Verstappen qualified fourth on the grid behind an all-Mercedes front row, but poleman Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton’s races came undone when their Mercedes cars struggled to keep their tyres alive in the heat.
All three got good starts – Verstappen scythed past Racing Point’s Nico Hulkenberg to take third on the first lap – but Mercedes immediately fell into a rhythm of tyre management to make sure the medium-compound rubber both drivers started on would make it to the first pit stop window.
Verstappen had no such troubles, starting on the hard after an astute qualifying gamble. He was free to close in on the two leaders unimpeded while both Bottas and Hamilton complained of severe blistering.
By lap 14 – barely one-quarter distance – both Mercedes cars had switched onto the hard, but while they had a momentary boost in grip, before long the more durable rubber too started to expire on their rims.
Verstappen, having inherited the lead, was suddenly able to build an advantage over the stricken black cars, and Red Bull Racing smelt opportunity.
Waiting until lap 26 to make his first stop, he raced with Bottas for the lead as he exited pit lane and dispatched the Finn. He matched the times of the Mercedes cars behind, and when he and Bottas stopped on lap 32 and rejoined the race in the same order, Verstappen was able to gallop away and secure victory.
“I didn’t see it coming!” Verstappen said. “An incredible result to win here.
“We had a lot of pace in the car. We didn’t really have a lot of tyre issues at all we just kept pushing.
“Everything worked out well – we had the right strategy, everything was running smooth.”
The victory took Verstappen up to second in the drivers championship, 30 points behind title leader Hamilton.
Hamilton had been left in first place after Verstappen’s final stop, but his tyres were badly damaged. After considering and dismissing an unlikely defence of the lead without another set of tyres, he dived into pit lane for fresh rubber on lap 40.
But catching Verstappen was never going to happen, with 12 seconds to make up in as many laps. Instead Hamilton’s final stop allowed him to fight with teammate Bottas for second.
The Finn was at a nine-lap tyre disadvantage and could offer little defence, the Briton cutting past him with two laps to spare to consolidate second place.
“It was a massive challenge,” he said. “Definitely unexpected to have the blistering as hardcore as we experienced it, but I’m really grateful to have progressed and manage my way through the race.
“I’m sure the team will be working as hard as its can because we’ve not had that before.”
Bottas was left to trail home a disconsolate third, and is now third in the title standings and 34 points behind his teammate.
“Very frustrating,” he said. “Obviously starting from pole and finishing third is not ideal.
“I think as a team we were sleeping at some point - my strategy was far from ideal, so lots to learn from today I think.”
Charles Leclerc finished a fantastic fourth for Ferrari as one of only two point-scoring drivers to make a single stop.
Thai driver Alex Albon finished fifth, up from ninth on the grid, after an aggressive race. He made an early stop on lap six to earn himself some clear and overtook his way into the points.
Racing Point teammates Lance Stroll and Nico Hulkenberg finished sixth and seventh. While Stroll held his starting place, Hulkenberg slipped from third to fifth through the race before dropping to seventh after a late emergency stop after feeling tyre vibrations from the cockpit.
Esteban Ocon finished eighth for Renault with a one-stop strategy than helped him to a slender 0.7-second advantage over McLaren’s Lando Norris in ninth, while Daniil Kvyat took home the final points for 10th.