The Formula One British Grand Prix
The 70th British Grand Prix at the legendary former WWII Airfield, where it all began for Formula One, way back in April 1950.
In a happy anniversary for us Aussies, Friday marked 10 years since Mark Webber finally broke through and claimed his maiden Grand Prix win at the Nurburgring, and delivered the all-time greatest post-race radio message.
Of course Mark later won twice at Silverstone- 2010 and 2012, which turned out to be his final Grand Prix victory.
This was also the first British Grand Prix since the F1 community lost long-term Race Director Charlie Whiting back in March, giving the chance for some proper tributes from everyone in the paddock to a man who was respected and admired as any driver.
Also as a nice tribute, his son Justin was up on the starter’s podium when the race started!
Red Bull sported some 007 decals on the car (Thanks to the Aston Martin connection) because it was the 1007th F1 race, while Romain Grosjean proved a more useless driver than Mr Bond in practice, by spinning into the pit wall… on his out lap.
I was a tad nervous about what Dan’s pace would be in qualifying, given he had fluctuated between 8th and 14th in Friday Practice, but he pretty comfortably reached Q3, as did Nico Hulkenberg, in a good turnaround from Renault after failing to reach Q3 in Austria.
Charles LeClerc was the only driver who stood a chance of denying the Mercedes Pole Position, and he did rack up the fastest time of Q2 to increase that slimmer of hope… Only for Lewis Hamilton to thump the unofficial lap record on his first lap of Q3, although only seconds later, Bottas thumped him by two-tenths with a 1.25 flat.
It proved to be enough for Pole, as Hamilton’s final lap never looked like surpassing it, only for a monster final sector saw him miss out by just 6-thousandths of a second, while LeClerc actually looked like grabbing pole after Sector Two (He was up by 2-hundredths), but he lost a tenth in the final sector to miss out by 8-hundredths and start from 3rd.
LeClerc once again comfortably beat Sebastian Vettel, who could only qualify 6th (He’s in a serious slump), the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Gasly were 4th and 5th, and a solid 7th for Dan, beating Hulk yet again, and being the best qualifier for ‘Formula 1.5’ (The best non-Mercedes/Ferrari/Red Bull)!
The margin of 6-thousandths between Bottas and Hamilton was the closest margin to decide Pole since Vettel beat Fernando Alonso by 2-thousandths at Germany in 2010.
Sunday was yet another major anniversary, it was 40 years to the day since Williams won their maiden Grand Prix, delivered by Clay Regazzoni at the ’79 British Grand Prix!
The previous day, Alan Jones had scored the team’s first Pole Position, although he retired from the lead on Lap 38 with an engine failure.
Forming part of the Holy Trinity that was the biggest Sunday in the history of British sport- The Cricket World Cup Final, the Wimbledon Final between Djokovic and Federer- Some 141,000 people crammed into Silverstone to watch a pair of flying Silver Arrows destroy their rivals.
Bottas maintained the lead from Hamilton off the start, Vettel jumped Gasly for 5th, while Ricciardo and Norris were engaged in a thrilling fight for 7th, with Norris getting ahead after Ricciardo was forced to yield heading into Maggots.
Further back, Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen made contact with each other on the opening lap, and both HAAS drivers ended their miserable weekends with a retirement.
I’m reminded of quote by HAAS team principal Guenther Steiner about their performance…
Predictably, the Top 6 cleared everyone out with no trouble, and Hamilton was all over the rear of Bottas, and the hometown hero did take the lead on Lap 4, but Bottas fought back superbly to reclaim the lead at Copse.
In a rematch of Austria, Verstappen was all over the rear of LeClerc’s Ferrari, who was struggling for grip come Lap 11, but an overtaking attempt at Aintree corner failed, and allowed Vettel all over the back of the Red Bull.
It was the start of a thrilling battle between both teams, that lasted the whole afternoon.
On Lap 12, Gasly sprang a surprise and passed Vettel for 5th, then the Frenchman pitted the next lap onto the hard tyre, and Ricciardo pitted at the same time to get the undercut on Norris.
It triggered a flurry of activity, mainly between Red Bull and Ferrari on Lap 14, and Verstappen beat out LeClerc in a wheel to wheel duel in the pitlane although LeClerc got back ahead after Max ran wide on the exit.
Further back, Renault actually appeared to get a strategy right, with a 2.4 second stop allowing Ricciardo to pass Norris on the McLaren’s out lap.
Verstappen trying to pass LeClerc was undoubtedly the battle of the race, with their fight resembling Prost climbing all over Senna in 1993, as LeClerc was moving under braking, barely giving an inch to a Crazy Dutchman who doesn’t give an inch.
Hamilton stayed out the longest of the front runners in an effort to get an overcut on Bottas, which was doomed to fail until Lap 20, when Antonio Giovinazzi became the third retirement, when he beached himself in the gravel at Club, bringing out the Safety Car, slowing everyone down, and allowing Hamilton to pit and take the lead.
