No two races are ever the same, even if they are held at the same circuit and for the second time in 2020, Silverstone showed just that. F1 celebrated its 70th birthday this year and the second race around the Northamptonshire track marked the occasion; fittingly the location of the first-ever F1 Grand Prix in 1950 won by Farina. It was a race those present 70 years ago and fans around the world could be proud of.
After the late tyre failure of last weekend, tyres were always going to be a topic of conversation especially with tyre supplier Pirelli bringing a step softer in their compounds to this second race. Could they do it more often? That meant a two-stop race was the way forward for most with only three drivers a making it to the chequered flag stopping once; it makes it a more interesting race even though no driver started on the soft tyre for the first time since Pirelli became tyre supplier in 2011. We saw action up and down the grid, some spins too as Lewis Hamilton matched Michael Schumacher’s all-time podium record; 155. However, the Mercedes dominant start to 2020 came to an end and could we be seeing the start of a title challenge?
Max Verstappen and Red Bull [Image above from formula1.com] will certainly hope so! If any driver was going to beat Mercedes in a race this year, it was going to be the flying Dutchman. Red Bull faced questions over pitting late on in the British Grand Prix and accusations of throwing away a win but at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, the tyre strategy was inspired. Teams can win some and lose some on their tyre decisions but this one made it. Getting into Q3 on the Hard tyre; the only man to try it was incredible in itself but it made the win possible. The tyre was last weekends Medium tyre so Christian Horner was surprised more teams did not try it. They knew they did not have the outfight pace to eat Mercedes to pole position so why not try something different? They did not have a lot to lose in that regard.
70th Anniversary Grand Prix Qualifying
Q1: Valtteri Bottas 1:26.738……………15th George Russell 1:27.757; 16th Daniil Kvyat +0.125, 17th Kevin Magnussen +0.479, 18th Nicholas Latifi +0.673, 19th Antonio Giovinazzi +0.676, 20th Kimi Raikkonen +0.736
Q2: 1st Valtteri Bottas 1:25.785………10th Lando Norris 1:26.885; 11th Esteban Ocon +0.126, 12th Sebastian Vettel +0.196, 13th Carlos Sainz +0.198, 14th Romain Grosjean +0.369, 15th George Russell +0.570
Q3: 1st Valtteri Bottas 1:25.154, 2nd Lewis Hamilton +0.063, 3rd Nico Huleknberg +0.928, 4th Max Verstappen +1.022, 5th Daniel Ricciardo +1.143, 6th Lance Stroll +1.274, 7th Pierre Gasly +1.380, 8th Charles Leclerc +1.460, 9th Alex Albon +1.515, 10th Lando Norris +1.624
Qualifying on the second row in fourth meant he was in prime position to attack Mercedes in the race on the more durable tyre. His first obstacle was to get through the start without losing positions on the less grippier tyre. Instead, he gained third on Hulkenberg before turn 1 and as the race progressed it came to Verstappen. He must have a very quick grandma behind the wheel as he quipped on team radio, ‘This the only chance of being close to the Mercedes, I’m not just sitting behind like a grandma!’. That was lap 11. He knew this was his chance, he wanted to push and he took it and once again reminded his race engineer to stay hydrated and sanitised this time as he began the final lap.
Once Mercedes pitted, his only threat was Bottas when he emerged behind the Finn after pitting for the first time on lap 22 and he quickly retook the position around the outside of Luffield and if Hamilton could make it to the end without stopping again. Neither materialised as Red Bull pitted Verstappen a second time after only 6 laps on the Mediums the same time as Bottas to cover him off. Verstappen delivered an excellent drive, ringing every ounce of performance from the car to secure his 9th win in Formula One. It was his first since Mexico last year and ended a run of 7 races won from pole position and Red Bull’s first win at Silverstone since Mark Webber won in 2012.
