Red Bull’s Max Verstappen claimed his sixth consecutive victory in the British Grand Prix to extend his lead over Sergio Perez to 99 points after 10 races of the F1 2023 season.
Lando Norris made his first appearance on the podium since Imola 2022 to round off a very encouraging weekend for McLaren, with Lewis Hamilton benefiting from a late Safety Car to take third for Mercedes.
Here are our conclusions from Silverstone…
Lando Norris really, really needed that
Norris is quite a sensitive soul by F1 standards and effectively admitted ahead of the British GP that McLaren’s struggles over the last year had affected his sense of self-worth.
Having claimed four podiums, a pole position and occasionally challenged for victories two years ago, 2022 was tough to take and his most recent podium at Imola last April almost seemed to mark the end of his F1 adolescence – one last celebration, a slight hangover from the golden days of 2021, before the harsh realities of this sport kicked in.
With so few cars capable of challenging for regular wins and podiums across any given season, he told the Press Association of his pain that he still doesn’t have a victory to his name five seasons into his F1 career.
What if, he wondered aloud, that ends up becoming 10? “I want to win so much, but at the same time it feels so far away,” he sighed.
Little wonder, then, that Norris expressed his trepidation over team radio to the McLaren pit wall as he prepared for the restart on hard tyres at Silverstone as several cars, led by Hamilton with most on softer compounds, lurked behind him.
Was it happening all over again?
Just like Sochi 2021, when he was cruelly denied a first win by Hamilton in uncertain conditions, was a milestone result about to be taken from him with the end in sight having been utterly flawless all weekend?
Losing a podium at his home race in those circumstances risked being just as damaging to Norris as that day in Russia, but F1’s boy next door showed he has a streetfighter side too – resisting Hamilton’s advances for long enough for his hards to generate temperature and re-establish the McLaren’s intrinsic performance advantage over the Mercedes.
Not only was he remarkably calm under pressure, he was tough and spirited – as though Norris had channelled every single one of his disappointments over the last 18 months into an over-my-dead-body determination to stay ahead.
Having struggled for anything good to say about McLaren in recent times, keeping expectations firmly in check even in the better moments, ever since he first sampled the first of the MCL60’s major upgrades in Austria there has been a noticeable change in tone from Norris when it comes to the team’s direction of travel.
It is as if he has suddenly been transported right back to 2021, as if the frustrations since that breakthrough season have all just faded away. A good car has a funny way of having that effect.
Make no mistake: he really, really needed that result.
Lewis Hamilton would be foolish to commit to Mercedes yet
After two seasons of everyone at Mercedes overpromising and underdelivering, is Hamilton at last beginning to see the light?
Rather than treating us to his traditional post-race shtick about corners being turned and a team on the right track straight after another illusionary result – and such a great crowd too! – after his podium at Silverstone all he wanted was an answer to the question he’d been asking all weekend.
Why is it, he said more than once, that Ferrari and even McLaren have quite easily managed to do what Mercedes still cannot?
Upgrades for both Mercedes’ rivals in recent weeks have heralded a noticeable and immediate step forward, succeeding in making both cars more aerodynamically efficient and bringing an upturn in results, yet Hamilton’s team continue to chase their tails even after the W14 car finally sprouted sidepods in Monaco.
After another key update – this time a revised front wing – failed to make much of a difference at Silverstone, could it be that the 2023 Mercedes is actually worse than last year’s?
The bouncing monster may have been badly born, but at least demonstrated a clear rate of improvement across the season and had already shown glimpses of race-winning promise at this point in 2022.
As for the 2023 car? At Silverstone it strayed from troublesome and temperamental into the territory of pure evil, prone to suddenly snapping on both drivers all weekend (George Russell even had to collect a twitchy moment at Copse in the early stages of the race as he tracked Charles Leclerc).
Even more alarming than the W14’s characteristics was Toto Wolff’s insistence last week that Mercedes will continue to develop it for the remainder of the season, despite the obvious constraints that come with trying to improve a car still carrying the original tub designed around the abandoned zero-pod concept.
Any further time spent flogging this particular dead horse would be time better spent on a clean slate for 2024, surely Mercedes’ last remaining hope of ever catching Red Bull for the remainder of F1’s current rules cycle.