The luck of the bloody draw.
A host of other drivers pitted, including both Red Bulls (Gasly jumped Verstappen), the Ferraris (LeClerc was dropped to 6th in the latest Maranello muck-up) and Renault pitted Ricciardo, who came back out in 11th, conceding track position to the McLarens and Hulkenberg, who had all stayed out longer and effectively gained a stop.
For some reason, Mercedes didn’t bring Bottas in, leaving him the only driver in the Top 6 who was juking it out on mediums to the end.
Not that it mattered, because it is Mercedes, which could kill the field if it were equipped with square wheels.
When the SC came in on Lap 24, Ricciardo got past Hulk in no time for 10th, and then Sergio Perez tried the same thing, hit Hulkenberg, and lost his front wing.
It meant Dan would be once again stuck behind the McLarens… a reoccuring theme in this Formula 1.5 Championship battle.
Later into the same lap, the epic Verstappen-LeClerc battle continued when the Ferrari got the inside line at Club and sent the Red Bull off the track in revenge for Austria, but Verstappen ultimately succeeded in keeping 5th, and later passed Gasly for 4th, and set off after Vettel.
It calmed down for a few laps after that, as Bottas and Hamilton destroyed the Lap record time after time.
Norris finally pitted on Lap 36, freeing up Ricciardo to attack the lead McLaren of Carlos Sainz, and hopefully reclaim 7th.
And then, came the incident of the race.
Verstappen flew around the outside of Vettel at Stowe on Lap 37 with some DRS assistance, but he went slightly wide on exit, and Seb lined up a pass on the inside of the Dutchman at Club, but Max covered the line, and the Ferrari slammed into the rear of the Red Bull, sending him flying into the gravel and, miraculously out the other side.
Both cars continued- Verstappen in 5th with a damaged car (His power steering was gone) and his podium chances stirred, not shaken, and Vettel wrecked his front wing, fell down the order, and the eventual stop dropped him to last and ended his chances of points.
The German would also receive a 10 second penalty for causing the incident, but it made absolutely no difference given he had gone a lap down- He did apologise to Verstappen after the race.
The incident meant LeClerc was safe in 3rd and Gasly 4th, and it also meant that Sainz vs Ricciardo turned into a battle for 6th and 8 valuable points, but the McLaren’s speed through Maggots, Becketts and Chapell continually give Sainz to gain two-tenths under braking, meaning Dan was never close enough down the Hangar Straight to have a good crack at Stowe.
Mercedes finally pitted Bottas once he was a pit stop clear of LeClerc, but the race was done to a dinner for Hamilton, who was reeling off lap record after lap record.
The final 10 laps from the race director were basically Riccardo Cam, since he and Sainz were the leading battle that still hadn’t been decided, which was a welcome change, considering anyone outside of the Top 6 is usually an afterthought.
Out in front though, Hamilton charged home to win his record sixth British Grand Prix win, capping it off with a lap record on 32 lap old Hard tyres on the final lap, just proving how utterly dominant that Merc is, Bottas made it another Mercedes 1-2, LeClerc bagged another podium in 3rd, Gasly finally beat Verstappen in 2019 thanks to that accident, and Sainz, through sheer good fortune with the Safety Car, finished in 6th, holding off Dan for some 16 laps.
Some other decent efforts deserve a mention- Raikkonen finishing 8th, Kvyat going from 17th to 9th (The race director forgot he existed), and Hulkenberg had a crazy ending to the race, dropping out of the points after thinking he had an engine issue- It turned out to be a dodgy sensor- But he got past Albon for 10th on Lap 51, meaning Renault did achieve a double points finish, although making absolutely no ground on McLaren in the Constructors.
And further down, congratulations to both the Williams, on finishing ahead of a Ferrari!
The 80th crushing win of Hamilton’s career, and his record 6th win of his home race, passing the tie on 5 with the Flying Scotman Jim Clark, and The Professor Alain Prost.
In all, watching the drivers fortunes after the Safety Car was like ‘The Opposite’ episode of Seinfeld.
Hamilton and Sainz were George and took full advantage of the circumstances, Bottas, LeClerc, Ricciardo and Norris were Elaine and lost badly, and drivers like Verstappen and Gasly were Jerry, and ended up Even Steven.
The incident with Verstappen was just the latest in a long line of errors from Seb, and it’s the sort of stupid error he was making as a rookie back in 2007, like when he smacked Mark Webber at Fuji that year and cost him a certain 2nd place finish (I haven’t frikkin’ forgotten).
The crash in Germany last year has finished him mentally
As for Dan, it could so easily have been 6th with the hindsight of better timing (But it is Renault, so I’ll bag them instead for being useless), but starting and finishing 7th is another result that I’ll have to happily accept under these dark and trying times.
NEXT RACE: GERMANY IN A FORTNIGHT