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Lewis Hamilton capitalised on a Virtual Safety Car to jump past teammate’s Valtteri Bottas’ wounded Mercedes to win the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo doubled up to score a second podium finish for Renault while George Russell was distraught having thrown away the chance to score his first World Championship points for Williams. The result also secured Mercedes with a 7th consecutive Constructor’s Championship; a feat never achieved before in Formula One’s 70 year history.
Bottas had placed his Mercedes on pointing towards the right as the field lined up for the start of the race and immediately moved across the circuit as the race began. Hamilton ran close to his teammate initially while Verstappen, Ricciardo and Gasly surrounded the championship leader through the fast kink at turn 1. Verstappen claimed second under brakes for the turn 2 Variante Tamburello chicane, while Ricciardo had any chance for a similar move closed as Hamilton cut across the front of the Renault for 3rd.
The pack fought for position with Antonio Giovinazzi amongst a number of drivers moving ahead from deep in the pack. Lance Stroll became the first casualty of the race after contact with Ocon at the Variante Tamburello saw him lose the left element of his front wing and stop at the end of the lap for a replacement. Kevin Magnussen dropped to last after contact with Vettel saw the Haas spin at the tight Tosa hairpin.
Bottas led at the end of the opening lap from Verstappen, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Gasly and Leclerc as the field settled for the 63 lap journey.
Pierre Gasly’s race had looked promising as the Alpha Tauri driver held 5th place, 2 seconds clear of Leclerc. On lap 9, a radio message from his engineer brought the day to a bitter, premature conclusion. “I’m very sorry, we have to box, we have a terminal situation on the car. We have to box now and retire,” Gasly was instructed by the team as the telemetry revealed a catastrophic engine failure was on the cards.
Leclerc was the first of the top runners to pit on lap 14, while Ricciardo was followed into the pits by Kvyat and Albon one lap later. The move saw Leclerc ahead of the Ferrari and Alpha Tauri and close on the Renault when Ricciardo returned to the track on the hardest white walled rubber. A late braking move at Tosa almost resulted in contact as Lerclerc locked the left front wheel on the Ferrari and ran wide as he tried to avoid the Renault ahead.
Verstappen was next to pit and Mercedes covered any possible undercut when Bottas made the switch to the hard tyre on lap 20, which saw Hamilton take control of the race. A message from the Mercedes engineers told Hamilton that they were going to extend his first stint on the medium tyres, having had the opportunity to examine the tyres from Bottas’ stop. It proved to be one of the defining moments in the race.
Hamilton stretched his lead to 26.5 seconds by lap 27 as Verstappen found himself caught behind Bottas, who was slightly off the pace with some unspecified damage to the floor of his Mercedes. Perez ran 4th from Vettel, Raikkonen and Latifi, while Ricciardo was stuck behind a recovering Magnussen in 8th place. The Renault driver took advantage of the DRS zone on the pit straight to close and then darted around the outside of the Haas on the entry to the Variante Tamburello. The delay allowed Sergio Perez to leapfrog the Renault after his stop on lap 29.
Esteban Ocon’s race ended with a clutch problem that saw the Renault stop on the side of the circuit just short of half race distance near the Variante Alta. A Virtual Safety Car gifted Hamilton all but a free stop, which he duly accepted and returned to the circuit with a 10 second advantage. Vettel, Raikkonen and Latifi ignored the opportunity to pit and remained on track in 4th, 5th and 6th respecitvely, perhaps hoping for another Safety Car in the near future. Vettel eventually made his stop on lap 41 only to suffer a technical issue which dropped him down to 14th place and seemingly out of a points scoring opportunity.
A mistake by Bottas at Rivazza on lap 43 saw the Mercedes out on the gravel and Verstappen closed quickly on the Mercedes. A combination of dirty tyres for the Mercedes and DRS for the Aston Martin Red Bull gave Verstappen the opportunity to pass as the pair approached the
Variante Tamburello. Hamilton now led by 13 seconds from Verstappen, Bottas, Raikkonen, Perez and Ricciardo.
The race was turned on its head on lap 51 when a right rear tyre failure saw Verstappen go off at the Variante Villeneuve and stop near the exit of the corner, which brought out a full Safety Car period. “Something broke on the car,” Verstappen radioed to his team as Bottas, Perez and a raft of other cars made stops for a final dash to the flag on the soft tyre. Renault stuck to their original strategy and kept Ricciardo out on the hard tyre, which saw him move up into 3rd.
A second incident for George Russell extended the Safety Car period. The Williams driver lost control of his car as he warmed up a fresh set of tyres and spun into the barriers on the run towards Acque Minerali.
“It was such an amateur mistake that I almost just could not believe what had just happened. It was just pure frustration and annoyance at the error I had just made,” Russell admitted (GP Fans). “I’ve been through difficult times in my career before. With a mistake like this, it is very strange because it’s such a schoolboy error.”
The Safety Car period ended on lap 58, with Hamilton ahead of Bottas, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Albon, Perez, Kvyat, Sainz, Norris and Raikkonen. Perez hounded Albon through the Variante Tamburello and then dived inside the Aston Martin Red Bull at the Variante Villeneuve. Albon ran wide at the exit and spun in front of Sainz, who narrowly avoided contact.
Hamilton and Bottas were soon well ahead of the battle for 3rd, with Ricciardo under pressure from Kvyat. The Alpha Tauri benefitted from a fresh set of soft tyres, while the Renault soldiered on with well used hard tyres. Despite the additional advantage of DRS, Ricciardo managed to keep the Russian at bay for a second podium in 2020.
