Formula 1's balance of power has shifted. After four race weekends, it has become clear that gains by Red Bull Racing and losses by Mercedes AMG F1 have left the front of the grid somewhat equal. The direct result of this is that both Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton now have a similar chance before every race. So far, Hamilton has won three of four. He has also yet to finish worse than second.
When you win 98 races, the sample gets large enough that patterns start to emerge. Hamilton wins in a wide variety of ways: some of those are as simple as running away from pole and never looking back, some may come down to a little bit of luck, and some simply require Hamilton and his team to run the correct strategy and wait for their moment. This was one of those races.
Hamilton started from pole, but a bold and well-executed move by Verstappen saw him inside Hamilton into turn 1 and into the lead by turn 3. The Red Bull had actually begun to pull away by a few car lengths when Yuki Tsunoda, in a Red Bull-owned AlphaTauri, slowed to a halt on track. The safety car came out to retrieve Tsunoda, and, when the race resumed, Verstappen re-built his gap on Hamilton. He stopped for his set of mediums a few laps before Lewis, building what was briefly a comfortable lead, but Hamilton's slightly fresher tires allowed him to catch the leader and enter DRS range with just under 30 laps to go.
This is when Mercedes saw that they did not have enough, and decided to make the bold call that changed the day.
Toto Wolff's team brought Lewis Hamilton back in on lap 42, this time for used mediums. The quick pit delta and small gap to the leader meant that Hamilton came out 22 seconds behind Verstappen. Fifteen laps and one dodgy on-track encounter with his own teammate later, he was there. Hamilton was in DRS range by lap 59, and by lap 60 he used that DRS advantage to make an effortless move to the outside, clearing and then out-braking the Red Bull ace to take the race lead. Verstappen's team saw the writing on the wall; rather than give chase, the team stopped him again for one last set of tires and a shot at the day's bonus point for fastest lap. Valtteri Bottas, who seemed to impede Hamilton slightly in his efforts to get out of the way during the chase for the lead and once again put Verstappen and Red Bull in a position where they could fight for the day's fastest lap, came home an ever-expected third.
The win is Hamilton's record-extending 98th, but, more importantly, it is his third in four races this season. Verstappen and Hamilton have now finished first and second in every race this year, but Hamilton has won three of four battles and is up to a 14 point lead. it is a considerable lead for this point in the season: 25 points are awarded for every race win, and the difference between first and second on a given weekend is seven.
Behind the ever-expected top three, Charles Leclerc's impressive day for a Ferrari team that has returned to mid-pack form after a shockingly disappointing 2020 ends in fourth. Red Bull's Sergio Perez, Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, and the McLaren pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris make just four total teams in the top eight, while Alpine's Esteban Ocon and AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly each bring home points-paying finishes for their programs. Tsunoda is the day's only DNF, Aston Martin fails to score a point entirely, and Nikita Mazepin is once again the last-running driver at the finish.
Formula 1's packed Summer continues in two weeks. That will be the Monaco Grand Prix, held relatively early this season after last year's rare, COVID-induced season off.
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