With the track producing less initial front-end grip, those who struggled with oversteer on Friday and Saturday may have found the track had come back to them.
A perfectly judged start from Vettel saw off any immediate thrrat from Hamilton, who had his hands full with Grosjean. Romain quickly displaced Lewis but was now three seconds behind Vettel. Maldonado launched off the line quicker than a dormant North Korean missile – leaping from eighteenth to an incredible ninth.
A tap in turn three sent Massa into a spin and in turn shaking up the order. Hulkenberg, against his best expectations was now fifth while Webber had jumped to ninth behind countryman Daniel Ricciardo.
Vettel’s lead over Grosjean had now been cut down to 2.6 seconds and was steadily reducing. Van der Garde’s superb start was now in tatters after receiving a drive-through penalty for forcing off the Marussia of Max Chilton off track. Stewards were also investigating Perez’s similar treatment of di Resta out of turn one, however the incident would be investigated afte the race.
Lap nine and Alonso was easy meat for Raikkonen when the DRS zones came into play. Alonso now had to set his sights on the Sauber of Hulkenberg to salvage something of his weekend. A lap later the Spaniard pitted along with Hamilton – two laps ahead of Vettel and Grosjean who were still engaged in an arm wrestle at the front.
Webber – who had also pitted – was playing the long game in ninth, while the man he was chasing, Ricciardo was now fourth without having stopped. Back in eleventh and twelfth, Perez made a move on the hard-charging Maldonado to switch their positions.
After pitting on lap 20, Toro Rosso had the unusual task of removing a pigeon from Ricciardo’s side-pod – the sister Red Bull team taking their benefactor’s slogan a little too far.
Alonso was now through the graining phase and attack for all he was work before Hulkenberg could do the same. Sutil must’ve been in the same position, unable to respond to Force India’s calls to pick up the pace despite catching Massa. Adrian was all the hile maintaining a comfortable four-second gap over the Williams of Bottas.
Raikkonen now pitted for the second time on lap twenty-six having only run fourteen laps on his second set, but hoping to undercut the Alonso/Hulkenberg battle. He needn’t have worried after a mistake from Fernando cleared the way for Webber to jump into fifth, but ten seconds behind Rosberg.
Rosberg himself was now under threat from Hamilton after the German’sfront wing had dropped and was dragging along the run to turn four. Nico pitted immediately but an issue disabling the front nose cost him forty-two seconds in pit-lane. Lewis wasn’t a happy chappy chappy either, screaming to be called in with the analytical description that his tyres “were ****ed.”
A front right blowout from Perez on the run to turn four (caused by a lock up at turn one) nearly took out an unsuspecting Mark Webber; who just managed to outrun the moving debris before it squeezed him between the wall. The incident however made him easy pickings for Hamilton.
The safety car was called out to remove Perez’s tyre carcass. Webber – feeling a puncture might be on the way, decided on pitting again and potentially run to the end. Vettel had the same idea and now had a 2.5 second advantage over Grosjean. Rocky radioed to his man that his right front was gone. Whether it was another red herring would remain to be seen.
At the restart. Sutil and Webber got into a scuffle, sending both drivers off. The rear-end of the Force India snapped sideways under braking and sent Sutil into the path of Webber who moved to the side of the track before catching fire in what is now a seemingly obligatory event. The fire brought out the safety car – somehow a Jeep! In the confusion Raikkonen pulled a move on Grosjean which may or may not have been under safety car conditions.
Another restart and Hamilton took the opportunity to scythe down the inside of Alonso at turn four to take fifth. At the front, Vettel extended his lead on Raikkonen to 1.4 seconds – his right front proving perfectly fine. Perez was passed by Massa but made contact with the Mexican unbeknownst to cameras. Their dice was mere milimeters behind that of Bottas and Gutierrez and became a four car dice from tenth down to thirteenth while they made their arrangements.
Hulkenberg now had his mirrors full of Hamilton’s Mercedes, but a resergeance from Alonso gave Nico some breathing space while Hamilton dealt with his old adversary. DRS systems would be going wild on all cars but nobody wanted to be the last one to use it – much like the four-way slipstreaming at Monza 1971. A similar train behind Ricciardo (now ninth) was forming with Massa and Perez in tow.
It was to be a bad weekend for Australia with Daniel Ricciardo parking his STR8 on the side of the road while his team-mate Vergne reported something “strange happening” with his car. Button was now right on the tale of Rosberg while Hamilton just fought off Alonso to take fifth.
A superb drive from Hulkenberg netted him a very deserving fourth, but it was once again a super supreme delivery from Sebastian Vettel.
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