Masterful Red Bull tactics pay dividends as brilliant Verstappen wins 70th Anniversary Grand Prix

A Red Bull Racing tactical and driving masterclass saw Max Verstappen take a brilliant victory in the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, the Dutchman winning from home favourite Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, despite starting from fourth on the grid.

The race was won at the start, Verstappen the only driver in the top ten to gamble on starting on the harder compound tyre. And it quickly appeared that it was certainly the right way to go as the medium starters reported alarming graining, only laps into the race.

It meant that Verstappen was able to run far longer than the opposition until his opening stop for another set of hards, and he maintained his pace as his tyres came to him, holding off Hamilton and Bottas at the finish.

“I didn’t see it coming, but after the first stint, it seemed like we were really good on tyres, and then it’s of course a question mark how Mercedes are going to go on tyres,” said Verstappen after securing his ninth victory in F1. “I didn’t really have a lot of tyre issues at all and we just kept pushing. An incredible result, of course, to win here and everything just worked out well today. We had the right strategy, everything was running smooth, so yeah incredibly happy to win.

“We so far haven’t had an opportunity in all the races to push them, and you could see we were pushing them, so I tried to put the pressure on, they had to pit from there onwards and I kept my own pace and kept the advantage to the end. I think we do need to use soft tyres, that seems to suit our tyres (in Barcelona) but we will se in Barcelona, at the moment we are just very happy we won!”

For Hamilton, it must have been a bit of a shock to the system, but the reigning champion and championship leader was magnanimous in defeat and surely knows that finishing ahead of his teammate is best second prize.

“Congratulations to the Red Bull team and Max,” said Hamilton. “You look at their tyres and they didn’t have the problems obviously we had today so definitely unexpected to have the blistering as hard core as we experienced it but I’m really grateful to have progressed and to just get my way through the race. I think at the end I had blistering again but I had been pushing pretty heavily to catch the guys.”

After last weekend’s dramatic late tyre failures, Pirelli raised the PSI on both front and rear tyres, but with the track temperature rising rapidly, Bottas was notified his front left was running critical only laps into the race.

The alarming news clearly filtering through to all other teams, it was now going to be a question of who blinked first and pitted for the hardest compound white-banded tyre, the initial tactic of a one-stop race now being re-evaluated.

Bottas was the first of the big hitters to pit on lap 14, coming back out in 6th position as Hamilton followed suit a lap later. It prompted a flurry of pit stops, Verstappen and Lance Stroll opting to stay put for a few more laps, reporting less degradation than many of the other drivers.

With Bottas maintaining track position over Hamilton, Verstappen’s hard tyres started to come to him, the Dutchman extending his advantage and reporting his tyres were ‘still good mate’ almost halfway through the race.

Even at this stage in proceedings, alarm bells were starting to ring on the Mercedes pit wall, the message being relayed to the drivers. Verstappen was the only driver to start on the hard compound in the top ten, and it was proving an inspired decision, Hamilton’s front right graining significantly as the race reached half distance.

Suddenly, Verstappen was the overwhelming favourite to record a first Red Bull victory at Silverstone since Mark Webber’s win in 2012,  the Dutchman emerging just behind Bottas but on fresher rubber on lap 27, and he immediately swept past the Mercedes around the outside at Luffield to retake the lead.

It made for an exciting finish, both Verstappen and Bottas pitting together on lap 33, conceding the lead to Hamilton but knowing they both had the measure of the Englishman on his home circuit.

It also led to a tough decision for the Hamilton crew, deciding to keep him out as the flying Leclerc closed on Bottas behind. There was still a chance that Hamilton would carry on until the end of the race in an effort to collect points and limit the damage, but discretion became the lesser part of valour when he pitted for a fresh set of hards with ten minutes remaining.

Now it was Hamilton with the bit between his teeth, the champion sailing past Leclerc for third on the Hangar Straight before setting about teammate Bottas. With the Englishman all over the back of his teammate, it was perhaps a strange order to allow them to race on against one another, with a win and chance of a collision also slim possibilities.

But with nine seconds still to make up on the final two laps, it was always going to be far too tall an order for even the brilliant Hamilton to catch Verstappen, and that it the way it finished, Leclerc holding on for a superb fourth from Alexander Albon, Stroll and Nico Hulkenberg as Esteban Ocon, Lando Norris and Daniil Kvyat rounded off the points scoring finishers.

It was another strange weekend for the outgoing Sebastian Vettel, however, as the German spun on the opening lap before eventually recovering well to finish 12th.

Whilst there is no doubting the dominance of the all-conquering Mercedes outfit, many experts were wondering how the car and tyres would hold up in warmer conditions, team boss Toto Wolff admitting as much. Next stop, Barcelona in a week’s time, on a test bed that all teams know like the back of their hands.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.