Sainz shows intellect in close fought win over Norris and Hamilton

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Photo credit: Scuderia Ferrari

After a very turbulent qualifying there were only 19 cars taking the start, as Lance Stroll suffered too much from his violent crash duting Q1. Of the front-runners Charles Leclerc was the only one on softs, whereas both Red Bulls started on the hard Pirelli’s, coming from 11th and 13th place respectively.

At lights out it was Leclerc with the best getaway, taking over second place from George Russell. Lewis Hamilton also got in front of Russell, but that was due to cutting the first corners. Russell is obviously not happy, but they swap a lap later. Max Verstappen is 10th after bad start by Liam Lawson, whose teammate Yuki Tsunoda is already out after half a lap. Verstappen goes to ninth after passing Nico Hülkenberg a little later.

Lando Norris feels he’s also disadvantaged by Hamilton, so he complains with his team. Pitlane starter Guanyu Zhou is the first one to stop, switching from soft to hard in an attempt to finish the race from there. Russell starts with the fastest lap, but Ferrari counters at the moment that Verstappen starts to duel with Kevin Magnussen. In the meantime Hamilton is under investigation for his first lap antics, but he lets Norris by and there is no further investigation by the stewards.

In lap 6 Verstappen finally passes Magnussen, while teammate Sergio Pérez fights for 13th with Oscar Piastri. Both Ferrari’s in the lead try to create a gap with Russell, but at this point in the race the entire field looks to have settled in a single pace, in an attempt to make only one pitstop.

Behind the Leclerc it is Russell, Norris and Hamilton who are strung together and gaining on the Monegasque driver. Verstappen is currently stuck behing Esteban Ocon and seems to save his tyres a little.

Having dropped a gap to Sainz, Leclerc pick ups the pace again, setting the fastest lap in the progress, while Zhou is the fastest bar the top 6. Sainz responds by a few fastests laps, while the radar shows a little shower coming in. It wouldn’t hit the track eventually.

The first real incident of the race happens when Logan Sargeant hits the wall coming out of turn 8. He can reverse the car, but litters the track with debris, driving the car around with the front wing stuck under the body. The amount of debris prompts the safety car, and a lot of drivers opt to stop.

Leclerc has a bit of bad luck, as he has to wait for several drivers. He comes back on track behind Russell and Norris, and Verstappen who opted to stay out. Zhou didn’t, quite inexplicably giving up track position. Fernando Alonso misses the pit entry and is subsequently under investigation.

When the track goes green again, the plan by Ferrari is to keep the pack bunched up, but with Verstappen having the older tyres that job is taken care of. Verstappen and Pérez battle with all their might, but at the end of the lap they have to surrender to Russell and Norris respectively. Alonso in the meantime has gotten a five second penalty for crossing the pit entry line.

Leclerc makes a little mistake and has to surrender his place to Hamilton, who passes Pérez a little bit outside the track. Norris passes Verstappen with Russell closing in on leader Sainz, while Hamilton has more problems getting past Verstappen. In lap 27 he finally manages to do so with a little help from DRS. A lap later Leclerc follows, while Checo is creating a nice train behind him.

Alonso misses his braking point in the train, who is immediately under pressure by his former teammate Ocon. A second train is starting to form behing Sainz, who is backing everyone up, making Norris, Hamilton and Leclerc catching up to him and Russell.

Halfway through the race the top five is comfortably managing their tyres to the end, while both Red Bulls are struggling in sixth and seventh place. Behind Pérez there is still a train, but Alonso starts to push to try and pass the Mexican, while a few cars further back it is Magnussen and Pierre Gasly who are scrapping for tenth place.

In lap 35 Gasly tries to overtake Magnussen, but the Dane fights back via the outside. A lap later Magnussen outbrakes himself both in turn 1 and turn 6, letting Gasly and a whole load of other drivers by.

Yet another lap later Alonso tries to overtake Pérez, but in the ensuing scrap Ocon fights himself past the Spaniard, dropping the Aston Martin driver back to ninth.

Sainz in the meantime has a second of pace in hand, he says, with some 20+ laps to go. Ocon fights himself past Pérez, and over Esplanade Drive Alonso also passes Pérez, followed by Gasly, prompting Red Bull to bring in Checo. Verstappen pits a lap later, dropping both to the back of the pack. Bottas also pits, meaning they Verstappen and Pérez are now 15th and 17th respectively.

The misfiring strategy by Red Bull brings rookies Piastri and Lawson into the points with 20 laps to go. A few moments later Ocon’s Alpine fails, bringing out the Virtual Safety Car at the moment the leading pack passes the start/finish straight. Albon takes advantage and is brought in by Williams.

Russell and Hamilton both enter the pits for new mediums, choosing an attacking strategy. Alonso also pits, serving his penalty, but is dropped too soon and subsequently loses a lot of positions. Russell sets the newest fastest lap, 2 seconds quicker than Leclerc in front of him.

Alonso adds insult to injury by missing his braking point, while Verstappen overtakes Zhou for the final point in turn 13. A lap later Hülkenberg is passed.

Up front it is Sainz who gets told that he needs to give a little extra to keep is lead until the end, as Russell is chipping away nicely on the lead of the Ferrari’s and the McLaren of Norris.

At the moment Verstappen reaches the rear of Lawson, Pérez and Albon are under investigation for a virtual safety car infringement. Lawson is eventually passed by Verstappen in turn 16, but not without a fight by the Kiwi.

With ten laps to go Russell get’s into Leclerc’s DRS range, and accelerating out of turn 14 Leclerc is immediately passed. Hamilton passes Leclerc a lap later in turn 5, while a bit further back it’s Albon who has taken the final point off of Hülkenberg.

Verstappen passes Piastri at the end of Esplanade Drive, who doesn’t put up too much of a fight. With five laps to go Verstappen has caught up with Gasly, who he passes in turn 14.

At the front Sainz now leads a DRS train in front of Norris, Russell and Hamilton. Russell tries to overtake Norris, but the McLaren driver defends successfully, pushing Russell back into the claws of teammate Hamilton. And while Pérez and Albon get together, the pressure is mounted on Norris. So much even that in the final lap Russell tags the wall into turn 10, sending the Mercedes straight on into the barriers.

Sainz couldn’t care less as he wrings the last bit of pace out of his Pirelli tyres through the final sector, winning his second Grand Prix, just in front of Norris and Hamilton. Leclerc barely manages to bring fourth place home as his tyres are completely gone. Verstappen recovers to 5th just three tenths behind Leclerc. Gasly and Piastry manage to stay ahead of Pérez in eighth, who still has to see the stewards. Super sub Lawson brings home a ninth place and his first points, while Magnussen rounds up the top 10.