Masterful Hamilton wins Emilia Romagna GP as Mercedes take 7th constructors’ crown

Lewis Hamilton benefitted from a Virtual Safety Car at just the right moment but also played the overcut card to perfection to win the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix from teammate Valtteri Bottas and seal a record seventh consecutive constructors’ title for Mercedes.

The championship leader had predicted a ‘boring race’ after qualifying but it turned out to be just the opposite, Max Verstappen crashing out of second place late on when a dramatic right rear tyre failure sent him into the gravel, before George Russell lost control of his Williams behind the Safety Car, putting the power on to early and sending the back end around when points seemed to be on the board.

“It was an exhausting race, the speed we were having to go,” said Hamilton after yet another record-breaking win. “I had a poor start and it’s just very overwhelming right now because I look at my crew, this team here and I know all the guys, men and women back in the factory, back in Brackley and Brixworth, they are the unsung heroes they are the ones who have really grafted away, continued, never given up, just continued to push and innovate.”

2020 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

Hamilton had started from second on the grid, but lost traction off the line to be passed by Verstappen as he settled into playing the waiting game, stalking his prey in third position. And when the leaders stopped first to swap their yellow banded Pirelli rubber for the hardest compound tyre, Hamilton decided to stay out longer, dialling in his characteristic hot laps to give him a chance.

It may have been enough to just get the job done, but fortune then dealt him a massive hand, Esteban Ocon pulling off to the side of the road and bringing out a Virtual Safety Car just as Hamilton was boxing, limiting the speed of the field and allowing Hamilton to pit and emerge ahead comfortably. And, despite the late drama unfolding around him, Hamilton again remained unflappable, collecting a 93rd race win season from Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat.

“People watching may think we’re used to this but it always just feels like the first with this team and I think that’s because of the spirit and so I’m forever grateful to everyone to be a part of it, to be a part of breaking a record like this,” added Hamilton. “No team has done this before. We have a great leader in our team so also a big, big thankyou to Mercedes ands Petronas, all of our partners.

“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them. It’s unbelievable. To come back year on year whilst we have great performances its not easy to continue to deliver weekend in, weekend out.”

THE STORY OF A DRAMATIC RACE

It was a great start from Verstappen, the Red Bull man getting ahead of Hamilton into the first corner as amazingly all cars made it around with the exception of Kevin Magnussen, who spun around at Tosa after contact with Vettel, Lance Stroll also losing places after touching the rear tyre of Esteban Ocon and having to pit for a new front wing.

Then, terrible news for Pierre Gasly, the Frenchman told to box with a ‘terminal issue’ on just lap 9 after such a stellar qualifying performance saw him start fourth on the grid.

Hamilton had warned after qualifying to expect a ‘boring race’, with the only real overtaking opportunity to be found on the long run into the first corner. With Verstappen faster in all sectors apart from on the straight and Red Bull renowned for the excellence of their speedy pit stops, for once it seemed a two-horse race between the Dutchman and Bottas.

On lap 15, a flurry of activity saw both Renaults and the Ferrari of Leclerc pit for the hard compound, Ricciardo coming out on top but Albon losing a coupe of places into the mix. But all eyes were on the front runners, Verstappen first to pull the trigger to stop for the hard compound, a 2.2s stop confirming more great work from the Red Bull team. The race for Mercedes hot laps was now on before their stops, Bottas in a lap later on lap 20 and rejoining in the lead just ahead of Verstappen.

2020 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT images

It was now ‘Hammer Time’, the Englishman seizing the opportunity to dial in some mega laps in an effort to make the overcut work and possibly gain enough tome to come back out straight into the heat of battle. And with Mercedes reporting damage on Bottas’ car floor, Verstappen was suddenly all over the back of the Finn’s gearbox.

With Hamilton blitzing lap times and coming up to the first backmarkers, Mercedes decided to extend his stint, leaving him out for another handful laps and then box for the softest compound. Then, extraordinary fortune played into the hands of Hamilton as Ocon pulled to the side of the road with a clutch issue. It was at just this point that Hamilton was about to pit anyway, having made up just enough time to possibly get out into the lead regardless.

The damage to Bottas’ floor was apparently as a result of picking up debris from another car on lap 2, significantly affecting the downforce of his Mercedes. And with Bottas going wide over the gravel on the exit of Rivazza 1, Verstappen seized his opportunity to dive past under DRS.

And just as the race was set for a processional finish, Verstappen was out and into the gravel as something broke on his car. It led to a Safety Car situation and a flurry of cars into the pits for a set of softs to take them to the end.

“I think that made quite a big effect today,” said Bottas after his race. “The start was good, which was one of the main things to get right today but suddenly at Turn 7 there was debris and we didn’t have time to avoid it, so I aimed with the middle of the car so at least I didn’t run over it with the tyres but obviously there was some damage that made the car quite tricky to drive. I was pushing hard to try and avoid Max getting through and I had to push my limits, which led to a mistake, so unlucky.”

Still the drama was not yet over, Russell’s error costing him what would surely have been a deserved points finish. And then a worrying moment in the pit lane as Stroll entered the pits too quickly with cold brakes, sending his lollypop man barrelling metres backwards.

And with Albon dropping it all by himself and spinning around after being passed by Perez, Charles Leclerc was able to grab fifth place from Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz, and Lando Norris as the Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi rounded out a surprise top ten.

A boring race then? Not a bit of it.

Fraser Masefield

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.