All eyes are on Racing Point and the return of Nico Hulkenberg as the unexpected storyline of the British Grand Prix weekend.
Firstly, we should spare a thought for Sergio Perez, who is absent because of his positive COVID-19 test. Amid all the excitement of a last-minute substitute and the prospect of Hulkenberg scoring a podium that has eluded him his entire career, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Checo has contracted a very serious virus. He’s not showing symptoms for now, so hopefully it stays that way and he makes a swift recovery.
As for Hulkenberg, who started brightly with ninth place in first practice, just half a second slower than team-mate Lance Stroll, this is a huge opportunity. He knows Silverstone well and the RP20 – the pink Mercedes – is a really quick car. I think he should be up to speed in time to get close to Stroll in qualifying and race for good points on Sunday.
Who knows, if he stays in the car again for next weekend – Perez might have to quarantine for 10 days which would rule him out of both races – maybe Hulkenberg can be a legitimate podium contender with some mileage under his belt?
It has injected a fun storyline into a weekend that threatened to be a bit bland. Silverstone’s a great track and there’s always something to watch in F1, but there have been some quite bleak admissions in recent days that aren’t good for hopes of Mercedes being challenged.
Ferrari’s in a very difficult situation, underlined by president John Elkann giving a very rare interview in Italy in which he said the team needs to rebuild itself and prepare to win again in 2022. It’s an admission of what we already knew, or at least suspected – there’s no big turnaround coming this year, or next year.
That’s a shame, but we thought we’d also have Red Bull in the running. That’s looking like it won’t be the case either. Max Verstappen said on Thursday that he hopes he can be fighting Mercedes constantly at the end of 2020, or maybe 2021 – a suggestion that in the short-term Red Bull will be trying to work out its aero problems.
Verstappen had a decent start to the Silverstone weekend in FP1, as did Charles Leclerc for Ferrari. Ultimate pace is irrelevant in FP1 because everybody’s doing something slightly different. But it could be that the really, really warm temperatures in England – more than 30 degree – are helping their cause, as Mercedes has previously theorised that colder conditions have flattered the Silver Arrows a bit.
We’ll find out more in FP2, and then Saturday is the big test. There are no upgrades for Ferrari at Silverstone but Red Bull’s trying lots of things to extract more performance from the RB16.
For the sake of these two weeks at Silverstone, then the high-downforce Barcelona circuit, and maybe the entire 2020 season, cross your fingers and hope Red Bull’s going down the right path.
But there seems little reason to believe it will be anything other than a Lewis Hamilton vs Valtteri Bottas fight this weekend.