Perez was brought in a lap after Verstappen and he’d got even more tyre left. His in-lap was 0.5sec faster even than his team-mate’s but the advantage of that was lost as he ran a little beyond his marks at the stop. Vital time was lost as the rear gun guys shuffled up their equipment to reach. But he’d still done enough to exit ahead of Hamilton.
Both Red Bulls had overcut their way past the Mercedes. That was purely a function of how much better shape their soft tyres were in, protected by that bigger wing. The true performance order which had been mixed up by qualifying had now been restored.
Barring safety cars, the hard tyres would now get everyone to the end with no more stops. The podium looked to have been decided. Hamilton could hang on, applying the pressure lap after lap, but Perez always had him covered. Verstappen gradually eased out a gap which would reach up to 8sec.
The Hard Option
The hard was by far the best of the three available compounds and Lance Stroll had used it as his starting tyre from the back row his qualifying accident had left him on.
Furthermore, the Aston Martin is really good on its tyres. This had allowed Sebastian Vettel to stay out long enough on the soft that he was leading the race after the front-runners had pitted. He rejoined just behind Leclerc, who had been overcut by Gasly. The other Ferrari of Carlos Sainz had fallen from contention after he ran up an escape road on his out-lap, struggling with brake-locking on cold tyres.
Stroll was running fourth but had yet to pit. He was maintaining a decent pace on tyres almost 30 laps old. Then the left rear blew at almost 200mph on the straight and put him in the wall just before the pit entry lane. The pitlane was closed as the race came under the safety car. There’d been no warning, just the sudden decompression. Pirelli is investigating the cause and says it suspects a debris cut (a big cut was later found in the same tyre on Hamilton’s car). But the centrifugal forces on a tyre at that speed for that long are considerable. The left is not the most loaded tyre around this anti-clockwise track, but the inside tyre gets dragged through some odd loads and the failure appeared to be on the inner shoulder. But other cars on the hard managed to do considerably more than the 30 laps Stroll’s had failed on.
The safety car came in after the mess was cleared, Red Bull worked as a team in keeping Hamilton behind while Verstappen escaped and Perez played rear gunner. Vettel used his much newer tyres to nail both Leclerc and Gasly on the restart lap to vault up to fourth.
Sixteen laps after Stroll’s incident – five from the end – Verstappen’s left-rear failed in the same way, again with no prior warning. His tyres were on the 34th lap. He crashed further down the pit straight and after a couple of laps of safety car the red flag was shown.
The last two laps of the race would go ahead from a standing start, with prior tyre changes permitted. Everyone opted for the soft.
Hamilton got a better launch than Perez who then swooped aggressively across on the Mercedes. Hamilton moved left in reaction but in doing so snagged a button on the steering wheel which controls the ‘brake magic’ (a device used to give full forward bias to get heat into the tyres). So as he stood on the brakes the fronts locked and took him straight up the escape road as the rest of the pack went by.
Perez was up and gone, Vettel forlornly chasing him, Gasly scrapping fiercely with Leclerc, Lando Norris watching on from close behind. Sainz had again run wide on cold tyres and was passed by Tsunoda and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso who then also passed the AlphaTauri, putting him sixth from his 10th place restart.
Unknown to Vettel, Perez’s hydraulics were on the point of shutting off. But they held on long enough to get the Red Bull across the line to victory. He stopped immediately. Vettel and Gasly completed a very happy podium.