Conclusions from the British Grand Prix: A Silverstone classic

Oliver Harden
British Grand Prix conclusions PlanetF1 2022

The record books will show Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz converted his first Formula 1 pole position into his maiden victory in the 2022 British Grand Prix, but anyone who witnessed it will tell you there was so much more to this race than that.

Here are our conclusions from a Silverstone classic…

Sainz’s first win a reward for someone who never knows when he’s beaten

Whenever drops of rain fall on a Formula 1 race weekend, Sainz’s chances of success rise almost instantly.

Even from his earliest days, his car control – inherited from his World Rally Champion father, no doubt – marked him out as a formidable force in low-grip conditions, and as the heavens opened shortly before qualifying on Saturday there was a sense of opportunity knocking.

As he walked into the Silverstone pit lane just before jumping in the car to gauge the conditions and smell the moisture in the air, Sainz almost assumed on the aura of boxer marking his territory while awaiting his opponent’s ring walk.

He didn’t quite dance in the rain – in fact he came dangerously close to not making the top 10 at all after a cautious first couple of laps in Q2 – but avoided the mistakes of Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc to secure his maiden pole position in conditions perfectly suited to his skillset.

As the rain went away, though, it seemed normal service had resumed on race day.

Sainz’s defence from Verstappen on the first lap of the restart was firm but fair, which made it all the more disappointing when he meekly (albeit briefly) surrendered the lead with a twitch through the Maggotts-Becketts complex on Lap 10.

And when he was later instructed to swap positions with his team-mate on Lap 31, having struggled to match a target time set by the Ferrari pit wall, this felt like yet another day for Sainz to live in Leclerc’s shadow.

Yet this is a driver of enormous resilience, who not only survived but thrived alongside Verstappen at Toro Rosso but recovered from an underwhelming year at Renault in 2018 to rebuild his reputation at McLaren and eventually graduate to Ferrari.

Ferrari’s latest strategic slip during the Safety Car gave Sainz a decisive tyre advantage over Leclerc, but it was up to Carlos – unlike in Canada – to make it count this time.

After a troubled start to 2022 Sainz has edged ever closer to a breakthrough F1 victory in recent weeks, missing out by fine margins in Monaco and Montreal, and he is simply too talented a driver in too quick a car for his wait to have continued any longer.

His first win is a reward for his recent progress, for a driver who never quite knows when he’s beaten.

But at what cost to Leclerc’s faith in Ferrari?

With Verstappen limping around Silverstone with floor damage, the British GP represented a golden opportunity for Leclerc – without a podium in four races since Miami despite starting three of them from pole – to regain crucial ground in the title battle.

Almost from the start, however, there was a strange – some might say Ferrari-esque – reluctance to seize the victory.

This year marks two decades since the great team orders debacle involving Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello and – despite a couple of notable exceptions down the years – it is as though the ghosts of Austria 2002 still haunt Ferrari, whose stance more often than not is to sit back and hope such uncomfortable situations resolve themselves quickly and with minimal fuss.

In any other team, Leclerc’s two victories in three races at the start of the season would have guaranteed him the upper hand in almost every conceivable scenario.

Yet even when they had Verstappen right where they wanted him, Ferrari’s reluctance to be proactive and move Sainz aside left them vulnerable to Hamilton, and when the call eventually came even Sainz himself sounded like he had been allowed to get away with it for a little too long.

Finally freed, Leclerc looked set to claim his first win since April’s Australian GP until the Safety Car intervened and Ferrari inexplicably – but possibly with memories of their disastrous double-stacked stop in Monaco still fresh in the mind – left him out on old hards while pitting Sainz for softs.

The radio message Sainz received before the restart – requesting him to afford his team-mate “breathing room” – was effectively an admission that Ferrari had once again made a mess of things and put Leclerc at a clear disadvantage.

Leclerc fought as gallantly as ever to preserve his place on the podium, but with every defensive move he made against Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton – also, like almost every car in the field, on softs – Sainz scampered further clear to a victory that should really have been his.

Leclerc had not held back in his criticism of Ferrari after the disappointments of Monaco and Baku, and after being the first to congratulate Sainz in parc ferme he was met by team principal Mattia Binotto, whose finger-jabbing almost certainly made his driver more restrained to the media on this occasion.

If only, Charles might’ve wondered, Binotto had shown that kind of strength and authority during the race itself…

Five weeks on from Monaco, which may yet come to be viewed as a pivotal moment in Leclerc’s relationship with Ferrari, all is still not well between team and driver.

All hail the halo

They never tend to come as isolated incidents, these spooky reminders of the ever-present dangers of motor racing, but in waves.

