Lewis Hamilton clung on for a heartstopping seventh British Grand Prix triumph, finishing on three wheels amid a plethora of late punctures that shook up the finishing order.
Here are our conclusions after an extraordinary finish at Silverstone.
Red Bull hand Hamilton the win – and surely another World Championship
It was a Red Bull strategy call that ensured he did.
‘Overly cautious’ have to be the words to describe Red Bull’s decision to bring in Max Verstappen for a second tyre change that gave him the chance to bag the World Championship point available for the fastest lap.
The Dutchman did get that point, but if he had stayed out then his haul would have been 25 rather than the 19 after finishing P2 and his team would have been celebrating their first victory of the season.
Red Bull must have known about the condition of the tyres on the two Mercedes, which were in a worse state than Verstappen’s. From the way their tyres looked, it was no great shock to see Valtteri Bottas, and then Hamilton, suffer punctures (as did Carlos Sainz’s McLaren).
— iGP Manager (@iGPManager) August 2, 2020
The decision, which gave Hamilton a lead of over 30 seconds, meant the World Champion had enough of a gap to squeeze over the line as Verstappen bore down on him with a purple last lap and it meant three wins out of four this season for the dominant Brit.
Not only that, but with Bottas’ puncture occurring in the worst possible place when passing the pits and meaning he had to negotiate the whole circuit before stopping for fresh rubber, the Finn tumbled down the order to finish P11 and out of the points.
Therefore, Hamilton’s World Championship lead is now 30 points over his team-mate, which looks an impossible deficit to make up.
Ironically, Verstappen would be second in the standings but for that pit call rather than 36 points adrift.
Late drama lifts hopes for next week
Before the flurry of punctures, our next Google search was set to be ‘7-day Silverstone weather forecast’ to check out the chances of rain affecting next weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
That doesn’t seem quite so important now.
Unless, that is, Pirelli reverse the decision they have made to go with softer tyre compounds after witnessing those delaminations. In fairness, as we all know, having to watch drivers saving tyres does not make for much of a spectacle.
— Planet F1 (@Planet_F1) August 2, 2020
At the time of writing, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner was on Sky Sports predicting hotter weather (perhaps he HAD done the Google search), two-stop strategies across the board and citing Mercedes’ relative struggles when temperatures are higher.
Let’s hope Christian is proven right because, frankly, until the last few laps, it was all fairly dull – apart from the accidents involving Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat that brought out the Safety Car twice.
The wind blew but the rain did not fall this weekend. If it’s hot rather than wet next Sunday, at least we still have the prospect of the tyres again livening things up.
Pecking order established
Four races into the 2020 season, a tier system now looks to be in place, at least when it comes to the races.
Tier 1: Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen
Tier 2: Ferrari, Renault, Racing Point, McLaren, Alex Albon (more on him later)
Tier 3: AlphaTauri, Haas, Williams, Alfa Romeo
Front-runners, midfield, backmarkers. Okay, that is perhaps a bit harsh on Pierre Gasly after a fine P7 finish at Silverstone (more on him later too). But certainly we seem to have a general hierarchy in respect of the teams.
Racing Point are a curiosity. They continue to shine in practice and qualifying but lack pace on Sundays. Lance Stroll was fastest of all in FP2 but ended up dropping down to P9 in the race, which would have been P10 but for Bottas’ late mishap.
Well that was a wild end to the race! 😱
— BWT Racing Point F1 Team (@RacingPointF1) August 2, 2020
It turned out to be a weekend to forget for the ‘Pink Panthers’ with Nico Hulkenberg’s shock return to F1 because of Sergio Perez’s positive COVID-19 test turning sour when he did not even make it out of the garage for the race as his engine could not be fired up.
And, of course, the most unexpected aspect of the tiers above is Ferrari’s descent into the midfield. Charles Leclerc is doing his utmost to buck the trend with two podium finishes this term, but that appears to be very much a case of the driver making up for the car – and he is certainly outperforming his team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who had another miserable weekend.
Is time running out for Albon?
After the Styrian Grand Prix, we speculated about what the future may hold for Alex Albon.
It seemed a tad premature in a way, but there can be no denying now that the ghoulish prospect of a tap on the shoulder from Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko may be a reality soon.
Even a different race engineer, with the experienced Simon Rennie taking over, brought no change of luck for the London-born Thai driver at Silverstone.
Albon’s uninspiring recent form continued with a P12 start and a first-lap collision with Kevin Magnussen, for which he incurred a five-second penalty as the Haas driver’s race ended early in the gravel.
— Aston Martin Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) August 2, 2020
Last of the remaining runners, Albon then did what he does best, fighting his way up through the field with a series of overtakes to finish an ultimately creditable P8.
But it was not what Red Bull need from Verstappen’s team-mate. And even more disconcertingly for Albon, one place ahead of him, and outscoring him for the second time in four races this year, was the man whose seat he took – Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri.
With another ex-Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat having ended up against the wall at Maggots, Gasly is establishing himself as the top dog at AlphaTauri. The Frenchman appears to have regained the confidence that must have been shattered when he was demoted last season in favour of Albon.
Just what is it about that other side of the Red Bull garage that means Verstappen’s team-mates, however talented they clearly are, simply cannot maximise their opportunity? Since Daniel Ricciardo moved on, that is.
It’s a conundrum for Horner, Marko et al and while we fully expect Albon to have further chances to prove himself in the next two races at Silverstone and Barcelona, come Spa at the end of August it may just be different if things do not improve.
After all, there is a precedent – it was before the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix that Albon and Gasly were swapped to their current teams…