Verstappen claims 70th Anniversary GP win as ‘sleeping’ Mercedes wilt

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Take that! Lewis Hamilton sprays champagne at race winner Max Verstappen. — AFP/VNA Photo

SILVERSTONE, United Kingdom — Max Verstappen delivered Red Bull's first victory at Silverstone since 2012 on Sunday when he made the most of a superior strategy in sizzling conditions to beat both Mercedes and claim victory in the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.

It was the Dutchman's first victory of the season and the ninth of his career and the first time a race had been won by a driver who did not start on pole position in seven races since last year's Mexican Grand Prix.

Verstappen owed his victory to a team decision to start the race on hard compound tyres while his main rivals all launched from the grid on mediums, the two Mercedes men struggling to manage tyre-wear throughout the race.

During the race, Red Bull asked him to ease off, but he replied saying "I don't want to drive like a grand-ma" before the team relented.

Verstappen won by 11.326 seconds ahead of championship leader and six-time champion Lewis Hamilton who passed Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the closing stages.

The Finn finished third.

"I didn't see that coming, but after the first stint it seemed we were really good on tyres. I didn't have any tyre issues at all – a great day for us," said Verstappen.

Hamilton said: "That was a massive challenge, but congratulations to Red Bull. It was definitely unexpected to have the blistering (on tyres) as hard core as that."

Bottas, who started from pole, said: "Very frustrating for me, to start from pole and finish third.

"It's not ideal and I think that as a team we were sleeping at some points in the race. My strategy was far from ideal."

Hamilton's podium finish meant he equalled Michael Schumacher's career record of 155 podium finishes. It was also his record-extending 38th points scoring finish in a row.

Charles Leclerc came home fourth after a sterling drive for Ferrari ahead of Alex Albon in the second Red Bull, Lance Stroll and his Racing Point team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.

Esteban Ocon finished eighth for Renault ahead of Lando Norris of McLaren and Daniil Kvyat of Alpha Tauri.

On a hot day, the track temperature was 43 degrees when the lights went out, Bottas clinging to the lead from his 13th career pole position.

Unsurprisingly, Verstappen out-started Hulkenberg to take third, the German making his first start since last year after his call-up to replace Covid-19 victim Sergio Perez.

At the front, Hamilton piled pressure on his team-mate while at the back, after an unforced spin, Vettel slipped to 20th and last for Ferrari.

He was back up to 14th by lap nine as the pit-stops began and Verstappen, like Vettel on hard tyres, began to close in on the two Mercedes.

Almost immediately, Hamilton admitted "my rears are finished" shortly before Bottas pitted, leaving Hamilton to fend off Verstappen before he stopped to take a new set of hards.

This gave Verstappen the initiative ahead of Hulkenberg and Stroll with Bottas fourth, after re-joining, and Hamilton fifth, adrift by 3.6 seconds.

The 'Hulk' soon pitted and returned in seventh as the race settled to await Verstappen’s need for new rubber.

'Something's wrong'

For Mercedes, it was a longer wait than expected. By lap 25, he led Bottas by 17 seconds and Hamilton by 20 with both battling rapid tyre-wear.

Finally, on lap 27, the Dutchman came in for mediums allowing Bottas to pass him before he re-joined and swiftly re-passed the Finn.

In third, Hamilton reported blistering.

As if in response, Red Bull matched Mercedes' tactics on lap 33 when both Bottas and the leader pitted for hard compounds and Hamilton, with blisters, took the lead with 19 laps to go.

"Something's wrong with the car to make the left rear do that, said Hamilton, who had an advantage of 11 seconds.

After his punctured win last week, Hamilton was worried.

"The tyres aren't going to blow, right?" he asked.

For Hamilton, a stop was inevitable and it came on lap 42 when he locked up as he entered the pit lane.

Back on hards, he reeled off fastest laps in pursuit before regaining third on lap 46 and then second on lap 50. — AFP

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