Max Verstappen started the year excellently by taking pole position on the first Saturday of the season. Despite considerable pressure from Lewis Hamilton, the Dutchman retained the lead at the start.
Due to a crash by Nikita Mazepin and the safety car situation that followed, Verstappen was attacked by his British rival four laps later. Again he held his ground, but the tone was set.
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Hamilton then opted for an undercut, by getting new tires earlier. With 1.7 seconds behind, the Mercedes driver dived into the pit lane on the 14th lap. Verstappen followed four laps later and to his horror came back on track in second.
Hamilton visited his crew for the second time on lap 29 and gave his leading position to Verstappen, who took advantage of it for eleven laps, before he also found it time to have fresh rubber on his car. Knowing that he would start the final phase well behind, but could hunt for his title competitor with fresher tires.
Three laps before the end, Verstappen popped up in Hamilton’s rear-view mirrors and went ‘up and over’. However, he briefly left the track, after which he had to give back the lead by the stewards. A new opportunity did not arise, so that Mercedes – despite an unpromising performance during the tests – took the first victory of the year. Valtteri Bottas finished third behind Verstappen.
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Afterwards there was still a lot to do about the track limits. For nearly thirty laps, those in turn 4 were exceeded by Hamilton. Only then was the Englishman told that he was working illegally. At that point, however, he had already gained a lot of time with the ‘cutting off’.
“In qualifying you had to stay within the line,” said an angry Verstappen later. “In the race Lewis went over it continuously and I eventually went over it twice, but then suddenly it was no longer allowed. I also understand that you can’t overtake someone outside the track, like I did. But I don’t think it’s right that you can get an advantage if you do it when you’re driving around alone.”