All this comes at a delicate time in Hamilton’s contract negotiations, with Wolff providing another update this week that talks over an extension are into the finer details, having already claimed in Canada last month that a deal was just days away from completion.
It remains unsigned and Hamilton, for all his affection for Mercedes, would be foolish to commit at a time nothing he sees inspires any confidence that the team can turn their situation around.
Not when Ferrari would gladly make space for him in a heartbeat.
A lack of alternatives may keep Sergio Perez at Red Bull
The great irony of all this is that Red Bull may be happier with Sergio Perez now than when he was winning races at the start of the season.
They will never admit that, of course, but there was an uncomfortable undercurrent of competitive tension in those now-distant days, when Perez and Verstappen would not stop trading fastest laps – each not quite trusting the other – against the pleas of the pit wall in Jeddah; when Perez, getting just slightly ahead of himself, claimed he really could win the 2023 title and called for equal treatment from Red Bull.
Nothing wrong with that, you might say, but in a team whose entire world quite clearly revolves around Max? A team who, stretching back to the days of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, have been consistently ineffective in resolving issues between their drivers?
A civil war between two proud, aggressive racing drivers both slow to back down on the evidence of the opening lap of the Austria sprint race last weekend would have risked overshadowing all the good Red Bull have done in 2023.
And by being Sergio Perez now – limited, undependable, the ultimate fair-weather F1 driver who dissolves with the first drop of rain – he has allowed Max Verstappen the breathing space to be Max Verstappen, looking every inch the three-time World Champion in waiting.
But how low can he go? How bad must it get? How long can Red Bull keep ignoring it and hoping it goes away before they are left with no option but to address the Perez problem?
After all, the whole point of parting from the habit of a lifetime and signing Perez in late 2020 was that having a resilient, reliable grizzly old pro alongside Verstappen would put an end to the days of the second Red Bull floundering in the midfield.
In the RB19, already among the most dominant cars in F1 history, Perez has reached Q3 at just four of the first 10 races and hasn’t started inside the top 10 for five races since setting pole position in Miami more than two months ago.
It is a run particularly galling for Red Bull, who made a concerted effort this year to bring the bottom up by designing a car to suit the styles of both drivers – an admission, perhaps, that development did indeed sway in Max’s direction in 2022 – and gave Perez the best preparation possible back in pre-season testing by allowing him to drive in the best conditions.
And maybe they would be more minded to overlook his poor run if Perez’s first thought when starting in the same postcode as Verstappen for the first time in a while in the Austria sprint wasn’t to put Red Bull’s reigning double World Champion on the wet grass at the team’s home event – an act of war after which both drivers wisely backed away from the brink.
It was a heat-of-the-moment move with potentially serious long-term consequences for Perez, crystallising the thought that the pair may be better kept apart after all. For good.
With a commanding lead in both Championships – Perez will surely muster enough points across the second half of the season to finish second in the standings – this prolonged period of underperformance will not hurt Red Bull so much this year.
But let’s say – somehow – that the gap to Red Bull closes sufficiently enough to create a true title fight in 2014… could Perez still be trusted to act as Verstappen’s wingman in the face of a rejuvenated Hamilton, Russell, Leclerc and Fernando Alonso?
The most damning assessment of Perez’s recent results came this week from McLaren chief executive Zak Brown, who told media including PlanetF1.com that Red Bull’s dominance was limited to “just Max’s car” with Perez’s performances bringing “everyone back into the mix” and offering hope that they can be caught.
If not Perez, however, then who?
Speaking after qualifying at Silverstone, Red Bull’s Helmut Marko – the man who ultimately will decide his future – admitted “there is no need for action at the moment” primarily because “there’s no one who could replace him.”
Alex Albon? Currently thriving at Williams, but Verstappen has already taken the light from his eyes once before. And, as Pierre Gasly discovered, once Red Bull have made their minds up about a driver…
Nico Hulkenberg? The one Red Bull really should have signed instead of Perez for 2021. But he’ll be 36 next month and it’s been said since 2010 that his height would be a serious problem for Adrian Newey’s famously exacting design requirements.
Daniel Ricciardo? Maybe, but only a flawless second half of the season in an AlphaTauri would convince teams that he’s the same driver he always was before his McLaren nightmare.
It could be that Red Bull will simply be stuck with Perez, left to hope that he can somehow haul himself out of his current rut and reset for the rest of this year and next.
