Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas withstood sustained late-race pressure from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to take his first Formula One victory after rising from third on the grid to take the lead at the race start.
When the lights went out at the start, Bottas pounced, with the Finn getting a tow on the long run to the first corner to power around the outside of Räikkönen and Vettel to claim the lead.
Through the first stint, Bottas built a slim advantage but after the drivers’ single stop for supersoft tyres Vettel began to close in and over the final 10 laps exerted heavy pressure on the Mercedes drivers, narrowing a five-second gap to less than a single second by the final two laps. Bottas held on though to take his maiden grand prix win ahead of Vettel and Räikkönen. Defending champion Lewis Hamilton was fourth.
“It took quite a while, more than 80 races but it was worth the wait, worth the learning curve,” said Bottas. “This strange opportunity came to me during the winter to join [Mercedes] and I really want to thank them. Without them this would not have been possible.”
Prior to the start, Fernando Alonso was ruled out of the race on the formation lap. the Spaniard complained of a charge issues and though a resets were attempted he was forced to pull over and stop at the pit lane entrance.
When the race eventually got going Bottas roared past and into the lead ahead of the two Ferraris. Behind them Hamilton was trying to hold fourth from Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo. The pair banged wheels and Ricciardo was sent slightly wide. That allowed Max Verstappen to slip past his team-mate down the inside and also gave Williams’ Felipe Massa the opportunity to pass the Australian.
Further back, Lance Stroll spun his Williams and dropped down the order but at the rear of the field there was a more dramatic incident as Renault’s Jolyon Palmer collided with Haas’ Romain Grosjean. The Safety Car came out and the field bunch behind Bottas, Vettel and Räikkönen.
Ricciardo, meanwhile, was struggling in P7. He began to slow, reporting that he had a brake fire on the rear right. He was told to pit for checks but when he did the issue was deemed terminal and the Red Bull man was forced to retire from the race.
At the front, Bottas was beginning to exert a degree of control and by lap 13 the Finn has eked out a gap of 3.7s to Vettel, with the German a further 3.7s in front of Räikkönen. Hamilton was two seconds behind the Finn, while Verstappen was almost nine seconds further back in fifth place.
As the race headed for the 20 lap mark Hamilton’s engineer began to express concern about the car’s temperatures and the Briton was soon informed that the temperatures were at the limit. The Briton pushed on, however, and soon had 16.0s in hand over fifth-placed Verstappen. As the gap widened he asked to be kept informed about the temperature issue. At the front Bottas was no running five seconds clear of Vettel, with Räikkönen now almost 11 seconds off the lead.
The first pit stops occurred on lap 22, with Massa pitting from seventh for supersofts and rejoining in P10. Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat, as well as McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, who also served a five-second penalty for an earlier track limits infringement and Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who pitted on lap 26.
Race leader Bottas was the first of the front runners to pit, on lap 27, with the Finn taking on supersoft tyres. Räikkönen, complaining that his rears were gone, was the next in on lap 29, joined by Verstappen, while Hamilton made his stop for the red-banded Pirellis on lap 30.
Vettel, though, soldiered on and on lap 32, the German’s race engineer Ricardo Adami, radioed through to tell his driver “we are staying out, we are staying out, this is good”.
Vettel extended his lead over BOT to 20.6s before his pit stop on lap 34 but despite the good work it wasn’t enough to overhaul the Finn and when the Ferrari rejoined he was 4.7s behind the Mercedes driver.
Vettel began to close the gap however and when Bottas locked up at Turn 13 on lap 39, the gap narrowed to 3.0s with Vettel lapping eight tenths quicker than the leader. Three laps later it was down to 1.5s.
Bottas, though, was in control and as they weaved their way through traffic, the Finn edged ahead slightly. The gap ebbed and flowed then, but only ever by tenths of a second and after a final push over the last seven laps Bottas eventually crossed the line to take his first career F1 victory, scored in his 81st grand prix start. Vettel’s second place means the German heads to the next round in Spain with a 13-point lead in the drivers’ standings over Hamilton who finished fourth behind Räikkönen. Vettel now has 86 points to Hamilton’s 73. Bottas’s first win leaves him third in the standings on 63 points, 14 clear of Räikkönen.
In the Constructors’ standings, the win and fourth place for Mercedes puts them at the head of the title race, though the defending champions have just a single point in hand over Ferrari.