Leclerc’s pace once again started to force the hands of others Vettel, Albon and Sainz soon followed suit. Stroll was complaining that he was struggling with his tyres and Perez had closed right in while Hamilton was gaining quickly, so the understandable response was to pit the leader for fresh rubber too. But the fairytale ended then.
“I don’t know what happened,” Stroll said. “I don’t understand. We had so much graining on the first set of intermediates, we decided to pit because we were losing seconds per lap but I just don’t know where that graining came from. It just happened instantly.
“Then we put on new inters and just grained again and no pace. So we’ll have to look into it, it was pretty terrible today. It’s frustrating when you’re in the lead by ten seconds and then all of a sudden you finish ninth, I don’t understand how that happens.”
All the while, Hamilton’s pace on used rubber was stunning. He homed in on Perez and swept into the lead using DRS. Most of those who had stopped for new tyres were quicker than everyone but Hamilton, the champion-elect providing a sublime display of skill on worn intermediates.
The title was not in doubt at this point, because Valtteri Bottas was putting his team-mate’s performance into stark contrast. A Turn One spin avoiding Esteban Ocon – himself tapped into a spin by Daniel Ricciardo – at the start relegated Bottas to the back, and he spun again on the same lap in a sign of things to come.
There were four more spins for Bottas and the ignominy of being lapped by Hamilton on lap 46 as one Mercedes driver couldn’t handle the conditions, and the other was making a mockery of them through his outstanding talent.
Perez was soon gapped to the tune of a full pit stop, and Hamilton was suddenly in a position where he held the upper hand over drivers who had opted to stop for a fresh set of tyres. Although other cars were quicker, they were less consistent and not in range, and only the threat of a last-lap downpour could make Hamilton’s decision to stay out the wrong one.
“Today we knew coming here was already such a difficult weekend, we weren’t really massively disappointed with our qualifying position, we knew that we were kind of on the back foot and we did the best we could,” said Hamilton. “But we learned a lot. This is what we do as a team. There’s no blame game, we do hash it out and we try to improve our communication so that we can make moves forwards.