A battle for the ages
We are so lucky to be witnessing this duel between the top two F1 drivers of the moment. Verstappen had snatched a pole position that looked far out of his reach after the first practice session on Friday. But at the start, Hamilton got the drop on his rival to take the lead – and that early setback led Red Bull to go aggressive on strategy.
An early first stop and Mercedes holding off Hamilton’s own pit visit led Verstappen into a convincing undercut. But at this stage Lewis could bide his time. Another early second stop, on lap 29, appeared likely to give Hamilton a late-race edge on tyre life. He stopped on lap 37, meaning his hard-compound Pirellis would be a significant eight laps younger when it counted at the climax. Sure enough, the chase was on. Hamilton chiselled away at what had initially been a 7.8-second gap and by lap 49 of 56 it was down to 1.8 seconds. But in those final laps Verstappen stepped up, just as his team had demanded of him. There were echoes here of the challenges Ross Brawn used to set for Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari pomp – and Max responded in the same calm, focused and near-perfect manner.
Hamilton never quite got within the one-second range he needed to use DRS and agonisingly the Red Bull was always just out of his reach. “At the end of the day, they just had the upper hand this weekend,” said the seven-time world champion as he smiled through the pain of defeat.
“We had to try to do something else,” said Verstappen of the team’s response to his loss of track position at the start. “We did go aggressive and I wasn’t sure it had worked. Those last laps were fun.”
Not for team boss Christian Horner, who admitted he didn’t think the strategy was going to work, that Verstappen would be left a sitting duck in those closing laps. That was how it was in Barcelona months ago – but not today. What a victory. And what timing to deliver it as one of the greatest duels we’ve ever seen continues to keep us gripped.