9 Aug 2020
`Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale breaks down the action that unfolded during the 70th anniversary race at Silverstone
Strong gusts of wind swirled through the paddock, snapping flags and destroying expensive coiffures as the sun rained down on the tarmac, heating it to tyre melting temperatures as the teams made their last minute adjustments and the grid exploded into frenzied activity. Verstappen on the Hard tyre was perhaps the cat amongst the pigeons, though even with an alternate strategy he was mostly looking at another boring race behind the Mercedes if all went to plan. Of interest, neither Mercedes driver was left with new Mediums to run, unlike Verstappen so it looked to be the Hard tyre to the end for the Silver Arrows, once their first stint was finished.
There was much discussion of Nico Hulkenberg's neck, and whether or not it would last the whole race, given his relative lack of competition this season. Perhaps of more concern was hearing his engineer coach him on which buttons and switches and dials needed to be where by what turn in the absolute pressure cooker of an F1 race start in a podium position, making one think perhaps of Rosberg starting in the wrong mode in Barcelona leading to the absolutely iconic collision with Hamilton on the first lap...
AS the seconds ticked down, it was Verstappen, Vettel, Sainz, Kvyat and Raikkonen on the Hard tyre, with the rest on the Medium, at least according to the F1 app and as the formation lap kicked off, once again the focus was all on the tyre strategy....
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Bottas as Valterri held the lead through the first turns. Verstappen was easily by Hulkenberg as it was Vettel, wrong way round and all the way to the back. Down the straight to Luffield Hamilton pressed the attack, close but unable to get near enough to mount a proper attempt. Further back Stroll had stolen a place from Ricciardo and Norris was up two places, running P8 just ahead of Albon as Leclerc had sunk to P10 as there was an early yellow for someone with an off out of T1...
In the far back it was Ocon up to P12 and Magnussen, again the big winner on the start, up 4 places to P13, though Kvyat behind was already doing his best to dislodge him. On replay it was Vettel, on his own with the throttle, having quite the moment at the start and very nearly taking out both Sainz and Ocon. Hamilton continued to hang onto the gearbox of Bottas and as the fifth lap got underway, he was hovering right around a second off his teammate, dodging in and out of DRS whenever he felt like it. Verstappen was about 2 seconds back, observing, and then a further 4 seconds back, the start of the rest of the race, with Hulkenberg.
Lap 6 (uh oh) and Bottas was told by his engineer that the front left and rear left were critical... Lap 7 and Albon was in to get rid of what was looking like an increasingly useless Medium. Gasly followed suit the following lap and at the front the gaps were compressing; Giovinazzi as well. No doubt the teams all would be looking the Hard tyre runners as they began to rethink their pit strategies. Russell was next to bail, on lap 9 a new pair of Hards for him as well, then Magnussen on lap 10.
Lap 10 and Verstappen was now faster than either Mercedes, just by a few tenths but a good sign that the alternate strategy might well have been the stronger one. Raikkonen in P14 was now running his own train, holding up both Gasly and Albon who were making good use of their new tyres. 2 laps on and Verstappen was inside DRS on Hamilton and his engineer suggested he back off to save tyres, to which he responded there was no way he would sit back and drive like a grandma when the Mercedes were that close. Following lap, Hamilton on the radio confirmed Max's intuition, as he radioed in his rears were finished. The battle was causing Hamilton to lose touch with Bottas, who no doubt appreciated the momentary respite.
Which respite Mercedes immediately put to good use, bringing him in for a new set. Norris, too had been in and as Bottas emerged, he was in P6 as Hamilton was hanging on for dear life mere tenths ahead of the charging Red Bull... Lap 15 was the call and both Lewis and Ricciardo were in, leaving Verstappen alone at the front of the race, Hulkenberg 8 seconds back. Bottas on his new tyres had nearly 0.6 seconds on Verstappen just in sector 2, and Hulkenberg was next into the pits as Albon finally made it round the Alfa of Raikkonen going to the outside of Stowe to get the job done.
