Hamilton wins at Imola, Mercedes clinch Constructors title


Lewis Hamilton claimed his third win in a row, ninth of the season and 93rd in total to hand the 2020 Constructors' championship to Mercedes, despite having lost out at the start of Sunday's race at Imola.

Hamilton used a long first stint and a conveniently timed Virtual Safety Car to take control of the race from his team mate Valtteri Bottas, who had suffered damage to the floor of his car leaving him compromised on speed.

Max Verstappen was able to pass Bottas for second only to subsequently spin out after a tyre failure at the right rear of the Red Bull. That left the final podium position in the hands of Renault's Daniel Ricciardo for the second time in 2020.

Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W11 leads at the start of the race.

A lovely afternoon in northern Italy was the setting for the maiden Emilia Romagna Grand Prix with the two Mercedes lining up on the front row, Valtteri Bottas on pole ahead of team mate Lewis Hamilton. Red Bull's Max Verstappen was in his familiar third place and starting on the medium tyres like the two cars ahead. This time he was sharing row two with Pierre Gasly in the sister AlphaTauri who was on the soft compound like the majority of those in the top ten.

When the lights went out, Bottas executed a perfect start and leapt away, while those cars on the dirty side of the grid - Hamilton and Gasly - both lost out in the run down to turn 1 and dropped positions to Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo respectively. Further back, Lance Stroll tagged the front wing of his Racing Point on the back of Esteban Ocon's Renault, while Kevin Magnussen clashed with Sebastian Vettel and was spun out onto the gravel at turn 7. Everyone was able to regroup and continue, Stroll pitting for a new wing and an early change to hard tyres.

Gasly - who had been the star of qualifying - became the first retirement of the race on lap 8 when the AlphaTauri pit wall summoned him in having detected a terminal issue on the car, after the engineers had worked on the power unit on the grid until the very last minute before the start.

Bottas now had a two second lead over Verstappen, with Hamilton a second behind and complaining of early tyre graining in third followed by Ricciardo, Charles Leclerc, Alexander Albon and Daniil Kvyat in the surviving AlphaTauri, who was followed by the two McLarens of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, while Sergio Perez had been promoted into the top ten after Gasly's exit.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Renault F1 Team RS20.

Backmarkers including Esteban Ocon, George Russell and Romain Grosjean made early stops for changes to the hard tyre. Leclerc was the first of those at the front to pit on lap 14 along with Norris and Ocon, forcing a response next time from Ricciardo, Albon and Kvyat. Ricciardo came back out ahead of Leclerc and the Ferrari tried a move on his rival only to lock up and run wide; Kvyat also tried a move on Albon and made light contact, while Sainz dropped in behind them after making his own stop.

With everyone finding tyres degrading faster than expected, Verstappen was in on lap 19 and similarly selected the hard compound in an effort to keep to a one stop strategy. Bottas responded next time by, leaving Hamilton in charge of proceedings where he was soon putting in a series of new fastest laps to prove that he had plenty of life in his tyres as he sought to pull out a big enough gap over Bottas to pit and still stay in front. "I'm going to pick up the pace, don't stop me!" he commanded over the team radio. By lap 26 Hamilton was bearing down on the backmarkers, but his lead over Bottas and Verstappen was still too marginal to come in.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W11.

Despite his first lap spin, Magnussen had come back into play by staying out while others pitted. He had become something of a logjam in tenth place and on lap 27 that dam broke when he was passed in rapid succession by Ricciardo and Leclerc before the Haas accepted the inevitable and pitted. The hold-up played into Perez' hands who pitted from fourth and came back out in seventh just ahead of Ricciardo.

Hamilton was about to receive an even bigger stroke of luck when Ocon pulled over to the side of the track with a suspected clutch issue on lap 29, triggering a short Virtual Safety Car while the Renault was recovered. It couldn't have been better timed for the Briton who immediately pitted, the VSC cutting the time he needed on pit lane meaning he was easily able to retain the lead by 5s over Bottas and Verstappen when the race resumed.

Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Nicholas Latifi were the remaining three cars yet to pit, and as a result they were running in the top six followed by Perez, Ricciardo, Leclerc and Albon as they all waited in the wings to pick up those positions in due course. Latifi finally pitted on lap 36, promoting Daniil Kvyat back up into the points, followed by Sainz and Norris.

Hamilton was once again easing away at the front, with Bottas having suffered from "pretty significant" damage to the left hand floor and bargeboards of the Mercedes sustained by running into the debris at turn 7 left by Vettel's Ferrari which then impaired his pace. It left him struggling to stay ahead of Verstappen who was growing increasingly hungry to wrest second place for himself: he was finally given the chance to pounce when Bottas locked up and ran into the gravel in the middle of Rivazza on lap 43, allowing Red Bull to finally terminate the Mercedes 1-2.

Having stayed out for 40 laps and reached fourth place, Vettel finally pitted only to suffer an appallingly slow service from Ferrari which cost him multiple spots when he returned in 14th behind Antonio Giovinazzi. The last man to pit was Giovinazzi's Alfa Romeo team mate, Raikkonen finally coming in on lap 49 for a short final stint on soft tyres. He returned to the track in 12th just behind Williams' George Russell who was once again agonisingly close to the points.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB16 crashes out of the race.

Red Bull's joy at Verstappen's successful move on Bottas came to an abrupt end on lap 50 when the right rear tyre of the Red Bull failed, spinning the Dutch driver into the gravel at turn 5. The car was firmly beached, forcing the safety car to be scrambled. This time the luck was in Bottas' favour and he was able to pit for soft tyres immediately followed by Perez, Kvyat, Sainz and Grosjean, whose team mate Magnussen had just been forced to retire in the Haas garage. Hamilton had to wait to pit, but he was still able to retain the lead when he did so.

The most dramatic pit stop was at Racing Point, where Lance Stroll overshot his pit box and sent a mechanic flying. Meanwhile there was despair at Williams, as George Russell suddenly snapped left while trying to warm his tyres behind the safety car and thudded into the barrier at Acque Minerale, meaning that his much sought after championship point evaporated in a cloud of debris.

This second on-track incident delayed the restart until lap 58, with Hamilton and Bottas still leading the field on their way to cementing Mercedes' seventh consecutive constructors title. They were ahead of Ricciardo, Leclerc and Albon who had all decided not to pit. Perez on fresh tyres was in sixth followed by Kvyat, Sainz, Norris and Raikkonen. Kvyat got the best restart of all and was soon ahead of Albon, with Perez quick to follow him though. Before Sainz could try his own move, the Red Bull's lack of grip on cold, worn tyres resulted in a spin.

Third placed Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault F1 Team RS20 celebrates with the team at the end of the race.

Kvyat's fresh tyres also saw him get around Leclerc for fourth but it was now too late to stop Ricciardo from claiming third place. The Ferrari was more successful in parrying Perez' attacks to the finish flag, with Sainz and Norris crossing the line in seventh and eighth respectively followed by Raikkonen and Giovinazzi in a rare double points success for Alfa Romeo. Just missing out were Latifi, Vettel, Stroll, Grosjean and Albon, with five retirements including Russell, Verstappen, Magnussen, Ocon and Gasly,

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