How a rubbish F1 race can get so good…

Lewis Hamilton winning at Silverstone despite a flat tyre on the last lap

Lewis Hamilton winning at Silverstone despite a flat tyre on the last lap

I’m not going to pretend the British Grand Prix was a great race. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were dominating, Max Verstappen was giving a forlorn chase in third place, and it was just dull. It wasn’t turning into anything. Then in just under five minutes it transformed, and the ending was fantastic.

To see Hamilton drag a car three wheeled basically across the finish line…you can argue whether it was dangerous or not but it was very brave and very skilled for him to be able to do the rest of the lap on the final lap at the speed he did without losing control of the car. There is a lot of technique behind it, it’s not just luck. 

You’ve got different settings you can go to on the steering wheel, Mercedes got Lewis to lock the differential and Hamilton was trying to make sure that his accelerations weren’t too aggressive initially to pull the tyre further off of the rim. And then he was trying to take it easy where he could, and push where he thought it was safer. It was telling that once he got out of Stowe corner he really got on the throttle once he was up to a certain speed, big burst of acceleration down to the final complex, and just got it stopped in time. 

It would have been so easy to run wide or to spin in in that condition. Feel free to put it down to British bias (there is none, I promise!) but I do think that was a special end to the grand prix – not just because of the circumstances but because of how Hamilton dealt with it. 

Maybe I’m feeling homesick because I’ve not been back to the UK since before F1 pre-season testing in February. But even though the grand prix on Sunday was so boring for so long, I think it was proof of exactly why Silverstone is such an important part of the Formula 1 calendar and really needs to stay on the calendar for as long as possible. 

I don’t think any other circuit could have created the conditions to have such a dramatic end to such a boring race. If you look at the two safety car periods in the race early on, the Kevin Magnuson/Alex Albon shunt, which I thought was badly handled by the race stewards, was a result of the conditions Silverstein creates, that tight final complex at the end of the lap when everyone’s together compresses the field up, and then that slow corner opens into a very fast, but tight corner and creates the conditions for collision like we saw. 

And then Dany Kvyat had an absolutely enormous crash because a right rear failure on his car. This is probably because the tyres take a pounding and the Silverstone kerbs are used aggressively, although we can’t rule out a car problem. So maybe he’s just unlucky but I think again it was the sort of thing Silverstone creates. It was that safety car that made everybody switch onto hard tyres really early on and made the tyres vulnerable at the end. The front left takes an absolute pounding around such a high speed circuit and with debris on the track, it was prone to cuts.   

I have a lot of sympathy for Verstappen and Red Bull because I personally think that they did make the right decision. I understand that there is an argument that you should run aggressive and keep the pressure on. And no doubt they will be wondering if they should have. Given Red Bull is only sniping for victory in extraordinary circumstances this year, maybe in these circumstances this team should have rolled the dice. But I don’t really hold it against them. 

At Ferrari, one driver Charles Leclerc has done an absolutely phenomenal job in a low downforce package to complete the podium. They trimmed out the car for Silverstone to try and offset their top speed deficit. And it worked, it made them more competitive in a straight line. And Leclerc was able to hang on to it through the corners. He did a really good job there, but Sebastian Vettel just simply couldn’t live with it. He was screwed over on Friday, with very little track time because of Ferrari’s failings. So Vettel just never really had a fair shake of it and unsurprisingly qualifying was bad and the race was just a disaster. It’s no wonder that his confidence seems to be at an all time low.

And speaking of disappointments, Racing Point were really quick and looked like they had a podium challenging car at stages throughout the weekend. So, to qualify on the third row was disappointing behind a McLaren and a Ferrari. To race the way that Lance Stroll raced on Sunday, dropping back early on, losing their tyre advantage because of the safety car, and then just getting stuck and not really looking good at all, was even worse. And Nico Hulkenberg didn’t even make the start of his sensational comeback because of a problem starting the engine. A disaster! 

I think they really missed Sergio Perez, who as we discussed in the weekend preview post has contracted COVID-19. Racing Point will be really hoping that the isolation rules are only a week instead of 10 days, and that Checo can have another test on Wednesday or Thursday, pass it and be granted permission to race this weekend. 

I don’t think that will happen, I think he will have to observe the full 10 days of quarantine. But Racing Point need that man back in the car as soon as possible, providing set-up guidance, a clear benchmark and a dependable racer on Sunday. This weekend was a good example of why they really shouldn’t be getting rid of him in 2021, if they are in fact signing Vettel.