To top things off for Red Bull, Alex Albon had an improved weekend and his best performance of 2020 so far! While the London born Thai driver he wasn’t on the same level as Verstappen getting into Q3 for the first time in three races was a good start in the right direction. A week on from his opening lap drama with Magnussen, it was a cleaner race for Albon as he showed his confidence and potential. Red Bull played a risk pitting him for fresh tyres early on lap 7 but bring him out of the midfield traffic allowed him to showcase his car’s performance. Some of the overtakes he made; Raikkonen around the outside of Copse, Ocon at Stowe and Stroll for 5th were all fantastic moves but he would have enjoyed the move on Gasly most. He will be hoping to bring that performance with him to Spain.
Mercedes for all intents and purposes looked set to dominate again at Silverstone with their drivers finishing 1-2 in all three practice sessions and in Qualifying bar Q2. In each session; the drivers were closely matched; within two-tenths of each other apart from that Q2 session. However, their Achilles heel was exposed in the race; tyre management in hot conditions.
Valtteri Bottas needed a result at Silverstone and he looked to be on his way to doing that when he took control in Qualifying, topping the timesheets in all three parts to take his 13th pole position with a fantastic final effort; the perfect way to repaying Mercedes for the new contract. He held the lead from Hamilton until pitting for the first time on lap 13. Even though he was ahead when Verstappen re-emerged from his first stop, he couldn’t keep the Red Bull behind for long which put him ‘on the backfoot’. The Finn felt his strategy was ‘sub-optimal’ but as the lead Mercedes on track, he had the preferential strategy. Mirroring Verstappen in pitting for the 2nd time on lap 32 with the blistering meant he did not have much left to attack or defend in the closing stages as he fell back to 3rd in the race and 3rd in the championship.
It wasn’t the perfect weekend for Lewis Hamilton who could have matched Michael Schumacher for winning two successive races in the same country but in terms of the championship, it couldn’t have gone much better; he didn’t win but maintained his advantage. A less than perfect effort in Q3 cost him pole position but he started well and pressurised Bottas on the opening lap. Being unable to pass meant he had to play second fiddle to his teammate on pit stops but he was able to turn that to his advantage by prolonging his second stint despite the ‘insane blistering’. Mercedes did toy with the idea of one stopping on the Hard tyre but pitting 10 laps from the end for a second set meant he was able to charge past Leclerc and then his teammate in the closing stages to finish 2nd for his 155th F1 podium.
70th Anniversary Grand Prix Race Result
1st Max Verstappen 1:19:41.993, 2nd Lewis Hamilton +11.326, 3rd Valtteri Bottas +19.231, 4th Charles Leclerc +29.289, 5th Alex Albon +39.146, 6th Lance Stroll +42.538, 7th Nico Hulkenberg +55.951, 8th Esteban Ocon +64.773, 9th Lando Norris +65.544, 10th Daniil Kvyat +69.669, 11th Pierre Gasly +70.642, 12th Sebastian Vettel +73.370, 13th Carlos Sainz +74.070, 14th Daniel Ricciardo +1 Lap, 15th Kimi Raikkonen +1 Lap, 16th Romain Grosjean +1 Lap, 17th Antonio Giovnazzi +1 Lap, 18th George Russell +1 Lap, 19th Nicholas Latifi +1 Lap, Kevin Magnussen DNF
Fastest lap: Lewis Hamilton 1:28.451
When Charles Leclerc declared that finishing 4th ‘feels like a victory’, then that is a sign of just where Ferrari are and how much they’re struggling. 8th and 12th in Qualifying was the Scuderia’s worst performance at Silverstone since 2014 but Leclerc is extracting everything out of that car. He did that throughout the weekend and was the lead Ferrari in Qualifying and the race. The fact he got the car to 4th at the chequered flag was despite losing two places on the opening lap and utilising a one-stop strategy in a race of sweltering heat while other teams struggling with tyre management; something his self-professed was his weakness at this circuit last year. That makes the result and performance all the more impressive. It wasn’t quite a podium but 4th in the second race at Silverstone lifted him to 4th in the standings too.