Leclerc was forward-most of the long runners, lap 16 on the Mediums as Ferrari were looking like they wanted to one stop in order to get the most out of their struggling car, as Sainz, behind, kept pace with him. Now the long wait was on for either a Safety Car or the second pit stop window to open. Lap 18 and Grosjean was in with the reminder he went very long on this Hard tyre in last week's race when it was the Medium. Following lap and both Stroll and Leclerc were in, conveniently enough giving a free pass to both Mercedes who were beginning to catch up with the Racing Point. This left Sainz in P4 and Ocon, still on the Medium and running decent laps, in P7.
On replay, it was Leclerc, in a lovely little battle emerging right by Norris and gaining the advantage with a bit of side to side skill, leaving him in sole possession of P10. But the real surprise was at the front, as Mercedes, with newer Hard tyres, were falling off the pace of Verstappen, blisters beginning to show on both cars....
Lap 23 and Sainz, Ocon and Vettel were in for new tyres as it was a slowwww stop for McLaren as they released, and then stopped him as another car down the pitlane kept him in the box...this put Ocon out just in front of Kvyat in P10 with Sainz in P12 behind him. Hamilton reported a blister on the right front even as both Gasly and Russell were in for second stops.
Slow motion looks at the tyres were not inspiring confidence at Brackley as Verstappen was given the green light to push and in he came at the end of lap 27, looking like he was going to come out right by Bottas and well ahead of Hamilton. Onto the Mediums, meaning he could potentially one stop and out 0.3 seconds behind Bottas and with a ruthless efficiency he rocked by the hapless and helpless Mercedes driver, round the outside through Luffield and off into the distance.
Hamilton on the radio suggested perhaps Red Bull were running lower pressures than the them, as a possible explainer for the remarkable disparity in performance. Behind, Albon rolled by Norris on lap 29, up to P7 and Leclerc ahead, who just put in the fastest lap of the race. 5 second penalty for silliness at the back of the bus for Magnussen and Norris was in in reply to losing the place to Albon. Another set of Hards for the Macca driver and the race to the end was on.
Hulkenberg was in for his second stop lap 31 as Bottas was now closing the gap to Verstappen again as his tyres. Albon was in for another stop and Verstappen was told to push to the limit of the tyre as it sounded rather like a two stop was now in the works. Stroll was in as Ricciardo had an off that dropped him to P12.
Lap 33 and both Verstappen and Bottas were in for new Hards as Hamilton, now alone in front, appeared to be getting on top of his tyres and was running in the 1:30s. This put both drivers out 11 seconds back of Hamilton and Lewis was still not happy with the way the car was working as his left rear just did not look to be a happy camper. Lap 34 and Vettel and Giovinazzi were in, with Sainz on the following lap.
The next lap Hamilton was beginning to drop time to both Leclerc, who was still in his pit window, and the Verstappen-Bottas duo. Kvyat was in, conveniently, the moment Albon got round Ocon at Stowe. Norris claimed Ricciardo as well, and it was into the pits for the Renault driver, out on the Medium to run to the end. Annnnd it was beginning to sound more and more like Mercedes was going to leave him out there and try to squeak home..... Red Bull told Verstappen to carefully close up to within the safety car window, 10 seconds at this track, and with 12 laps left he began nibbling away at a few tenths a lap.
Behind the top 3 it was once again, Charles Leclerc running quite a race in a strong P4 and then Hulkenberg and Stroll. Albon, behind, had 13 seconds of free air to drive into. Ocon, Norris and Kvyat rounded out the top 10...
Leclerc closed the gap to Bottas to within 1.5 seconds and freed from the threat behind, Verstappen turned up the wick and was off. Mercedes responded by pitting Lewis and now it was going to be a race to make the podium for the Mercedes driver, 7 seconds and 10 laps. Lewis smoked the tyres approaching the line where the speed limit applies, another excitement that he didn't need. Albon, in free air, continued to crush laptimes, into the 1:29s again but the chances of a Ferrari podium appeared to be dimming as Hamilton was nearly 3 seconds a lap faster than Leclerc and into the 1:28s... Bottas was 5 seconds up the road as lap 44 got underway and all the fun was about to be had.
