish the race with a single stop. It was another bright spot on a dark weekend for Ferrari, with teammate Sebastian Vettel finishing out of the points in 12th and unhappy with the team.
Alex Albon made another strong recovery from lower on the grid, rising from ninth to fifth with some aggressive overtakes after a pit stop on Lap 6 to ditch the medium tire early.
Racing Point teammates Lance Stroll and Nico Hulkenberg finished sixth and seventh respectively. Stroll held his grid spot through the race, but Hulkenberg dropped two places to Verstappen and Leclerc before a late precautionary stop after experiencing tire vibrations dropped him behind Albon and Stroll too.
Esteban Ocon perfectly managed his one-stop race, stopping on Lap 22 for a 30-lap stint on the hard tire, to beat McLaren’s Lando Norris to eighth place by just 0.771s.
Daniil Kvyat scored the final point of the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix in 10th.