Ferrari’s issues are more acute with Sebastian Vettel. The four-time world champion had another torrid weekend at Silverstone where at the British Grand Prix he salvaged the final point due to the tyre drama, there was no such fortune second time round. Vettel suffered an engine failure in practice and bowed out of Qualifying in Q2 despite setting a final lap on the Soft tyre. His race was over at turn 1 though where he lost the car on the kerb and went into a spin. Fortunately, he did not collect anyone. Vettel fought his way from the back of the field but felt his progress was hindered by questionable strategy as he berated the team for putting back into traffic and for doing more than 20 laps on the Medium. He finished where he started in a disappointing 12th but this has the motions of a messy divorce.
Off-track and Racing Point caught the headlines again. Befoe practice began, the stewards announced that they upheld Renault’s protest against their car. The protest is targeted at the rear brake ducts of the car which are similar to last years Mercedes. The brake ducts were made a listed part for 2020; meaning the teams have to design them individually. That is the issue. Racing Point were reprimanded, fined €400,000 and docked 15 points from the Constructors Championship. The decision seems to have pleased no one with Racing Point appealing and four teams appealing that it isn’t enough. Otmar Szafenaur insists ‘we did nothing wrong’, team owner Lawrence Stroll went on the offensive before the race, ‘They are dragging our name through the mud and I will not stand by nor accept this’.
That is certainly not over and could go all the way to the FIA Court of Appeal. What is at stake though I think is the principle future of F1. Will teams be allowed to just copy other teams? If that precedent is set then I can imagine the question in other teams across the paddock may be, what is the point if we can just copy the best car from last year? I know Haas took a lot of criticism for working closely with Ferrari when they first came into F1 but the current rules were to help prevent that but I think it will go all the way in the Courts.
On the track, they regained 14 of those 15 points at Silverstone. Nico Hulkenberg overall had the best performance across the weekend in that racing Point. He was quicker than Stroll for the most part and put in a sensational performance in Qualifying to go 3rd. It is all the more impressive that 10 days prior, he was eating pastry in Cologne when he got the call to replace the unwell Sergio Perez and has had very little time in the car. The German couldn’t keep Verstappen behind off the line but had enough pace in hand to keep his teammate behind as he drove a steady race but unfortunately, he was forced into pitting a third time due to vibrations as he finished 7th behind his teammate. After 177 starts, a podium finish still eludes him but he has surely put himself in the shop window for a drive in 2021.
Lance Stroll was outshone by Hulkenberg at Silverstone and given how much more familiar he is with the car, that’s got to hurt. He felt he ‘wasn’t quite able to fins the right balance’ or even a lap in Qualifying but he did have a decent start off the line in the race as he gained a place from Ricciardo. Despite a brief battle with his temporary teammate on track which he lost out on it was the Canadian who got the better finishing position in the end through not requiring a third stop. He was left questioning how he couldn’t make a one-stop work after seeing Leclerc pull it off to leapfrog him but he didn’t have enough to keep 5th from Albon in the closing laps. I get the feeling more was expected of him in these two races at Silverstone.
70th Anniversary Grand Prix Points
Drivers: Max Verstappen 25, Lewis Hamilton 19, Valtteri Bottas 15, Charles Leclerc 12, Alex Albon 10, Lance Stroll 8, Nico Hulkenberg 6, Esteban Ocon 4, Lando Norris 2, Daniil Kvyat 1
Constructors: Red Bull 35, Mercedes 34, Racing Point 14, Ferrari 12, Renault 4, McLaren 2, Alpha Tauri 1
Renault initiated the protests against Racing Point and on the track at Silverstone they would have hoped for more than just 8th after their impressive showing the previous weekend and especially after the glimpses of their pace in practice. Daniel Ricciardo was third quickest in FP2 and took that into Qualifying where he ended up an impressive 5th. A good result beckoned for the honeybadger even after he lost 5th to Stroll on the opening lap but it was ‘one of those ays things get progressively worse and worse’. He struggled on his second stint on the Medium tyre and after pitting for the hard tyre, he ended up in a spin at turn 3 on lap 31 defending from Sainz. That was his race effectively over as he came home outside the points.
