For Bottas, there was no hiding.
“Obviously my mistake, I was the one coming from behind and then you need to brake early enough,” Bottas said. “But I misjudged it, which shows that things are not so easy to predict on those conditions, and I should have braked early, because when I started to brake I was closing in, I locked wheels, I hit Lando and that caused the whole mess, so my misjudgement, my mistake.
“It was clear I started the Turn One mess at the front and I told [Norris and Perez] it was my bad and they know I’m not trying to take anyone else out. That’s what I do – I accept it was my mistake.”
Bottas was handed a five-place grid penalty for the next race for the incident, and he wasn’t alone. As many cars ducked to the inside to avoid the carnage, Lance Stroll had made the same error and wiped out Charles Leclerc at the Turn One apex. Daniel Ricciardo was also clattered into and spun, though he was the only one of the three able to keep racing.
The view back from Hamilton’s car was slightly ridiculous. He was almost all alone as he accelerated towards Turn Two, with Esteban Ocon and Sebastian Vettel picking their way through the carnage from eighth and tenth on the grid respectively.
The safety car was deployed, Verstappen took to the pit lane for running repairs and the race was soon red-flagged to clear the debris, deeming that stop unnecessary.
After a delay of nearly 30 minutes, the remaining 15 cars rolled out of the pits – led by Hamilton – to carry out a standing restart. All were on intermediates but in that time the sun had come out and high temperatures meant the track was close to dry.
As the leader, it was understandable Hamilton thought he had too much to lose by pitting and giving up track position. But he will have watched in horror as the whole field deemed slicks the right tyre to be on and Ocon led them back down the pit lane, leaving a solitary Mercedes on pole position for the standing start.
“I saw everyone diving in…” Hamilton said. “It’s crazy to think we were the only ones on the grid at the start.
“I kept telling them it’s ‘dry, dry, dry, dry’ and they said to stay out. I don’t really understand, but I’m sure we accept that it’s definitely a mistake from us all. We win and lose as a team.”
Once Hamilton was clear of the pit exit, the rest were released. And it was George Russell who emerged first after jumping clear from the Williams pit box. He was reeling Hamilton in but then slowed on instruction from the FIA as he was not permitted to overtake in the pit lane, so dropped back to seventh, promoting Ocon to the lead as Hamilton came in at the end of the lap.
Pitlane queue waits as Hamilton takes a lonely start
“It was clear to me that it was dry,” Ocon said. “What put me in a bit of doubt was Lewis continuing straight because Lewis and Mercedes don’t usually make mistakes at all, so I got a bit of doubt once that happened but it was definitely the clear thing to do.”
With Russell out of the way, Ocon led Vettel and Nicholas Latifi, with the Williams driver having made a stunning first start and avoided all of the drama at Turn 1. It was the perfect scenario as Latifi backed up Yuki Tsunoda and Carlos Sainz behind, with Fernando Alonso and Russell next in line.
Hamilton’s stop demoted him to the back of the field, but he only had to clear Antonio Giovinazzi – last after gambling on a stop for slicks for the original race start – before he was on the back of Pierre Gasly who himself was following Verstappen. Gasly was out of position after being forced wide by the Turn One incident, but he played rear-gunner to the ailing championship leader for a spell and Hamilton was forced into a pit stop on lap 19 to switch to hard tyres and clear air.
It should have yielded little response but Verstappen was stuck behind the similarly hamstrung Ricciardo and inexplicably pitted in response to Hamilton, following Ricciardo into the pits. They emerged in the same order, but with Hamilton ahead after a rapid out-lap.
Undercut moved Hamilton ahead of Ricciardo and Verstappen
Dan Istitene/F1 via Getty Images
Given he was over half a minute off the lead after his pit stop and progress was still slow, Hamilton’s chances of a win looked minuscule. Tsunoda had been brought in for an early first stop to switch to hards in apparent reaction to all the pit activity behind him, but Carlos Sainz duly argued against a Ferrari call to do the same, telling the team to stay calm and quickly showing pace that could bring him into contention at the front.
Once Hamilton caught Tsunoda, he was fighting for fifth place but a long way off the top four of Ocon, Vettel, Sainz and Alonso. With Verstappen still outside the top ten in such a disadvantaged car, it looked like the remaining Mercedes driver didn’t need to take any risks, but that’s not how you win titles in a year like this.