It’s been a tumultuous week in the lead-in to the Emirates 70th Anniversary F1 GP at Silverstone. Mercedes have declared their intent for 2021 by re-signing Valtteri Bottas, This confirms the rumours that although talks had been held, they would not bring across the still out-of-contract Sebastian Vettel. He’s been spotted talking to Racing Point’s officialdom however Vettel himself says the media have more of those conversations than the content of the talks themselves.
It also locks out a wild card from Williams, with George Russell apparently having had his name mentioned with Mercedes. The final piece of the puzzle for the Silver Arrows appears to be championship leader and 7th title contender, Lewis Hamilton. Although Hamilton has publicly stated he’s in no real hurry to re-sign, there’s virtually no doubt an announcement will be made very soon that has Hamilton staying with the team.
Racing Point’s link to Mercedes appears to have had one conclusion, with the team being docked 15 points and fined a relatively miniscule 400,000Euro as a result of the FIA stewards’ investigation into the brake duct saga. After the Styrian, Hungarian and British Grands Prix, Renault lodged a protest with the stewards, alleging that Racing Point’s brake ducts had been directly copied from the 2019 Mercedes in contravention of the regulations that state a team must design and build their own parts. The points deduction affects only the team’s points, not the drivers, Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez.
The decision did narrow down one crucial aspect of the complaint, with the stewards finding the front ducts were, under the regulations, Racing Point’s, however they found the rear brake ducts were effectively “lifted” from the Mercedes design of 2019. In essence, Racing Point had not changed or refined the design that was seen on the Mercedes cars in 2019. Timing also comes into play, with Racing Point not unexpectedly allowed to use the parts for the immediate future, as the stewards agreed it was “not realistic to expect Racing Point to “re‐design or re‐engineer the BDs in a way that would effectively require them to ‘unlearn’ what they already know.” Despite the ruling, late on August 7th, three teams, being Renault, Ferrari, and McLaren, have appealed the perceived weakness of the judgement.
In practice, the uncertainty that Sebastian Vettel publicly faces in regards to his F1 future translated to his car. The second practice session saw his car grind to a halt, with the drivetrain vomiting its internal fluids onto the tarmac with barely five minutes left in the session. A disconsolate Vettel said: “It was very sudden and obviously a failure so now we have to see what it is. But it will probably take a couple of days because the engine will get shipped back and analysed.”
Analysing, too, by some drivers and commentators, for Romain Grosjean from Haas. The French driverwas given a warning after last weekend’s round for his aggressive moves on two drivers, with one, Daniel Ricciardo, confirming he’d spoken to Grosjean after the race. Grosjean, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, which exists to improve safety in the sport, defended his actions after the race, claiming he acted within the rules.
Qualifying was run in windy conditions and there were a surprise or two on track. Esteban Ocon was hit with a three grid spot penalty early in Q1 after impeding george Russell. ocon was on his “out lap” and got in the way of Russell who was in P15 before coming up behind Ocon at speed. With Ocon on a non-flying lap the regs very strongly suggest the slower car should get out of the way. Russell did manage 8th at the end of Q1.
Vettel’s Ferrari had no pace at all and he was down in P13 late in Q1, whilst the surprise of the sessions was Nico Hulkenberg. With last weekend’s engine woes seemingly sorted, “The Hulk” was fast out of the blocks, pushing Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, and Bottas with his time at the end of Q1 barely a half second from Hamilton and Bottas. Alexander Albon managed a flyer to get to P3 at the conclusion of Q1.
Kevin Magnussen, Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Kvyat was penalised for exceeding track limits and would be knocked out of Q2, Nicholas Latifi and Antonio Giovinazzi would also miss out.
Q2 and Verstappen goes out on the longer lasting but slower per lap hard rubber. Tire choice in qualifying does dictate the starting tire, and an interesting choice from Red Bull. Hulkenberg pushed his Racing Point hard early in Q2, with a massive run wide on driver’s left leaving a trail of dirt and dust behind him. Half way through and Ricciardo is in sight of the top two, just 0.8 adrift of Bottas on a 1:26. The Finn was a half second quicker at this stage than Hamilton. Ocon, aware of his grid penalty, was in P8 with four minutes left but under threat from Pierre Gasly with just a few hundredths between them.
Charles Leclerc showed that his Ferrari was definitely on song, with 5/100ths between he and Ricciardo with a minute to go in Q2. No such luck for Vettel as he failed to make the top ten, and will start from P12. When asked how he felt about trying everything but unable to generate any good results, Vettel replied: “It’s very different to usual, let’s put it this way.” He added: “I don’t know. I’ve run out of answers.” Grosjean, Carlos Sainz, George Russell also dipped out on Q3 but it’s encouraging signs for Williams with their fourth successive Q2 appearance thanks to Russell, with Ocon and Vettel missing by 1/10th and split by 0.07. Hulkenberg launched a blistering attack in Q2 and would finish that session just 0.4 from Bottas.
The final frantic ten minutes and it’s mayhem straight away as Hamilton and Bottas immediately start swinging swords to try and snare P1. Ricciardo is also on the pace, but it’s Hullkenberg looming large in his mirrors. Norris is at the other end and looking to be the slowest of the quickest. His final time of 1:26.778 would see him qualify P10, behind Albon and Leclerc, both in the 1:26.6 bracket. Gasly snuck through to pole P7, a tenth shy of Lance Stroll in P5.