Esteban Ocon had consistent pace at Silverstone with his car in the top 10 until it mattered in Q2 missing out by 0.126s. The Frenchman started 14th after a three-place grid penalty for impeding Russell in Q1 but with the Afa Romeo on his left, the team should have been communicating better with him. From 14th, Renault tried something different and opted for the one-stop strategy; one of only three to make it work. He gained a couple of places on the opening lap and was up to 7th before pitting on lap 22 as he took the Hard tyre 40 laps to the end with impressive tyre management to still have enough to finish ahead of Norris. It was a fine drive from Ocon as a Renault finished 8th for the fourth race in five but he knows he needs to improve in Qualifying to fight for more points.
McLaren were another team that had a mixed bag of results as they were not as competitive at Silverstone as they were the week before. Just like the previous race, Carlos Sainz bore the brunt of McLaren’s misfortune. The Spaniard was unable to get out of Q2 and qualified 13th. In the race, he had an impressive opening stint closely following Leclerc before pitting on lap 22. However, that is where lady luck intervened as a wheel gun issue meant he was stationary in the pit box longer than he would’ve liked. That brought him out into traffic as he finished where he started and where he finished after his tyre blowout the week prior; 13th. He has not had the best of luck in 2020 and points were possible for Sainz but again missed out ‘for reasons beyond my control’. He will be hoping for better in Barcelona.
Lando Norris had another impressive personal outing at Silverstone despite McLaren’s struggles. The Brit had the pace advantage over Sainz throughout the weekend and got the car into Q3 for the 12th successive time; that’s no mean feat for someone in only his second season and the youngest driver on the grid. He qualified 10th and in the race gained one position to finish 9th and ahead of Sainz for the fourth time in five races. Race trim was his weakness last year so he is improving. He described the race as very tough on the tyres as they ‘struggled a lot more than we were expecting’. It does speak volumes of his performances in 2020 that finishing 9th feels like a disappointment but it was another consistent performance from Norris and while he felt he could have got past Ocon, 9th was probably the most realistic result for McLaren.
With the sixth or seventh quickest car, Alpha Tauri are always going to be in the mix for the final point if others struggle and they are there consistently. This is the fourth race from five they scored points. The drivers seemed evenly matched again at Silverstone but this time it was Daniil Kvyat who got the point; his second of the season. The Russian seemed to be extracting more pace from the car throughout the weekend before Qualifying ended in disappointment. His final lap time was deleted for exceeding track limits which saw him bow out in Q1 for the second time in three races. He atoned for that in the race. Starting on the Hard tyre, he was up into the top 10 from lap 13 and barely dropped out as he drove a good race with his two-stop strategy to finish as the lead Alpha Tauri.
Pierre Gasly took the headlines finishing 7th at the British Grand Prix and he looked on his way to doing that again when he got the car into Q3 and 7th in Qualifying for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. That was an impressive performance! He described it as ‘the best result we could hope for’. The Frenchman will be disappointed then to finish outside the points in the race after he had made a decent start. He was ‘surprised when I was calle din for the first put stop earlier than we planned’. That move from Alpha Tauri was to cover the early stop by Albon but it put him back into traffic and led to a disappointing result. His subsequent struggles with his tyres; the rear left looked horrible when Albon breezed past on lap 21 meant he could only finish 11th.
Alfa Romeo’s struggles continued at Silverstone. They had four cars at the front of the first-ever Grand Prix at Silverstone; they had the back row to themselves to mark its 70th anniversary. Kimi Raikkonen qualified plum last for the second time in three races despite having never qualified there on pace alone before 2020. The 2007 Champion surpassed Michael Schumacher’s tally of most laps raced (now stands at 16,845 laps) having finished 15th. Doing so on a one-stop strategy was impressive but the best highlight of the race was making it really difficult for Albon to pass he had to go all along the outside of Copse. The Iceman knows they need more performance if they’re going to battle for points, ‘we will need to come up with a better performance if we want to be in the fight for points’.