Lewis Hamilton took another win as Mercedes sealed a 7th consecutive Constructor’s Championship with a 1-2 finish. Daniel Ricciardo finished 3rd from Kvyat, Leclerc, Perz, Sainz, Norris, Raikkonen and Giovinazzi.
“It was an exhausting race, the speed that we had to go,” Hamilton said to Sky Sports. “I had a poor start and it’s just very overwhelming now because of the effort of the team, who are the unsung heroes. People watch this and may think that we’re used to this, but it always feels like the first with this team because of the spirit. So I am forever grateful to be a part of it, breaking the record that no team has done before. We have a great leader in our team. Seven times champs, that something I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren one day.”
For Daniel Ricciardo, another podium in 2020 was a welcome surprise.
“Two podiums in three races! I’m very happy and I didn’t forget to do the ‘shoey’ this time around!” Ricciardo told Renault Sport Media. “We were pretty settled in fifth but then Max triggered the safety car. It was the right thing to stay out, especially after Perez pitted. It is pretty difficult to overtake here and it was worth the risk today: it paid off. It’s a shame about Esteban as the car was strong today. The result here means we get into third in the Championship, which is what the team is aiming for. I’m super happy to come away from Imola with a great podium: big thanks for everyone at the team. No second tattoo this time round though, I think Cyril’s suffered enough!”
Lewis Hamilton dropped a bombshell later when he stated that there was no certainty that he would return in 2021 after Toto Wolff talked off ‘shelf life’ and a possible change at Mercedes AMG Petronas.
“Well, I don’t even know if I’m going to be here, so it’s not really a concern for me at the moment!” Hamilton exclaimed when questioned on Wolff’s statement. “Well we’re in November and it’s crazy, Christmas isn’t that far away “I feel great, I feel still very strong and feel like I can keep going for plenty of months. But you mentioned Toto and about shelf life, so there’s multiple things that do stay on the top of my mind. I would like to be here next year but there’s no guarantee of that for sure. There’s a lot that excites me in the afterlife. So, time will tell.”
Valtteri Bottas threw everything bar the kitchen sink at the Imola circuit to finally surpass Lewis Hamilton for pole position at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. In what was something of a form reversal, it was Hamilton who topped the solitary practice session only to see his teammate take top place in the dying moments of Q3.
“Never easy getting pole positions,” Valtteri Bottas said (Sky Sports). “I really enjoyed it. This track, when you push it out is beautiful. I knew I had to improve in the last lap and I found those small gains that were needed. It’s a great feeling when you get those.”
Hamilton offered congratulations to his teammate, but was somewhat critical of his own performance in the last run of Q3.
“Yeah, Valtteri did a pretty good job and it was a pretty poor lap from myself, so these things happen,” Hamilton reported to Sky Sports. “You can’t always get it perfect, but what a beautiful place we’re in here in Italy. The track is unbelievable, the speeds we’re going around this track! It feels better here than it did at the last race, but it’s a real challenge around here, I enjoyed it.”
The ‘old school’ Imola circuit received both praise and criticism from drivers, who marvelled at the high grip, high speed surface, whilst also sharing concerns that the track is too narrow for overtaking in the 2020 specification Formula One car. Daniel Ricciardo, who in renowned for his eloquence behind the microphone, struggled to share his thoughts on qualifying with Sky Sports.
‘That lap! I’ve got the car into Q3 quite a bit, probably all year actually. But as far as the Q3 lap, I don’t think I’ve done one as good as that yet,” Ricciardo said. “That was the best lap I’ve done so fat this year. Sorry, that sounds a bit around the back. I’m pumped, stoked. This track is awesome and I’d be saying that even if qualifying didn’t go well. It really is a fun track and right on the limit at the end there. That was the most fun I’d had in qualifying for a few races for sure.
Q1 presented a few worrying moments for two of the more fancied runners. Valtteri Bottas had sat as low as 18th with just a few minutes left in the session after his fastest time had been excluded for exceeding track limits. Daniel Ricciardo was 19th with 30 seconds left in the session. The pari improved substantially to 1st and 11th respectively as Hamilton’s fast time was also deleted for track limit violations.
Kimi Raikkonen had set a time good enough for Q2, only to find himself relegated to 18th when he became yet another victim to the variations in track limit markers around the circuit. At some corners the limit was defined by the red and green painted section, while other corners were set at the white line, a situation which seemed to add to the confusion of Q1. Grosjean, Magnussen, Latifi and Giovinazzi were the others to occupy the final five places on the grid.
Verstappen reported a lack or power to his Aston Martin Red Bull Team on his out lap and returned immediately to the pits with what turned out to be a relatively minor spark plug issue. The Alpha Tauri pairing of Gasly and Kvyat set the early pace having decided to use the soft tyre immediately, whilst the field were evenly divided between the soft and medium compound tyres. One flying lap was all Verstappen needed to jump into 6th place at the expense of Sergio Perez. Ocon, Vettel, Russell and Stroll were the five to miss out on Q3.
Hamilton set the benchmark for Q3 with a time of 1:13.781. He improved marginally on his second run with a 1:13.71, but it was quickly surpassed by Bottas in a 1:13.609 as the Mercedes duo were the only ones to dip inside the 1:13 mark. Bottas took pole from Hamilton, Verstappen, Gasly, Ricciardo, Albon, Leclerc, Kvyat, Norris and Sainz.
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