After 70 gruelling laps, 45 pit stops, 6 retirements and 3 safety cars, it was Daniel Ricciardo who stole the victory as he was yet again able to profit from Mercedes’ losses.
Starting from fourth, Ricciardo ran a steady but nonetheless lukewarm first half of the race, but benefitted greatly from a number of safety cars and subsequent strategy variations, which later boosted the Australian up the order. It was at this point that Ricciardo’s race came alive as the Australian battled past some of the very best – not least one Lewis Hamilton – who fell victim to Ricciardo’s assault a second time around, following a gutsy dive down the inside, to which Hamilton helplessly relinquished 2nd position, ultimately granting the Red Bull driver his second Formula 1 victory.
Although yet another third position finish might seem disappointing for Lewis Hamilton, such a result places him quite possibly at the very top of today’s performances. After starting from the pitlane – lower than last – Hamilton captivated fans as he gradually bulldozed through the field. Before starting the race, Hamiton said in resignation that he expected little more than fifth place finish, whilst he was convinced meanwhile that he would yet again be eclipsed by teammate Rosberg. Neither of these predictions resulted in truth, however. With some help from safety cars and strategy differences, Hamilton was able to capitalise on Rosberg’s troubles to steal third, and more importantly knock his title rival off of the podium despite the latter starting from pole. Hamilton’s relentlessness never ceased to amaze onlookers as he passed quality opposition such as Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and seemingly made them stand still. Additionally, the Briton’s determination to sustain fair-play with his teammate resulted in a heated radio-argument as Hamilton refused to let Rosberg past during the crossover period of their diverse strategies. Hamilton responded to his teammate’s pleas dryly; “I’ll let him past if he can catch up.”
Hamilton and Rosberg’s bickering and bashing of one another, along with their refusal to yield to the other left Hamilton to complete the podium, with Rosberg a close fourth, and quite possibly lost them an opportunity to deny Ricciardo the victory.
Fernando Alonso finished as Ricciardo’s closest competitor – an agonisingly close 5 seconds down the road. Whilst Alonso was unable to capitalise on Mercedes’ off-day due to badly worn rubber – it was this precise reason that made Alonso’s performance stand out and ultimately warrant his title of driver of the day. After running the same set of tyres for quite literally half of Grand Prix, the Ferrari driver possessed track position, but did not have the grip to sustain a race-leading pace. Despite this, an Alonso-Ferrari victory looked distinctly likely up until the penultimate lap of the race when Ricciardo took advantage of his Red Bull’s superior pace and duly shot past the Scarlett Ferrari. Alonso, at this point, could have adopted an ‘it’s all over‘ attitude and simply used his tyre woes as an excuse as Hamilton darted past for second position. However, as is always the case with Fernando Alonso, he refused to surrender. Against the odds, Fernando Alonso was able to emulate his great rival Michael Schumacher to pull off some truly Schumi-esque defensive manoeuvres to halt Hamilton’s charge. The Mercedes Brit attempted desperately to find a way past Alonso’s Ferrari – which seemingly widened by about seven feet during the closing stages of the race. Ultimately, despite possessing an infinitely superior car and benefitting from fresher tyres, Hamilton was dwarfed by the sheer determination and unparalleled quality of Fernando Alonso. ‘The irresistible force meets the immovable object’ has never been a more beautifully appropriate metaphor.
Such a masterclass in defensive driving, car control and natural flare left millions of onlookers speechless, yet full of nothing but applause. Yet again, Alonso has been able to prove that, despite lacking competitive equipment, the Spaniard is truly in a class of one, and almost unquestionably the best driver of his era.
Drivers of the weekend:
1) Fernando Alonso
2) Lewis Hamilton
3) Daniel Ricciardo