Ricciardo’s quick runs in Q3 and a rubber swap paid dividends for P5 but he was simply outclassed by Verstappen, Bottas who also grabbed pole, and Hamilton to make the front row yet another Mercedes lockout. With 30 seconds left the times between Bottas and Hamilton were identical. But it was the return of Hulkenberg that proved to be the attention grabber, with his P3 time of 1:26.082 just enough to hold out Verstappen and 0.8 from Hamilton.
Hulkenberg was welcomed and congratulated with enthusiasm after the final qualifying, and said: “Quali was still tricky. In Q2 I made life hard for myself a bit and was scared I damaged the car. And then Q3 it was head down, full beans, whatever I had. A bit surprised to be honest to stand here but obviously a big smile on my face.” Bottas: “Pole today feels really good. It’s a privilege to drive this amazing car – it’s so quick. I love qualifying when it’s like that, it was great fun.”
Race day and it was the one that got away for a few drivers. Daniel Ricciardo was slammed position wise before half a lap had been completed, after Nico Hulkenberg and Lancer Stroll had diced and to be safe, Ricciardo had had to make room. Tire choice proved to be ineffective, and a change to a second set, this time the hard rubber late in the race, saw his Renault exit and spin with a possible tap from Carlos Sainz. Ricciardo would fall to a final position of 14th after starting from P5.
Surprise package Hulkenberg had been flying until a late change due to vibration in the rear saw his chances of a podium taken away. With Ferrari’s Leclerc making a move on him whilst Hulkenberg was in P4, and the Ferrari team giving Leclerc every assistance with a one-stop race, Hulkenberg’s car went backwards: “Then I picked up some blisters on them from the rear axle and consequently fairly big vibrations that ultimately forced us to stop off that tyre and three-stopping then obviously onto P7.”
There was only one retirement from the 52 laps, Kevin Magnussen. He not only had been given a five second penalty for a clash with Nicholas Latifi, his car, which Magnussen said had been repaired with slightly older parts after his crash last weekend, wasn’t up to pace. “In my mind that has to be it as the car can be a lot better than this. It simply hasn’t worked this weekend and that’s unfortunate. I had a great start again, so I’ll take that away as a positive and try and continue to keep doing that.”
Latifi would finish in P19, behind George Russell, Antonio Giovinazzi, Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen, all a lap down. Then it would be Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz, a disconsolate Sebastian Vettel, with the AlphaTauri pair of Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat taking P11 and P10. Vettel’s woes started on Turn 1, with his car getting a rise from the ripple strips and spinning him in front of traffic.
Williams, too, were affected by tire issues and vibration, with the team’s Head of Performance, Dave Robson, saying: “… rear tyre blistering caused a lot of vibration, which disturbed the drivers quite a lot and affected their visibility. ”
Ultimately it was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen that would get the chocolates. A superb drive and team management saw Verstappen imperiously take hold of the 70th Anniversary race, with the hard tires being, in his hands, a boon and not a hindrance. A swap and he re-entered side by side with eventual 3rd placer sitter Bottas, and made his move from here, with the temperamental Dutchman saying he wasn’t there to sit behind “like a Grandma” when the Mercedes duo had pitted. Red Bull also scored points thanks to Alexander Albon showing maturity in the race, with the second car finishing P5 after tussling with Pierre Gasly for the first half of the race.
Bottas had lead Hamilton early on, with a lead of over a second, and Verstappen a little more than that behind Hamilton. By lap 10 both Mercedes drivers are reminded to go gently on their medium rubber tires. It would be laps 14 (Bottas) and 15 (Hamilton) for the swaps. Bottas has come into P6 behind Ricciardo before the Australian also pits and comes back in P10. lance Stroll is also showing pace, and he’s as high as P2 before a change for better rubber on lap 19. It’s also this lap that saw the clash between Magnussen and Latifi. Half race distance and Verstappen is flying with a lead of 17 seconds over Hamilton. The Briton would finish in P2 and would equal Michael Schumacher’s podium record of 155 appearances. Amazingly, Hulkenberg is in P4 and looking for a miracle podium.
Lap 28 and Verstappen is in and out on new mediums, challenged by Bottas and winning it. He’ll be unheaded from here to win by over eleven seconds from Hamilton, who would finish eight seconds ahead of his team mate. Bottas would later point the finger at team management, saying the strategy was asleep. Leclerc would make up for Vettel’s less than impressive drive with a P4, whilst Albon, Stroll, Hulkenberg, Ocon and Norris remained untroubled to round out the top nine ahead of Kvyat.
Winner Verstappen was pointed in his post-race interview: “When you are able to overtake and pull away from a Mercedes it is really satisfying. It’s a great day and I’m very happy with the result as we did everything really well as a Team.” Bottas: “For me, definitely I should have gone long in the second stint. The last stint was way too long and that’s when I lost the position to Lewis. We’ll move on of course, disappointing day – move on.”
And for the championship leader, Hamilton, before heading to Barcelona next weekend: “We didn’t expect to struggle with the blistering to the extent we experienced it. The first stint was difficult, in the second stint I was managing the tyres like you cannot believe. I was doing everything I could to nurse the tyres, but it made no difference to the blistering.” This was echoed by Toto Wolff: “We have a handful of days to find out what exactly caused our issues today, come up with solutions, test them on Friday in Barcelona and then hopefully have a better race on Sunday. ”
It’s a shorter timetable for the Formula 1 Aramco Gran Premio De España 2020, with just Saturday and Sunday covering all practice before qualifying late on Saturday, before the race start at 15:10 local in Barcelona, August 15.