Lando Norris should get out of McLaren before he struggles to contain Oscar Piastri
When Carlos Sainz was chosen as Vettel’s replacement at Ferrari back in 2020, it was hard to escape the feeling that he was getting out of McLaren at just the right time.
He was evenly matched with Norris across two seasons, yet already there were signs that Lando – only just out of his teens at the end of his second year in F1 – was on an upward trajectory that would make him the breakout star of the 2021 season.
Had he hung around at McLaren any longer than he did, Sainz may have struggled to contain the coming man and Ferrari may not have looked at him in quite the same way.
Three years later, is there a danger that Norris may soon find himself in that position?
Norris may have been the only McLaren driver on the podium at Silverstone, but just as impressive over the British GP weekend was the performance of his team-mate Oscar Piastri.
It was here in 2022, of course, that Piastri signed the deal to replace Daniel Ricciardo, the contract saga with Alpine that followed instantly marking him out as different to the average driver who arrives in F1 – not just content with a seat but ruthlessly positioning himself to ensure he got the right seat.
He makes for a fascinating contrast to his team-mate, Piastri more distant with the unmistakeable touch and killer instinct of Verstappen/Michael Schumacher about him – a benefit of having the experience of Webber by his side, maybe? – as Norris, the social media whizz, retains the adorable demeanour of the boy next door.
McLaren’s stuttering start to the season had prevented Piastri from announcing his arrival in a similar way Verstappen did by qualifying sixth in an unfancied Toro Rosso in the wet in just his second F1 appearance at Malaysia 2015, the breakthrough performance that time forgot in light of Barcelona/Brazil 2016.
Yet, handed the upgrades Norris used to such good effect in Austria, for the first time in 2023 Piastri had a car he could work with at Silverstone – qualifying just a tenth short of Norris and only losing a place on the podium through an ill-timed Safety Car.
And all this just 10 races into his career, having spent the entirety of last season on the sidelines.
It was a performance to confirm to the watching world what McLaren and Alpine already knew as they fought over him this time a year ago: Piastri is the most exciting talent to land in F1 since Verstappen – and that includes Leclerc, Russell and Norris.
And like his team-mate in 2019/20, he will surely only get better from here as his experience grows and his data banks expand.
Enjoy the podium, Lando – but also take note.
Ferrari are falling out of love with Carlos Sainz – and vice versa
Maybe it was inevitable after Fred Vasseur, a long-term ally of Leclerc, was appointed as the new team principal last winter, but it’s beginning to feel like Ferrari are beginning to fall out of love with Sainz.
And the feeling, it appears, is mutual.
Sainz struggled to conceal his frustration in Austria last weekend, upset by the team’s refusal to allow him to pass Leclerc despite his clear pace advantage in the opening laps.
It did not matter to him – a racing driver viewing everything through the prism of his own visor – that it had been agreed before the race as Ferrari aimed to protect what they had – using DRS to pull clear of the pack – rather than launch a futile pursuit of Verstappen’s dominant Red Bull.
Carlos took it personally, his slow stop as the team double-stacked during the Virtual Safety Car only adding insult to injury and leaving him fourth (later downgraded to sixth after his track limits penalty) as Leclerc secured only Ferrari’s second podium of the season.
It is in that context Ferrari’s latest team orders drama – an F1 season just wouldn’t be complete without one – at Silverstone on Saturday must be seen, when Sainz was instructed to give way to Leclerc in the pit lane of all places upon the resumption of Q1 with three minutes left on the clock.
Although Leclerc had priority this weekend, Sainz’s argument was that a single-lap shootout in a wet Q1 wasn’t the time, the place or the conditions to start picking favourites and promptly, cheekily repassed his team-mate as the cars queued at the end of the outlap.
Ferrari may have been rigidly sticking to the plan each time, but these incidents will have only confirmed the idea in Sainz’s mind that this is becoming Leclerc’s team – potentially rooted in an eagerness to please him after recent high-profile errors – and repassing his team-mate was slightly out of character for a driver who has loyally followed instructions of this kind with no questions asked in the past.
Sainz may lack Leclerc’s absolute ceiling, but on current evidence is far too capable a driver – with too strong a personality – to be stuffed into a wingman role.
He deserves to be a team leader somewhere, just not perhaps a team of Ferrari’s statue. No surprise, then, that those Audi rumours are refusing to go away…