Hamilton had pulled off something against the odds there. It was in trying to do the same in Imola that he made a blunder. His trying to take maximum advantage of Verstappen losing time in traffic put him in the gravel trap. Verstappen, aside from not delivering the pole the car was capable of, was flawless in victory there. Hamilton’s other glaring error came on the late restart at Baku with his knocking off the brake magic switch when poised for a top two finish, or possibly even a win. As at Imola, the error came as he could see the possibility of pulling off a bigger result than expected – in this case thanks to Verstappen’s tyre blow-out when dominating.
The Red Bull was the faster car at Bahrain, Imola, Monaco, Baku, France, Styria and Austria. The Mercedes was faster at Barcelona and Hungary. They were evenly matched at Portugal and Silverstone. Bahrain aside, when the Red Bull has had the advantage Verstappen has been absolutely flawless in pummelling the opposition. Hamilton was similarly devastating in expressing the Merc’s tyre usage advantage in Spain. In Hungary he was given an unnecessarily difficult task by a decision on the pitwall.
Portugal was a fascinating contest in that there really did seem to be very little difference between the cars and the see-sawing battle between them was decided by Hamilton being able to pass on the pit straight whereas Verstappen couldn’t. Yet their speed traces on that straight when they set their respective fastest laps were almost identical. Hamilton was keeping his tyres from overheating on the long, looping corner onto the pit straight and the hairpin before. Watching onboards of each of them told you why. Verstappen would attack the car in front throughout the lap, even on those parts of track where passing wasn’t possible. Hamilton would drop back, then attack into that hairpin and have the grip to drive an offset line to get closer onto the pit straight. That was probably all that separated them on the day.