Although Verstappen took pole and initially looked to easily cover Leclerc, Mercedes’ racing pace put him on the line with a one-stop strategy to Red Bull’s planned two serves.
It gave Lewis Hamilton a glimpse of an unlikely victory, before he first lost what he then recovered during the dramatic virtual periods and full safety car periods near the end of the race .
When the lights went out under heavy cloud cover that had accumulated before the start, Verstappen moved quickly to cut Leclerc’s gaze on the inside of Turn 1.
Either way, the Ferrari driver was never close enough to move, while behind Sainz and Hamilton touched lightly as the Mercedes gained considerable ground around the inside of the Tarzan hairpin.
The peloton sailed through the first corners without further incident, with Hamilton the only leader to use the low line through the steeply banked Hugenholtz Turn 3.
Verstappen pressed his advantage to escape the DRS lineup at Leclerc late in the second lap of 72, with Leclerc going from 1.5 seconds behind two laps later to just a second behind his rival over the next few laps.
But just as it looked like Leclerc might be able to get the passing assist, Verstappen suddenly found some rhythm in the low 1m16s to restore his greatest advantage.
The two leaders were the only pair able to stay in that lap time bracket, with Sainz soon falling far behind Leclerc and with the spin-off of Hamilton the higher placed rider to start on the medium tires compared to the softs. performed on the three leading cars.
As the race calmed down, Verstappen continued to pull away from Leclerc, his lead steadily increasing to around three seconds before climbing to almost five before Ferrari called Leclerc at the end of lap 17.
Red Bull responded on the following tour and despite his similar serve to go from softs to mediums being nearly a second slower than Ferrari’s, Verstappen emerged with his lead barely triggered given his entry speed and out.
The first two pits left Hamilton in the lead on his first stint, with George Russell running three seconds behind his Mercedes team-mate having started on the same compound and fought off by Lando Norris once the DRS was activated after the McLaren jumped out the second Silver Arrows car at the start.
Verstappen and Leclerc used their new mediums to return to the Mercedes cars in the next phase of the race, with the Red Bull, who had been nearly nine seconds clear of Hamilton’s lead on his return from the pits, reaching the DRS range behind Russell at the turn. 27.
But at the start of the next lap, Verstappen used the DRS to pull just behind the Mercedes and move into second place on the outside run through Tarzan.
Before Verstappen could close in on Hamilton, Mercedes tricked the Briton into the hard tires at the end of lap 29, an attempt to finish the race on a one-stop strategy.
As the hometown hero gave up his head and said he wasn’t interested in trying the toughs, Hamilton joined a neat fourth behind Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull, with Sainz having fallen out of favor due to a calamitous Ferrari pit stop shortly before Leclerc entered. for the first time.
As Verstappen began a charge that would double his lead over Leclerc and gain 10 seconds shortly after the halfway point, while Hamilton and Russell used their efforts to get in on Perez quickly.
On lap 36, Hamilton used DRS to attack Perez on Tarzan’s outside line, with Perez locking inside and the aggressive running causing the Mercedes to run wide before Hamilton backed off.
Hamilton attacked again on the entrance to Turn 11 in the stadium of the track but was again pushed back on the outside line, but the next time in Turn 1 he was able to run outside to take third square.
But there was sudden danger when Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin emerged from the pits just ahead of the fighting pair and held on to the lead for several corners, which meant Perez could clutter Hamilton but was unable to pass when Vettel finally cleared the par, with the German receiving a five-second penalty for his actions.
Hamilton left after Leclerc and Verstappen, who had changed their minds on the durability of his mids and Red Bull considering hard for his second stop, which he gave Perez on lap 40, just after Russell also passed him at turn 1.
Ferrari realized Leclerc would have little defense against the pair of Mercedes in charge and he also came on to take on the toughs at the end of lap 45, by which time Hamilton had gone from nearly 20 seconds behind Verstappen to step much more than half.
But around the same time, the race changed drastically when Yuki Tsunoda stopped in the middle of the fast 4/5 turn sequence, initially fearing his wheels weren’t properly attached after his second stop in the pack.
He started again and returned to the pits where AlphaTauri spent 30 seconds checking something inside his cockpit – possibly his seat belts – before rejoining, but then stopped at turn 4 saying that he thought the differential was broken.
This meant the virtual safety car was activated and Red Bull could bring Verstappen in for the tough with a cheap pit stop, which preserved their lead.
In fact, it stayed exactly the same as Mercedes also used the temporary suspension to put Hamilton and Russell back on the mids – the former acknowledging that the VSC had “stuffed” its previous load on the one-stopper.
When the action turned green again on lap 50, Verstappen and the Mercedes fired into the 1m14s bracket, with Hamilton facing a 12.6s gap and Leclerc back to fourth after losing after making his pit stop before the VSC.
Over the next two laps Hamilton closed that at 11.4 seconds before the race picture was massively changed again on lap 55, this time because Valtteri Bottas lost power in his Alfa Romeo and stopped just before the first corner of the main straight.
It meant the safety car was on, with Red Bull bringing in Verstappen to get back to tough and the two Mercedes staying out while most of the others – including Leclerc – also dove to fit the red-walled rubber.
The next time Russell asked Mercedes to put him on the softs as he was losing tire temperature in the mediums at low speeds, which allowed Verstappen to move back into second behind Hamilton who remained on the walled compound. yellow.
The race restarted on lap 61, where Verstappen was all over the back of Hamilton as they descended the main straight and he slipped easily to reclaim the lead.
Verstappen took a 1.7-second lead at the end of the first lap back to race speed, with Hamilton fuming at Mercedes over their decision to leave him on the medium.
His pace was so low that Russell, who had seen Leclerc’s attentions around the outside of Turn 1 on the restart, was able to close in quickly and jump his teammate, but not before they were almost united in the line main right when Russell had the DRS. .
Hamilton was then beaten by Leclerc to fall from the podium, still sending angry radio messages about his final tire strategy, while Verstappen pulled out a possible winning margin of 4.0 seconds.
Sainz crossed the line fifth after coming back into the picture and outpaced Perez during the VSC and safety car chaos, but fell to eighth in the final order following a dangerous exit on the path of Fernando Alonso during their final. stops during the neutralization of the race caused by the stoppage of Bottas.
This meant Perez, Alonso and Norris took the lead to take positions five-seven, with Sainz also having to explain after the race an incident with Esteban Ocon (ninth) where the Ferrari appeared to pass the Alpine under activated yellow flags when Bottas stopped.
This followed Sainz’s initial first disaster when Ferrari did not have all of its medium tires ready in time and Perez, behind the Spaniard in the first stint after starting fifth, ran over and broke a Ferrari wheel gun which had been left on its way into the narrow pit lane.
Lance Stroll rounded out the top 10, with Bottas and Tsunoda the only dropouts.
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