Max Verstappen did what many believed was impossible and beat both Mercedes fair and square. With a different strategy and aggresive driving, he emerged in front, finishing comfortably ahead of Hamilton and Bottas.
The lights went out, and it was proper racing as of the start, with Verstappen immediately seizing third place by passing Hulkenberg before the first corner. In the next few corners, Ricciardo attempted to make it past Hulkenberg as well, but the German properly squeezed him to the outside, allowing Stroll to take fifth.
At the very front, Hamilton was also in a feisty mood and tried to pass Bottas at the end of the Wellington straight. They immediately pulled away from the rest of the field, and Bottas went on to get out of DRS range by a few fastest laps.
Further back, Vettel, who started from 11th, lost control in the first corner and was lucky to not get hit by anyone. He didn't spin, but his off-track excursion cost him several positions, leaving him struggling in 18th position, ahead only of Raikkonen and Latifi.
Already on lap 7, Albon was pitted to change mediums to hards, while both Mercedes saw Verstappen edge closer again thanks to his hard tyres. By lap 12, Verstappen was within half a second of Hamilton. The World Champion reported his tyres being completely finished.
Bottas eventually got pitted at the end of that lap, switching to hard tyres and rejoining to the track in 6th place, in between Ricciardo and Leclerc. Hamilton then pitted from the lead one lap later and back out behind Leclerc, who was already passed by Bottas by then.
When both Racing Points had pitted as well, and following another few fastest laps by Bottas, the advantage of Verstappen was around 16s to the Finnish Mercedes. Hamilton followed his teammate at approximately 4 seconds. The gap actually further increased up to the point where Verstappen pitted on lap 26. The Red Bull driver changes to soft, rejoined just behind Bottas, and took back the lead 4 corners later after a nice slipstream on the Wellington straight.
Verstappen quickly pulled a gap of 2s on Bottas, which made Hamilton question "he must have less pressure in his tyres or something". Just a lap later, Verstappen is told to give it all, and forget about tyre management.
5 laps later, Verstappen and Bottas pitted simultaneously, and they came back out again with the same 2.5s difference between them.
Lewis Hamilton, on the other hand, stayed out for much longer, despite worries about his tyres, as the rear were badly blistering. His team however assured him they believed it was ok, so he went on until lap 41 when he pitted for a final 10 laps on new hard tyres.
What followed were an impressive few laps, including the fastest lap of the race, a pass on Leclerc and three laps from the end also between both Mercedes, where Hamilton made use of much fresher tyre to breeze past Bottas, despite the latter defending nicely for several corners.
Catching Verstappen was impossible, and today, the Red Bull seemed to behave much better, perhaps due to the softer tyres, perhaps due to the higher minimum tyre pressures, or perhaps something else. But for Verstappen, this was a great race in which he could enjoy great pace.
|1||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda||52||1:19:41.993||25|
|2||44||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG||52||+11.326s||19|
|3||77||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG||52||+19.231s||15|
|5||23||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing Honda||52||+39.146s||10|
|6||18||Lance Stroll||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||52||+42.538s||8|
|7||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||52||+55.951s||6|
|9||4||Lando Norris||McLaren Renault||52||+65.544s||2|
|10||26||Daniil Kvyat||AlphaTauri Honda||52||+69.669s||1|
|11||10||Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri Honda||52||+70.642s||0|
|13||55||Carlos Sainz||McLaren Renault||52||+74.070s||0|
|14||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault||51||+1 lap||0|
|15||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||51||+1 lap||0|
|16||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||51||+1 lap||0|
|17||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||51||+1 lap||0|
|18||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||51||+1 lap||0|
|19||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Mercedes||51||+1 lap||0|
|NC||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||43||DNF||0|
*Note - Hamilton scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race.
Magnussen received a 5-second time penalty for leaving the track and rejoining unsafely.