Valtteri Bottas scored a light-to-flag victory in the season’s second Saturday sprint, but an engine penalty will promote second-placed Max Verstappen to pole for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Bottas’s 18-lap race was completely untroubled after a clean launch from the line, though the same couldn’t be said for teammate Lewis Hamilton. Starting from the second row, the Briton sunk to fifth behind Verstappen and both McLaren cars with a tardy start that left him crowded into the first chicane.
Rewind to the start…
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Pierre Gasly got caught up in the crush. The Frenchman zipped around the fading Hamilton’s outside at Rettifilo but in the process nudged the back of Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren, breaking his front wing. The AlphaTauri’s wing collapsed and dropped beneath Gasly’s car as he powered through Curva Grande, sending him careening through the gravel and into the wall, causing a two-lap safety car.
Bottas mastered the restart, sprinting away again through Parabolica, and though Verstappen tried to keep up with the Finn, the RB16B didn’t have the pace to capitalize on the slipstream and he slipped fractionally back each lap to the flag.
“I feel good,” Bottas said. “It feel like I’ve been a while since I finished first in a race.
“The speed is there, so I’ll be fighting. I’ll be coming up as high as I can tomorrow.
Red Bull Racing was unperturbed to finish second, however. Bottas is carrying a back-of-grid penalty for an engine change, and although the Finn will score three points for the Sprint victory, Verstappen will start the grand prix from pole while adding two points to his advantage over title rival Hamilton, extending it to five.
“Of course the race — a little bit better than expected,” Verstappen said. “We had a good start and got up to second, we scored some nice little points and of course we’re starting on pole. It’s going to be an interesting battle tomorrow.”
“Daniel Ricciardo finished third to claim a front-row start for McLaren, the Australian having jumped ahead of teammate Lando Norris at the first chicane and led him through the race to score the final point of the sprint.
“Tomorrow’s the important one, but we gain a position from Valtteri’s problems, so we’re on the front row and that’s been a long time, so very happy for that,” Ricciardo said.
Norris finished fourth, having spent the half-hour defending against Hamilton. The younger Briton was aided by the team’s choice of the soft tire rather than the mediums used by Mercedes, giving him a traction bonus out of the chicanes.
Hamilton won’t badly lament the loss of points, but Mercedes will be concerned by his difficulties making progress through the 18 laps, having tactically handed Bottas his new engine on the assumption recovering from the back of the grid would be relatively easy.
Ferrari teammates Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished sixth and seventh ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi.
Sergio Perez finished ninth after battling past Lance Stroll, though the Mexican ended the sprint under investigation by the stewards for cutting the chicane to get past the Canadian. He was instructed to give the place back on the same lap, but race control was looking into whether he did so promptly enough.
Fernando Alonso finished 11th and of Sebastian Vettel, Esteban Ocon and Williams teammates Nicholas Latifi and George Russell.
Yuki Tsunoda finished 16th after a first-lap pit stop to repair a damaged from wing in a tangle with Robert Kubica, sending the pole into a spin on his way to 18th, Nikita Mazepin splitting them at the flag. Mick Schumacher rounded out the order in 19th.