This led to a crazy old order behind Hamilton as they exited the turn. Ocon – who had decided against a move down Leclerc’s inside and moved left, thereby creating the gap that Stroll was trying to fill – lay second. Vettel, who’d qualified 10th, was third. Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari – which had started 15th after spinning out in Q2, caught by one of the powerful wind gusts – was fourth, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda and Nicholas Latifi, who’d qualified 16th and 17th respectively. They’d qualified far enough back that they missed the carnage.
Pierre Gasly, who’d qualified his AlphaTauri a strong fifth, had to go virtually straight-on at the first corner to avoid the crashing Bottas/Perez. He rejoined somewhere near the back and would make a terrific recovery drive to sixth, stopping two laps from the end for new tyres on which he set the race’s fastest lap.
Rain and Bottas had completely randomised the order behind Hamilton. But he was about to be compromised too as the race was red-flagged.
Here Comes the Sun
The rain stopped in the half-hour gap during which the damaged cars were worked upon. Red Bull replaced Verstappen’s floor, repaired the damaged hydraulic pipes but there was no time to replace the entirely missing right-hand barge board.
The race would continue with a standing start which would essentially be the beginning of lap three. But which tyres to fit? Tyre choice in such circumstances is totally free, yet remarkably everyone remained on intermediates as they lined up at the end of the pitlane in race order, 15 cars now rather than 20.
Every single one of them realised the error of their choice as the safety car led them through the formation lap. There was some ambiguity about whether teams could instruct their drivers to pit. On a conventional formation lap to the grid, they are not permitted to as it falls foul of the ‘driver coaching’ regulation and the driver must make the call. But this was a continuation of the race rather than a regular formation lap. Everyone erred on the side of caution, though, and treated it as a formation lap in this regard.
Discussions were obviously had beforehand between teams and drivers about what to do should they wish to immediately pit for slicks. But Mercedes was adamant that it didn’t want Hamilton to pit on the formation lap. So, even though he was radioing that every corner was dry, he didn’t. Every other car did – and so we had the bizarre spectacle of a one-car grid taking the start, the rest lined up at the end of the pitlane, now on slicks.
It was a disastrous choice from Mercedes, but there was a logic to it. The biggest error was not choosing slicks in the first place, but that applied to everyone. Merc was so insistent on not pitting on that lap because stopping at the first garage in the pitlane, Hamilton would have to been obliged to be held for an age for all the traffic that would be following and there would be a multiple loss of position. As it was, as he pitted at the end of the lap, the back of the field was only 13sec behind and with a pit stop taking 20sec, he was a solid last by a long way. His limping title rival Verstappen was only a couple of places further up, unable for a long time to put a pass on Mick Schumacher’s Haas. Ocon led the race from a closely following Vettel.