Ferrari’s hopes are deflated, Lewis Hamilton takes the plaudits, Max gets punchy, Hulk’s strong showing, and more of the same at Force India and Toro Rosso.
Echoes of Silverstone 2013 reset title race
The season hit the halfway point in Britain, with the two main title contenders leaving Silverstone separated by a single point. Lewis Hamilton drove an imperious race to claim maximum points and hardly put a wheel wrong all weekend. It was a compelling and resounding statement of intent after his troubles in Azerbaijan and Austria.
Championships are won by the driver who best weathers his troubles. Problems, as we know all too well, manifest in various ways: grid penalties, reliability issues, punctures. For Ferrari and especially Sebastian Vettel, it is one thing to suffer from ill fortune and quite another to deal with it towards the end of a grand prix weekend. The late puncture meant that the German and his team had no time to recover – a la Daniel Ricciardo’s excellent recovery drive to fifth after his grid penalty – but it provided Hamilton with the perfect opportunity to recover the points he has lost in recent races.
Fearful of facing problems with the tyres, Red Bull stopped Max Verstappen late in the race while Ferrari pushed on with their marginal strategy. The result was punctures for both Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Somewhat reminiscent of the six blowouts and punctures of 2013, the title race is effectively even after Ferrari’s tyre woes in Britain. Mercedes also appear to be winning the development race and have all the momentum. Ferrari have a fortnight to gather themselves before the Hungarian Grand Prix but on the evidence of Vettel’s race in Britain, the Scuderia will be on the back foot as F1 prepares for its summer break.
Wheel-to-wheel action excites fans
Verstappen and Vettel offered the Silverstone crowd a masterclass in close combat on lap 1 and through the opening stanza of the race. There was some moaning from the drivers over team radio, but it is a relief for those watching that the stewards refrained from punishing the combatants for feisty but largely fair driving.
Verstappen’s recent run of bad luck has motivated him to show what he can do behind the wheel. After a punchy first lap in which he got past Vettel, the Red Bull man went from aggressor to defender on lap 13 as Vettel found the tow down Hangar Straight before launching an attack up the inside of Stowe. Verstappen came back through Vale to claim the racing line into Club and force Ferrari into a strategic shift that ultimately resulted in the undercut.
The on-track action was sufficiently exciting to garner roars of approval from the fans, though at least some of the volume could be attributed to the partisan crowd enjoying seeing Vettel’s efforts be rebuffed.
High-quality drives rewarded
Hamilton deserved praise for an effortless victory – though make no mistake, the Brit was full value for his win on his home patch. Elsewhere through the pack, Ricciardo couldn’t extend his run of five straight podiums but he again showed superb racecraft and deft overtaking skill to recover from a gearbox penalty.
While we talk often about Fernando Alonso’s wasted years at McLaren, a similar narrative is emerging at Red Bull. Yes, Ricciardo is a multiple race winner; yet one has to contemplate what he could do in race trim if Red Bull could build a car that could consistently qualify in the top three or four slots.
Nico Hulkenberg again underscored his and Renault’s resurgence. Although Vettel’s puncture was a gift and gave him sixth instead of seventh, it was another fine performance from the German. Lest we forget, he also managed to qualify sixth – something that a certain Mr Alonso may have noted with interest.
Team-mate laws and wars
F1 drivers have a simple mandate: drive as fast as possible. Two other laws dictate the fundamentals of the sport. One, the first man you have to beat is your team-mate; and two, don’t drive into your team-mate.
With tensions already simmering at Toro Rosso, the accident between Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz – which resulted in Sainz’s retirement – may be the event that the second law and breaks forever the fragile peace at the team. With both set to be retained for 2018 but Sainz keen on a move and ever-increasing conflict, Toro Rosso team bosses have their hands full to keep their young chargers in line.
Two more penalty points for ‘The Torpedo’.
— Planet F1 (@Planet_F1) July 16, 2017
At Force India, Esteban Ocon beat Sergio Perez for only the second time, though again questions will be asked about whether the team should have instituted team orders to maximise their points haul (Perez having been quicker than Ocon through crucial stages of the race). Ocon has emerged as a real star of 2017 and lies a mere nine points behind the highly rated Perez, who is rumoured to be having conversations with a couple of works teams.
Richard F Rose