In a few days Valtteri Bottas will join an exclusive club of drivers, when he receives a silver telegram through his mailbox from a ‘Mr Bernard C. Ecclestone’ which congratulates him on his first Grand Prix victory.
It was a masterful weekend from the Mercedes driver; capitalizing on his team mate’s struggles at a circuit which, despite its street characteristics, doesn’t lend itself to the aggressive and hustling driving style of Lewis Hamilton.
Even when he did make a mistake, which ultimately led to Sebastian Vettel’s charge to victory in the final few laps, in true Finnish style Bottas kept his cool and focused on the ultimate prize at the end of 53 laps.
It was back to the hit-and-miss strategy employed by Ferrari this weekend when they elected not to pit Vettel when the opportunity arose after Max Verstappen pitted, to bring Vettel into the box and put him into clean air behind Hamilton – knowing that Bottas would encounter traffic towards the end of his first stint.
Instead they nearly got themselves into another on-track team orders debacle after opting to pit Kimi Raikkonen first who (in true comically Kimi style) emerged not knowing who the leader was. From there Ferrari were banking on a few scruffy laps from Raikkonen, who did so despite lapping nearly a second quicker than the leaders at this stage.
When Ferrari did eventually pit Vettel, it was a case of him putting the hammer down during the closing stages, stringing together a pretty impressive run of laps that put the gap down to just six tenths of a second at the chequered flag.
For most of the race it was a precession as the drivers coped with temperature issues and blistering tyres, but those final few laps really did show how this current formula is all about drivers pushing each-other to the finish line.
A deserved win for Bottas which follows his first pole position at Bahrain, where he was also quicker than Hamilton in one of those rare occasions the three-time world champion didn’t get everything hooked up.
In the post-race interviews Hamilton said that this was his worst race since Baku last year, coincidentally where he also last finished a race and didn’t score a place on the podium. According to Mercedes, it was just an ambient temperature forecast difference which caused his car to overheat even when he was in pretty much clear air.
Many of the drivers up and down the grid seemed to have the same issues, which perhaps explains the lack of on-track overtakes.
They were also managing their own unique issues, with Verstappen having to cruise his car to a fifth place following a water-pump leak before the race even started. The Red Bull driver also encountered brake problems midway through, although he ultimately maintained the gap to the Force India’s and Renault of Nico Hulkenberg to finish best of the midfielders.
It’s probably the only consolation for Red Bull, who just can’t seem to take the fight to Mercedes or Ferrari at the moment. Trouble is, even when they have had pace, at the last two races they have been hampered by reliability problems relating to their brakes.
In Australia Daniel Ricciardo retired with ERS problems, in Bahrain Verstappen retired with brake failure and now last weekend Ricciardo retired with similar problems. Red Bull say that they will be able to fix their ERS-related problems by the Canadian Grand Prix, but for now it has been a tough start to a season we expected them to have relative success in.
Sister-team Renault seem to be engaged in an on-track battle with Force India, with both Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finishing ahead of Hulkenberg who did well to put his RS17 into Q3 for the third consecutive race. Team-mate Jolyon Palmer meanwhile suffered yet another nightmare weekend after failing to get into Q2 during qualifying, then making contact with Romain Grosjean on the opening lap which ended both their races after two corners.
Palmer has scored points on only one occasion in his Formula 1 career, having come close to more last year (his first chance at Hungary springing to mind when he spun out). Given the performances from Hulkenberg and having been given a second chance to prove himself this year, it seems like the Brit needs to put in some results before his eventual replacement starts to get dreamt up during the oncoming silly season.
Lance Stroll finished his first Grand Prix although it was just outside a points-paying position in 11th. Even so I think the 18 year-old has improved from his frantic driving-style in Melbourne, that led to his crash during practice on the morning before his first qualifying hour.
It seems like Stroll is still finding his feet in Formula 1 and I believe he can match team-mate Felipe Massa, who looked like he was on course for a sixth-place finish on Sunday had it not been for a slow puncture which caused him to pit again.
Final words from the weekend must go out to Fernando Alonso and McLaren Honda. It’s got to the point where it just seems like a waste each weekend, as they battle through the engine issues which have caused Stoffel Vandoorne to incur double-digit grid drops just four races into the 2017 season.
To all intents, it appears Honda have taken a step backwards in their engine philosophy. But with the employment of customer team Sauber next year, it seems like they could turn things around in the same way Ferrari did back in 2014.
With regards to Alonso, McLaren know this form from them is a bit like asking Usain Bolt to set records running backwards. Whether they can pull things around in time to stop him from jumping ship to another team is anyone’s guess. There are only so many incentives you can throw at your employees before they just feel like enough is enough.