The one team to watch at Silverstone as Red Bull aim to lift British GP curse

Oliver Harden
Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez at the Austrian Grand Prix. Spielberg, July 2023.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez battle at the start of the 2023 Austrian Grand Prix.

So, what to make of Mercedes’ major F1 2023 upgrade four races in?

If it’s true that suddenly sprouting sidepods in Monaco was never going to make the W14 an instant Red Bull beater, it’s also fair to have expected slightly more.

Sure, the highs have been encouraging – Lewis Hamilton and George Russell both finishing on the podium in Spain, the latter from 12th on the grid, and Hamilton matching up well against Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin to finish third in Canada – but there have also been quite a few worrying signs too.

Mercedes still lagging way behind Red Bull after big upgrade

Should a team supposedly now definitely, unquestionably, indisputably on the right track still be suffering early exits in qualifying, as Russell did in Barcelona and Austria (with Hamilton also 18th out of 20 in the sprint shootout)?

Should a well-balanced car with lots of grip leave its driver frustrated by refusing to turn into the corners, as Hamilton complained over team radio remarkably early into the race at the Red Bull Ring?

And why exactly is Russell – having coped so well in the zero-pod’s dying days – now incapable of getting a tune out of the car as consistently as Hamilton, to the point that he crashed in Canada in his efforts to keep up?

The team and drivers may talk positively in public but there remains deep problems at Mercedes – which places such huge importance on step two of their new development path at this weekend’s British Grand Prix.

If the results from take one are at best inconclusive, this weekend’s upgrade is potentially pivotal to their hopes of ever catching Red Bull, not just in 2023, but for the whole remainder of F1’s current rules cycle.

Mercedes, as in Barcelona, produced one of their strongest performances of a painful 2022 season at Silverstone and will at least be encouraged by Red Bull’s dismal record at this venue.

Not since Mark Webber’s gutsy victory in 2012 have Red Bull won the British GP – though Max Verstappen did win F1’s 70th anniversary race at a hot Silverstone in 2020 (and whatever you do, don’t mention Copse 2021..) – but after straight five wins Verstappen will surely fancy his chances of putting that right this weekend.

Expect the sight of the reigning World Champion and the flawless RB19 in full flight through the change-of-direction sequence of Maggotts/Becketts to be one to behold.

Unless for once Mercedes’ upgrade is as good as they keep saying it is and totally transforms the balance of power at the front, expect Ferrari to emerge as Red Bull’s biggest threat if recent evidence is anything to go by.

Against all expectations, Ferrari have succeeded where Mercedes failed by introducing an upgrade that has made an immediate, instantly noticeable and seemingly permanent impact, with the SF-23 car all the better for it.

However fast Verstappen is through Maggotts/Becketts, expect Charles Leclerc to not be far behind.

Unless the classic British summer delivers another cold weekend – much, astonishingly, like Barcelona – in which case he won’t be able to switch on the hardest tyre compounds and team-mate Carlos Sainz, all reflexes and abrupt inputs (and the popular winner here last year of course), will once again come to the fore (you heard it here first..).

The battle behind Red Bull is likely to fluctuate from race to race, from circuit to circuit, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that Aston Martin are just beginning to lag behind in the development race.

There would be no shame in that – 2023 is the breakthrough year of a serious long-term project as the team manage a transition to their new factory next to this very circuit – yet after a second anonymous race in three in Austria the signs are worrying.

With Silverstone containing many of the long, high-speed corners that did for Aston Martin in Barcelona and Styria, this may be a weekend just to get through unscathed before Alonso gets his next shot at a win – quite possibly his last of 2023 – in Hungary next time out.

Behind Red Bull and the Mercedes/Ferrari/Aston Martin battle a familiar fight for fifth is brewing between Alpine and McLaren.

Having suffered a challenging start to the season for different reasons, both teams have experienced a moment of enlightenment in recent weeks – for Esteban Ocon’s surprise Monaco podium, see Lando Norris’s fine drive to fourth in the upgraded McLaren – with this battle set to run and run until the end of 2023.

With Alpine currently holding an 18-point advantage the development race will potentially be pivotal and to that end Alpine will hit back with a revision of their own this weekend, while Oscar Piastri will receive the updates Norris had in Austria as the British driver goes on to the next stage of McLaren’s characteristically complex three-race upgrade plan. recommends

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And what of Ferrari customers Haas and Alfa Romeo?

Haas scored points at Silverstone for only the second time in their history last season as Mick Schumacher claimed his best F1 result up to that point – but that didn’t do him much good at the end of the year, did it?

If there is even a hint of moisture in the air in the Silverstone region this weekend, expect Nico Hulkenberg – fresh from his amazing feats in the wet in Canada and Austria recently – to shine again with Kevin Magnussen somewhere between “not far” and “actually quite a long way” behind.

Returning to a circuit with so many high-speed corners may bring some joy to Alfa, who with the increasingly impressive Zhou Guanyu scored valuable points back in Barcelona before Valtteri Bottas added another one in Canada.

Williams have become the unexpected stars of the show in recent weeks, Alex Albon following up his stunning seventh place in Canada with a second successive Q3 appearance in Austria.

The team famously claimed the first of their 114 wins at Silverstone but it doesn’t take a technical director – a position still officially vacant at Grove, despite James Vowles revealing that a successor to Francois-Xavier Demaison has been found – to make you realise that the circuit does not suit the 2023 vintage.

Expect Williams to revert to type for the next two races as Albon gears himself up for another surprise at Spa.

Will Nyck de Vries, meanwhile, even make it as far as Spa?

After Red Bull’s Helmut Marko revealed last week that Christian Horner wasn’t all that keen on signing him for AlphaTauri for 2023 from the start, the pressure is rising after yet another scrappy weekend in Austria.

With a two-week break between Silverstone and Hungary creating a natural gap in which to make a change – realistically the last opportunity to do so before the summer break – might this be De Vries’ last race as an F1 driver?

Read next: Uncovering McLaren’s upgrades: The secrets behind the Austrian Grand Prix surge