The most famous case, of course, was Imola 1994, when three dreadful accidents in consecutive days culminated in the death of the great Ayrton Senna, but there are other, more recent examples.

Think, for instance, of July 2009 when, less than a week after Henry Surtees was fatally struck on the helmet by a wheel in a Formula 2 race at Brands Hatch, Felipe Massa was injured by a stray spring in

Hungary. Think of October 2011, when IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon and MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli were killed within seven days of one another.

Think of late summer in 2018, when Robert Wickens’ terrifying IndyCar crash at Pocono, Fernando Alonso’s vault over Leclerc’s Sauber at Spa and Marcus Ericsson’s barrel roll at Monza all occurred on successive weekends.

Think also of Bahrain 2020, when the wreckage of Romain Grosjean’s Haas had only just been cleared away before Lance Stroll rolled his car at the race’s resumption.

It is as though the motor racing gods send these occasional reminders that disaster is only ever around the corner, warning us to never become too complacent over safety. Fortunately, the sport has never been better placed to combat and minimise its inherent risks.

Make no mistake, that eeriness was again in the air at Silverstone as the sport not only got away with one, but two scary incidents.

A crash in the F2 race, in which Dennis Hauger’s car was launched off a sausage kerb and directly at the cockpit of Roy Nissany, was followed by the most heart-stopping moment F1 has seen since Grosjean’s lucky escape as Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo left the circuit upside down at speed.

The images of the incident – of Zhou’s halo skimming along the ground, of the Alfa wedged between the tyre barrier and the catch fencing – are scarcely believable, but it sums up F1’s strides on safety that all the driver required after that was a quick trip to the medical centre.

“Halo saved me today,” Zhou later tweeted as the watching world reflected on a day that could have been so much worse.

Motor racing’s forefathers did not die in vain.

Mercedes’ season starts now

It was roughly 20 minutes into the final practice session at Silverstone when George Russell delivered the two words his team had been waiting for all season.

“No bouncing,” he announced from the cockpit of his W13, providing apparent confirmation that Mercedes’ season starts now.

The Silver Arrows’ porpoising problems in 2022 have well documented, yet after a run of three races on circuits with wildly different setup demands there was reason for Mercedes to believe as they returned to a more conventional venue – complete with a smooth surface and flatter kerbs – at Silverstone.

Hamilton and Russell were disappointed to qualify fifth and eighth respectively for their home race, but – as was the case during their breakthrough weekend in Barcelona in May – a better representation of Mercedes’ progress came in race conditions.

Hamilton was within touching distance of the leaders throughout and both he and team boss Toto Wolff felt he could have won were it not for a few details going “against us a little bit”, including his slow pit stop and the late Safety Car.

As if to prove his point, Hamilton set the fastest lap of all on the final lap of the race – three tenths quicker than anyone else.

“I’d like to think we are on the turning point,” Hamilton said when asked if this was a turning point in Mercedes’ season. “We are still on the bend. It was a big improvement from the car, but we’ve still got work to do.”

Maybe so, but at least now they can fight.

Lift off at last for Mick Schumacher

“It’s not very satisfactory having a big crash again,” was Haas team principal Guenther Steiner’s verdict on Mick Schumacher’s race-ending incident in the Monaco GP. “We need to see how we move forward from here.”

After a series of costly crashes at the start of 2022, a public rebuke from the team boss came at a terrible time for Schumacher as F1 moved from Monte Carlo to the most challenging street circuit of all in Azerbaijan.

As he consistently lingered towards the bottom of the timesheets in Baku, presumably petrified of making another mistake on a track that invites them, Schumacher looked for all the world like a driver who had lost his mojo and any semblance of self-confidence.

But, to butcher an oft-repeated phrase, it is far easier to make a fast driver reliable than it is to make a reliable driver fast, and the great sadness of Schumacher’s shunts is that they have undermined the encouraging signs of progress he has made this season.

A breakthrough performance in Miami was followed by a first Q3 appearance in Barcelona before he qualified P6 in Canada, contributing to Haas’s best qualifying result in four years as Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen locked out the third row.

He may have scored points in Montreal were it not for a powertrain problem after 18 laps, but his long wait finally ended in Silverstone, where he finished P8 – and even hassled Verstappen’s wounded Red Bull for seventh in the closing laps – as Haas scored with both cars for the first time since Germany 2019.

With the pressure of scoring his first points lifted, his progress finally rewarded with something tangible, there is every chance the floodgates will open for Schumacher from here.

At last he has lift off; now watch him fly.