Norris was into DRS on Ocon for P8 and Vettel was on Gasly as well for P11. Down the Hangar straight with DRS and Lewis inched ever closer but still not enough for a lunge. Magnussen was retired as Hulkenberg, tragically had to pit for new tyres. Lap 45 and Lewis got the job done into Stowe with ease. Hulkenberg was back out P7 and with 5 laps left Albon was closing on Stroll at around a second a lap, just in case there wasn't enough else to pay attention to. OK, more than a second a lap.
Lap 47 and and 2 seconds between Hamilton and Bottas as backmarkers loomed, Latifi and Raikkonen... down to Copse and just 1.5 seconds as Red Bull appeared to have done the job and Mercedes released the drivers race. Lap 49 and into sector 2 the gap had closed to half a second. With no more backmarkers, that meant Bottas would not have the advantage of running DRS and the battle was joined. Through the first sector, with Hamilton dodging and darting and down the Wellington straight with DRS deployed after running side by side into the Loop, Hamilton stuck the knife in, going round the outside into Brooklands... Behind, Albon got Stroll for P5 as Ocon continued to hold Norris at bay, though Lando's last lap heroics could not be dismissed.
10 seconds to Leclerc for Albon meant that P4 for the Monegasque was decidedly on for another finish above Ferrari's weight as Verstappen asked his engineer if HE remembered to hydrate during the race, a moment of levity for the Red Bull driver as he wound his way round to the checquered flag and a well deserved celebration for a team that had even recently looked more than a bit lost. With Albon having worked his way up to P5 it was happy days at the garage all the way round, with just qualifying for the youngster yet to be fully sorted. On the contrary, despite finishing P2 and P3, Mercedes seemed a bit dazed and confused, surprised by their struggles on all the tyres, though high heat and especially the high pressures, may have indeed caught them out. Bottas in particular will feel a bit bitter, with Hamilton having been handed a significant tyre advantage at the end of the race by the team's strategy.
Ferrari will have been delighted by Leclerc's P4 in a wonderfully managed one stopper, though Vettel's early spin compounded by them pitting him early and throwing away his tyre advantage (he started on the Hards) will not have improved relations between the two, though the frostiness in the garage might be a welcome relief given the heat wave currently afflicting the country. Racing Point finishing best of the rest will have been bittersweet after their remarkable qualifying, though it still makes up for their losses to the steward's decision rather nicely as their rivals all did worse, with Hulkenberg being pitted out of P5 near the end surely a bit of a sting... Although no doubt disappointment reigned at Renault over Ricciardo's self-inflicted spin as he was running behind Ocon with both looking well on for the points, there were certainly equal parts delight (maybe even a bit more?) over Esteban's ability to pull off the one-stopper with seeming ease, including holding off a charging Norris in the final laps despite the McLaren driver's tyre advantage.
P9 was the best McLaren could do with Norris, as they were suffering with cooling issues on both cars, but the boffed pit stop, recalling the days of Sam Michaels, put the knife firmly into the chest of Sainz' race. P10 for Kvyat as Alpha Tauri continue to specialise in looking good up until the actual race itself and then hanging on for the crumbs. Williams had 9 or 10 stops and HAAS had Grosjean in P16 with Magnussen retired and even though Raikkonen did finish ahead of the HAAS driver, not much but a bunch of sad for the teams at the bottom.
Next week is Spain and given today's show, many, many questions remain about what Pirelli might do with pressures given that although Spain doesn't exactly put the same energy through the tyre as Silverstone, they will certainly not want to run the chance of a repeat of last week's debacle, even if it did make for some exciting telly... The political fight over the steward's dinging of Racing Point will no doubt carry on, pot expertly stirred by those who need some drama as a background to their narratives and then there's that whole Concorde thing that is, supposedly, being wrapped up in just a few days, unless, of course, it's not. Worth remembering that Verstappen has occasionally won a thing in Catalunya and maybe, just maybe, Mercedes has a puzzle to solve and we might once again see a bit of an interesting race at the front...