That approach led to Sainz cruising around the outside of Hamilton on the opening lap, and the Spaniard didn’t let up as he then forced his way through against Bottas on lap two to take the lead.
“Lewis was taking it super easy, I nearly crashed into him because he was braking so early and I could just drove around the outside no problem,” Sainz said. “I was expecting [Bottas] to pick up the pace but I was just super comfortable.
“I tried to show my nose to try and make him a bit nervous and look in the mirrors and he missed the apex a little bit. That got me into the lead.”
It was a stunning start to the race – none more so than by Räikkönen in sixth – but it was short-lived. The Mercedes pair got their tyres up to temperature and cruised past Sainz, with Bottas opening up a lead of nearly three seconds before Hamilton came alive and took the lead with ease starting lap 20.
“The opening lap was pretty good, there was a bit of drizzle, which made it a bit tricky,” Bottas said. “Obviously, some cars from behind, on the soft tyre, had the upper hand, but I was pretty pleased I could get the lead. To be honest, after that, I just had no pace today, I don’t understand why, but no pace…
“I tried to defend but at the rate [Hamilton] was going to close there was nothing really I could do. Like I said, I have no idea why I didn’t have the pace today. Pushing hard but should have gone faster.”
From there, Hamilton was gone. He put in fastest lap after fastest lap – despite first complaining of poor tyres and later suffering from cramp – and left Bottas nearly half a minute behind.
It was the sort of dominance that we don’t always see even when Hamilton gets out ahead. He’s always comfortable, but he set a new record with a performance that is befitting of the moment.
“Firstly when I come to these races I never think of the numbers, I just don’t let it enter into my thought process,” Hamilton explained afterwards. “At this track it’s very, very smooth, you see the trouble we’re having with the tyre temperatures and at the end of the race I was thinking of what I will and won’t say – in terms of what’s appropriate to say and what not to say – but ultimately it’s no secret, I think today was about tyre temperature.
“I felt through the race that I was learning lap-on-lap more about the circuit. I was trying lots of different lines and discovering new lines that worked well. The wind direction was very, very tricky – lots of crosswinds, headwinds and tailwinds – and there are some positions that you can utilize to your favour and others that kind of get in your way. I think the key is the times you have a tailwind it’s minimising the loss through those stages.
“Set-up was something that I really focused on, less about qualifying set-up it was more for the race set-up and today I think that enabled me to go one better than before. I generally felt like I was getting faster and faster throughout the race, but I had to keep up the pace for these tyres and that was really the key.”
Keeping the pace up translated into maximum points, and a non-event in terms of a fight between the top four. Behind Bottas, Verstappen stopped earlier but couldn’t make inroads on the medium tyre, while Charles Leclerc climbed back into the fourth place he had started from and showed excellent pace to lock it down.
Fifth was up for grabs though, with Perez delivering an excellent recovery drive. There were no safety car interruptions but after a late second stop for softs he was still fifth, with Pierre Gasly close behind. After initially pulling away, Gasly came back at the Racing Point and pulled an impressive move around the outside into Turn One on the penultimate lap, learning from a close call between the two that earned Perez a reprimand one lap earlier.
“Some moves were very tight on the inside so I was very happy to make it around the outside on the next lap to get the fifth place,” Gasly said. “It felt good from the inside, but it didn’t look it from the outside.
“It was a great race for us and we are really strong at the moment, we finished sixth last weekend and fifth this weekend so honestly we really managed to extract everything from the car on Sundays and on my side I feel I am performing at a very good level so I will keep pushing that way.”