Lap 45/58 Stroll’s team warns him, “no weaving on defending” – Gasly is right up behind him, then Alonso nails Schumacher to take 12th. Back at the front, Leclerc leads by 13.384s.
Lap 44/58 Hamilton closes the gap on Russell to about 1.8s; we’ve still no idea if Mercedes will tell them how things have to be. I’m sure Russell will be delighted to wave his more august teammate by.
Lap 43/58 Bottas gets a five-second penalty for weaving on the straight. If he pits again, it’ll be served then, if he doesn’t it’ll be added to his time at the end and would take him from 11th to 14th.
Lap 42/58 Leclerc continues his procession – if he can stay on the track, he’ll have a nice little lead at the top of the driver standings. Perez checks in with his team to see what went on with Verstappen – he’s all heart. Not really, he wants to see if the same problem will affect him, and is assured it won’t.
Lap 41/58 Russell is now in third again, roughly 1.6s ahead of Hamilton. I wonder if he’ll be ordered to move aside at some point.
Lap 40/58 Green flag, track clear, and that all happened so quickly! Christian Horner has his head in his hands, to DNFs out of three, that is no kind of title defence, and Leclerc leads by upwards of 11s!
Lap 39/58 Third race of the season and Verstappen has pulled out of two of them! The fire extinguishers are out, dealing with the flammable fluid it turns out he could smell, the virtual safety car is out, and I think that’s the problem Red Bull mechanics were trying to resolve up until the start.
Is this another power-unit issue?! Either way, he is out of the race!
Lap 38/58 Leclerc’s lead seems to have stabilized at around 5.3s, but as I type that, Verstappen sets another fastest lap, so you never quite know. Or you do: Leclerc puts his foot down and stretches the gap beyond 6s.
Lap 37/58 And there we go, Perez eases past Russell and back onto the podium. Mercedes know they’re improving, but not fast enough to hang with the better cars at this point.
Lap 36/58 Perez is after Russell; Mercedes suggest he might want to let him by rather than nail the tires holding him off, have to stop again and end up ninth instead of fourth.
Lap 35/58 Leclerc is driving like Toad of Toad Hall here, foot down without a care for other road users and leading by 5.065s. Poop poop!
Lap 34/58 Magnussen has still to pit, so it’s no great surprise when Ricciardo passes him, but Norris runs out of track to do likewise.
Lap 33/58 Leclerc now leads by 4.099s, going away from Verstappen who leads Russell by roundabout seven seconds. Perez is about 0.5s behind that, and Hamilton a further 3.8s adrift.
Lap 32/58 “These are very very good lapses,” Haas tell Magnussen, who’s seventh. Behind him, though, Norris puts him under pressure while Perez is getting closer to Russell, who’s third – the gap is about 0.7s.
Lap 31/58 This has gone almost perfectly for Perez so far, who not only got away first but did so again when the safety car departed and is now as serene as you can hope to be. Hamilton nips down the inside of Alonso, and he takes P5, 2.5s or so behind Perez in fourth.
Lap 30/58 Perez, in fourth, goes again…but Alonso survives…no he doesn’t! Perez shoots past, and Hamilton, in sixth, will be fancying his chances at passing too.
Lap 29/58 Leclerc now leads by 2.391s as Perez gets right up close to Alonso with the help of DRS, but he runs out of straight. He’ll be back, but.
Lap 28/58 Alonso – who hasn’t pitted – goes at Russell, who holds him off, and Leclerc is stretching clear again. Holding off Verstappen at that restart might just’ve won him the race – if the safety car doesn’t return, a big assumption to make.
Lap 27/58 The safety car starts and we go racing, Verstappen on Leclerc’s tail and he has a hack! Of course he does! But Leclerc holds him off, building a lead to 1.172s!
Lap 26/58 “I think Verstappen should let Checo go, he is making this too easy for Charles,” Edwin Innih Imoesi emails. I see the rationale, but I don’t see Verstappen allowing anyone to get past him. He’s second now.
Lap 25/58 This is shaping up into a glorious afternoon for Charles Leclerc. He got away first and has motored nicely since, staying well away from everyone – just what you need. But he’ll have to hold it down again when we restsart – which should be soon because Vettel’s Aston Martin is shoved away so we should be back going shortly.
Lap 24/58 Perez goes around the outside of Hamilton and takes him out at the first time of asking! But Vettel then crashes out, the safety car is back, and Russell uses the opportunity to pit – he was probably going to anyway, but this way he loses very little time. He’s got five-lap advantage over Verstappen, and looks well-set for a podium!
Lap 23/58 Hamilton has to come in soon and as I type that, he does, coming back out in fifth ahead of Perez. Leclerc leads, from Russell, Verstappen, Alonso, Hamilton, Perez, Magnussen, Norris, Ricciardo and Stroll. That’s our top 10.
Lap 22/58 Verstappen passes Alonso, Ricciardo bousts out of the pit and almost clatters Albon, Stroll picks his moment to get by the latter, and both are behind the McLarens, Norris ninth and Ricciardo tenth.
Lap 21/58 Mercedes must’ve been working hard since Jeddah, and Perez comes in, Norris too. Hamilton is 17.821s behind Leclerc and roughly a couple ahead of Russell; Verstappen has just set the fastest lap-time, and he’s up to fifth, 0.8s behind Ricciardo … who’s just pitting.
Lap 20/58 Leclerc leads by 16.538s, but Hamilton is now 0.2s behind Perez, who’s really struggling. His Red Bull is struggling for grip, and Mercedes will be feeling good about things here – P1 is likely gone, but increasingly, P2 looks in play!
Lap 19/58 Verstappen and Red Bull know they’ve to do something, so in he comes, emerging in seventh place – that’s not bad, he’s in and out in 19s – and Leclerc now leads by 15.789s.
Lap 18/58 The Mercedes might be “a better race car than the Red Bull,” reckon David Croft, not a statement he expected to make. Perez, in third, leads Hamilton by about 1.8s, and isn’t increasing the gap — though I’m not sure he’s in danger of being passed.
Lap 17/58 Magnussen has a hack at Tsunoda and almost plows through the back of him, bails, and loses a place to Zhou; he’s now 14th. If Verstappen pits, he’ll probably come out 12th, behind Bottas, so he’s hanging in there for now.
Lap 16/58 Bottas and Tsunoda have been fighting since the start and Bottas finally passes; he’s now 11th. Leclerc’s lead is now 7.849s.
Lap 15/58 If Hamilton slows, he could let Russell get DRS to pull away from the McLarens behind, note our commentators; er, that seems unlikely given he’s pulling away from his teammate.
Lap 14/58 Hamilton’s found a bit of extra pace; he’s holding off Russell easily enough now. In front, Leclerc continues building his lead – it’s 6.229s now – and Perez is four more seconds back.
Lap 13/58 Ricciardo is close to Norris, about 0.6s behind, and a further second behind Russell then another behind Hamilton. Leclerc’s lead is up to 5.451s, and Verstappen – or Red Bull – need to make a call.
Lap 12/58 Verstappen’s left-front is causing him waved, the compound ripping up, and Leclerc now leads by 4.3s. That might be definitive.