“For me personally it was very, very slippery on those laps to the grid but it really helped me gauge where the track was; when we started that lap it had dried quite a lot. There is this balance of going over the limit and easily risking it. The race is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, so you’ve really got to be cautious not to throw it all away.”
And from there, he was never to be threatened. The only thing that was going to ruin his day was rain, but despite two worrying spells when it started to drizzle, anything heavier managed to skirt the circuit, ensuring a dry race once the grid had piled into the pits for slicks.
Verstappen was thankful for no further drama in terms of the weather, as he had set about repaying his mechanics in some style. With the car fixed and one formation lap under his belt, the Dutchman made a stunning start, putting full faith in his car to run fourth by Turn One and overtake Charles Leclerc for third on the exit.
Lance Stroll was up to second as Bottas was joined by Sergio Perez in struggling off the line, and Verstappen showed supreme skill to set a faster lap with intermediate tyres on a drying track than Stroll could after pitting a lap earlier for slicks. The Red Bull was one of the last into the pits but emerged in second, ahead of the two Haas drivers after their strategic gamble.
That buffer allowed Verstappen to pull clear of any threats from behind, even if he couldn’t keep up with Hamilton. Attention then turned to Bottas as he carved his way through the field into fourth place, jumping Stroll at the second round of pit stops by switching to mediums earlier than the Racing Point.
“I’ve lost the world championship in the past by one point, so I know how crucial it is to maximise on every moment.”
The Mercedes pace advantage from qualifying was soon on display again, as Bottas left Stroll far behind and reeled in Verstappen before opting for a third stop, this time for hard tyres and a 20-lap sprint to the finish. A 22-second gap needed closing, and for a while it looked like a repeat of 12 months ago was on the cards, when Hamilton did the same to snatch victory.
But Bottas would run out of time despite a number of rapid laps, and could only close to within 0.7sec on the final lap, with Verstappen judging his pace well to secure a remarkable second place.
“I was just trying to do my own pace and I could see he was catching a second a lap but of course following here is quite tricky so when he was within 1.5sec it was difficult for him,” Verstappen said. “On the last lap we had traffic in front which didn’t make it easy for me on those old tyres and we’re very happy with second.
“I thought I was not going to race so to be second is like a victory today.”
That squabble allowed Hamilton time to really confirm his dominance with a late pit stop for softs and a new lap record on the final lap to secure an extra point, something he felt was worth the risk to take maximum points in the championship fight against his team-mate.