It has been an intense race for the podium among Raikkonen, Hamilton and Bottas. In a race with no option to rest for even a corner, the drivers put everything they’ve got out there. Driving on the limit, managing tyres, saving fuel, anything that could make a difference. It was a joy to witness and gave us a lot of driving stuff to analyze.
Raikkonen at his best, but not enough
Kimi Raikkonen drove brilliantly for the most part of the race. He counter-attacked Lewis and got back the lead right away. He knew that the middle sector was Mercedes territory and could not afford letting Hamilton ease away. He then drove as fast as he could till the 1st pit stop, showing his true pace while keeping Hamilton at bay.
As soon as he was trapped behind Bottas, he overcooked his tyres by pushing too hard in the middle sector. His exits from the Roggia (2nd) chicane were often sloppy and his Lesmo 1 and Lesmo 2 passes were very aggressive, trying to keep contact with Bottas for a potential pass later on the main straight and at the same time keep Lewis out of reach. After a while, his driving options were anyway compromised by tyre health.
Bottas keeping Raikkonen behind
It is actually impressive and not much hailed just how well Bottas drove in front of Raikkonen. He was on old tyres, making Raikkonen push as hell but not being able to pass. It is not clear whether Kimi would have killed his tyres as much if it weren’t for his staying behind Bottas (at a critical 1-2 second gap, which is catastrophic), because tyre wear is not linear. Raikkonen’s only better option would be to quickly pass Bottas. Why he couldn’t do that with the superior Ferrari and the fresher tyres may be attributed to the fact that the old supersofts of Bottas performed better than expected against the fresher softs of Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari had not adequately played with this compound in practice.
Hamilton’s patience and race management
Lewis pushed hard to pass Raikkonen during the first laps, but it didn’t stick. He may have risked too much with Vettel and Raikkonen. He then kept on driving flat out till the 1st stop. He kept a distance of about 0.8-1.2 seconds and it’s not possible to say whether there was much more speed for him out there to pass. He made a couple of flying laps after Kimi’s stop, but Mercedes’ strategy may have fallen one lap off of the optimum time to call Lewis in.
What is more interesting is looking at how Lewis changed his driving as soon as he re-emerged quite behind Raikkonen after the Mercedes pit stop. Knowing that Kimi would face Bottas in a few laps, Lewis started looking after his tyres without losing crucial amounts of time.
Lewis modified his entry lines at Ascari and Parabolica, turning in earlier and removing some stress from the rear left. He then stopped using the full width of the exit kerbs almost everywhere on the track.
He accepted the fact that Mercedes’ weak spot is slow corner exits and instead of fighting it and killing the rear tyres, he opted to maximize on the good part: slipstreaming, DRS and then deep braking with early turn in and a more direct, diagonal entry. By doing all this, it was obvious that his tyres were in better shape than the ones of Kimi. His only mistake was acquiring a slight front-left flat spot after a failed attempt to scare off Raikkonen at the 1st chicane. When he attacked Kimi for the lead he may have rushed the decision, judging from the fact that Raikkonen was becoming a sitting duck because of tyre wear lap by lap. However, no matter how good of a job Lewis could do, tyres do fail eventually and he must have thought that the first real opportunity is not one to miss.
Really fascinating stuff from a pure driving skills perspective. Hopefully we see more of this in the coming races!