Antonio Giovinazzi missed out on FP1 as Robert Kubica took the car for the session and considering that, it was a good performance on a personal level to beat Raikkonen in Qualifying for the third successive race. That Italian had a promising start to the race climbing to 15th but he didn’t quite have the race pace on a two-stop strategy and only just finished ahead of the Williams behind. That is slightly disappointing but it especially when he described the Alfa Romeos race pace was ‘once again better’. Alfa Romeo certainly need to improve in Qualifying; they’re the only team to not get a car out of Q1. That is something Frederic Vasseur eluded to when he finished his post-race comments saying, ‘we can’t really get anything out of it if we’re starting that far back’.
Williams have the opposite problem as they seek to claw their way back up the field; Qualifying pace is decent but race pace is not so strong as they struggled with their tyres so much that both drivers had to stop three times. George Russell made it into Q2 for the fourth successive time as he qualified 15th and six tenths ahead of Nicholas Latifi. The Brit has still not been beaten in Qualifying by a teammate and courtesy of the Canadian’s late pit stop he hasn’t been beaten in a race they have both finished yet either. That is despite having a ‘very difficult race’ after a difficult start which dropped him a few places and difficulties with the tyres. Latifi had a different narrative describing the car as ‘feeling great, even better tan last weekend’. He was lucky to finish though after a close shave with Magnussen.
Speaking of Kevin Magnussen, the Danish driver received a 5 second time penalty for the incident at Stowe. He would be the only driver not to make it to the end; the fewest ever retirements in a Grand Prix at Silverstone after he reported vibrations in the car. It made sense really with him struggling plum last after struggling for most of the Grand Prix weekend. The struggles were there to see when he finished 7 tenths adrift of teammate Romain Grosjean in Qualifying as the Frenchman out in a brilliant effort to qualify 14th; his best of the season. Haas attempted a one-stop strategy with Grosjean after a poor opening lap saw him lose three places but being forced into a second stop meant ‘Plan B’ had failed and points were never likely as he came home 16th.
70th Anniversary Grand Prix Ratings
Drivers: Max Verstappen 9.5, Lewis Hamilton 8, Valtteri Bottas 8, Charles Leclerc 9, Alex Albon 7.5, Lance Stroll 7, Nico Hulkenberg 8.5, Esteban Ocon 7.5, Lando Norris 7.5, Daniil Kvyat 8, Pierre gasly 7, Sebastian Vettel 5.5, Carlos Sainz 6, Daniel Ricciardo 6, Kimi Raikkonen 7.5, Romain Grosjean 7, Antonio Giovinazzi 6, George Russell 6.5, Nicholas Latifi 6, Kevin Magnussen 5
Constructors: Red Bull 9, Mercedes 8, Racing Point 7.5, Ferrari 7, Renault 7, McLaren 6.5, Alpha Tauri 7.5, Alfa Romeo 6.5, Haas 6, Williams 6
Leaving the doubleheader at Silverstone, Lewis Hamilton takes with him a 30 point lead in his quest to match Michael Schumacher’s seven world championships. His nearest challenger now is no longer his teammate but Max Verstappen after his terrific win. You have to wonder what the deficit would be if he had not failed to finish the first race in Austria. Valtteri Bottas is now 3rd as Charles Leclerc rose to 4th ahead of Lando Norris. Sebastian Vettel remains on 10 points in 13th which is disappointing and with only four points more than Nico Hulkenberg and he only finished one race,
Mercedes didn’t win but they only dropped one point in the Constructors Championship and have a 67 point lead over Red Bull. Their 2nd place in the standings is relatively secure with almost double the points of Racing Point who recovered all but one of the points they were deducted by the stewards. Ferrari are now 4th on 55 points, leapfrogging McLaren.
After the two successive races in Northamptonshire, F1 leaves Britain and travels to Spain for the final instalment of the second triple-header of the season. The drivers will be more than familiar with the circuit having last been there for pre-season testing back in February. Nico Hulkenberg will travel just in case Sergio Perez returns a third positive coronavirus test but the Mexican is expected to return. Can Mercedes bounce back from their 70th anniversary Grand Prix defeat? If the temperatures are soaring could Max Verstappen and Red Bull mastermind another win? It’s the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for the Spanish Grand Prix