By Carol M. Creasey
Red Bull had been complaining vociferously about Mercedes improved speed on the straights, even urging the FIA to look into it. However they were assured that nothing illegal was going on, and even Lewis explained that the car had not been altered, they had just worked harder at trying to understand it. Red Bull have had a dominant car this year, and the Briton has had to work even harder just to stay in touch in the championship.
Both Bottas, who topped the session comfortably, and Lewis, who was second, showed good pace in Free Practice 1. It was apparent that Red Bull were struggling with Max Verstappen about one second adrift. There was a moment in FP2 where Verstappen’s ill temper got the better of him when, while being passed by Lewis, he decided to engage in a ‘drag race’, and later shout and raise his middle finger at the Briton. Lewis explained later that, from his point of view, they were just having fun, although it appeared that Verstappen did not have a sense of humour.
By the time qualifying had arrived, Red Bull’s car was noticeably faster, which made it a very close session. Lewis was on provisional pole in Q3, but he was ultimately beaten by Verstappen, while Sergio Perez qualified in third, and Bottas in foruth.
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Lewis conceded once again that Red Bull had the faster car, but vowed to do everything he could to win the race. He also injected a note of caution by saying he hoped they survived the first corner, as the race is not won then. Verstappen appeared to take exception to that question from the journalists, stating that they will approach the race in a professional manner, which would indicate he may have learned from previous mistakes.
In the race Lewis got a lightening start, and passed Verstappen immediately, but it seemed the Dutch driver was going to try and use his usual manner of stopping him. However this time the Briton was able to avoid his attack, and Verstappen had to go wide. Lewis tried hard to build up a lead, but was unable to make the gap more than a second, and quickly reported to his team that the Dutchman was faster.
Verstappen remained close, but unable to overtake him, so his team pitted him, and the undercut worked, he was now ahead of Lewis. On the second round of stops Lewis put in eight extra laps to give him fresher tyres at the end, and in a thrilling climax he hunted down his rival from eight and a half seconds behind. Unfortunately on the last lap the dirty air made it impossible to pass him, while Verstappen also got a DRS boost when he approached backmarker Mick Schumacher. Ultimately Lewis finished just one and a half seconds adrift of Verstappen, although he did get the point for fastest lap.
Toto Wolff later remarked what a brilliant drive it was, even though they didn’t like the result. Lewis as usual drove his heart out in a car that just didn’t match Red Bull for speed, although he did eclipse the other Red Bull of Perez, who came in third. Bottas unfortunately took another grid penalty for an engine change, but managed to get from ninth to sixth.
Undoubtedly Lewis will go on fighting for the championship until the very end, such is his mindset, but I just think it’s a shame that Mercedes haven’t upgraded their car this year, while Red Bull have. There is no doubt that Lewis outdrives the car, but that is why he is a seven-time world champion. He will rise again, good luck Sir Lewis, your fans are right there with you, and you continue to make us proud!
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