George Russell nearly ran into the back of Fernando Alonso, who in turn went round the outside of Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi at Turn 3. The Spaniard then so nearly lost the car at the high-speed Turn 6, inadvertently forcing Giovinazzi to take evasive action to avoid a plane crash, before Mick Schumacher similarly had to back out after Haas team-mate Nikita Mazepin blocked him on the pit straight.
From there things settled down, though Sergio Perez continued to make life hard for himself after locking up his hard tyres behind Nikita Mazepin just eight laps into a race he had started from the pit lane due to a power unit change.
“A lot of risk had to be taken, and it was a race really complicated a lot with Nikita at the beginning because I flat-spotted my tyres,” Perez said. “He moved really late under braking and just to avoid him I flat-spot my tyres, I had to come in and basically start again.”
We should be grateful for Perez’s challenge, however, as he provided the majority of the entertainment in terms of overtaking. Cars were cleared on both the inside and outside of Turn 1 and Turn 11, and he rose into the points before his second stop.
But he wasn’t alone in making two stops, as the Mexican’s qualifying woes meant Mercedes could mount an attack on multiple fronts to try and deny Verstappen his fairytale. Having seen the potential of the Red Bull, Hamilton pushed on to stay in touch while Valtteri Bottas conserved his tyres to attempt a one-stop. Hamilton came in on lap 20 to try and undercut Verstappen but a 3.6sec stop – 0.9sec slower than Verstappen – left him out of range.
“There wasn’t a lot I could do to answer the lap times he was doing in stint one already, it was very hard to keep up, and I think Max was just managing whereas I was flat out just trying to stay as close as possible,” Hamilton admitted.
That wasn’t his only shot, though. There was still Bottas to factor in, who was now in the lead and potentially a major headache given how tough it could be to overtake.