By Chris Medland
Motor Sport Magazine
Just when Formula 1 is feeling really predictable, it serves up a reminder that nothing is a certainty in this sport.
Max Verstappen reminded his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase to drink during the British Grand Prix, because he was in the middle of a lonely drive to third place. Even with a tyre compound difference for this weekend’s Silverstone round, he predicted the same would happen again.
“Did you do it? Did you hydrate during the race? You must have some sweaty hands as well so don’t forget to sanitise,” came this week’s radio message.
Was that because Verstappen was lonely? Perhaps, but this time he was all alone out front.
It was a win that was set up on Saturday, when Red Bull opted to qualify on the hard tyre and start the race on that compound, compared to mediums for the rest of the top ten. The way Verstappen has been performing in race trim this season, the worst case scenario was he was again a distant third. Best case, he could disrupt the Mercedes pair ahead.
There was the small matter of Nico Hülkenberg starting third on the grid, but Verstappen dispatched the Racing Point off the line and set about putting the pressure on Mercedes instantly.
Valtteri Bottas held off Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap and quickly the front three were running a few seconds apart. Verstappen closed up to the back of Hamilton by lap 10, only to be warned by his race engineer that he should drop back to preserve his tyre advantage.
“Mate this is the only chance to be this close to the Mercedes, I’m not just going to sit behind like a Grandma!” came the reply.
Verstappen would be proven wrong. But his confidence in sticking to Hamilton’s gearbox showed how comfortable he was with his car on the hard tyre. The same could not be said when the two Mercedes’ stopped to join him.
Bottas came in first on lap 13, and Verstappen looked to be sizing Hamilton up when he pitted a lap later. Then in clear air he simply pulled away and Mercedes – on new hard tyres so now with an advantage in theory – had no answer.
“I was trying, if there was a chance, to keep up with Max,” Bottas said. “But as soon as I started to push, towards the end, the tyres just fell apart. There was a lot of blistering on the tyres for us today and it seems like Red Bull had none, so they clearly have an edge over there.”
Verstappen came in at the end of lap 26 and switched to mediums, emerging just behind Bottas. But it took him just four corners to regain the lead and pull a gap that left him in complete control.
“I didn’t expect that,” Verstappen said. “I had a good start first of all so I was straight away into P3 and that of course helps. Then I knew the first few laps maybe it would be a bit more difficult to follow, but I could see both cars in front of me were having trouble with the tyres which is quite normal when the tyres are so soft. So I closed the gap a bit and once they pitted I could pick up my pace and do my own laps and basically until I pitted it just felt really good, I never really had any struggles and I could extend that first stint which I think was key.
“Our stop was not great, I think one wheel was a bit slow so I came out behind Valtteri, but I had the softer compound and a lot more grip so I got past Valtteri and then basically the gap stayed the same – between 2.5-3sec.”
Red Bull were even able to pit on the same lap as Bottas made his second stop, even though it came just six laps into Verstappen’s medium tyre stint, in order to cover off any threat of an undercut. From there it was plain sailing, even if there was an outside chance of Hamilton running to the end that prompted an increase of pace just to force Mercedes’ hand.
“We pitted together for that final stint and then it was a question mark of who is going to be first to the line? But straight away the car felt good on those tyres again and I never really had any trouble with the tyre and I think that was key today.”
Hamilton wasn’t seen as a threat until just before his final stop, when Red Bull questioned whether an ambitious attempt to reach the finish on one stop was on the cards.
“I was trying to go for a one-stop at the end but there was a lot of vibration with the tyres that we had and I didn’t know if the tyre was going to last to be honest,” Hamilton said. “Not just with the rubber but a rear tyre blowout through a corner was too big a risk to take. That would have been the end of the race, so I think it was a good decision by the team.
“I was trying to keep going but there was a lot of laps to go. Max I think was doing 1min 29s and I couldn’t do that on the old tyre, so congratulations to him, he did a fantastic job. It was an exciting race even for me with the struggles that we had, keeping the car on track and not losing my cool, brining it home and getting the points.”
Behind the top three, fourth place for Charles Leclerc was just as unexpected as his third place from the weekend before. Ferrari looked less competitive on Friday and Saturday than seven days ago, but Leclerc showed stunning pace during a long second stint on hard tyres to make a one-stop work.
Strategically it was an excellent call, but the fight behind him saw questions asked from a strategy point of view. Nico Hülkenberg was fifth and comfortable in terms of pace, but a late stop for used soft tyres with fewer than ten laps remaining dropped him to seventh behind Alex Albon and Lance Stroll as the Red Bull took advantage with three laps to go.
“We were forced to pit off the prime set,” Hülkenberg explained. “I got a couple of nice big blisters on both rear tyres and the vibration just got so quickly out of hand that within two or three laps it just skyrocketed. I don’t think the tyre would have survived to the end.”
It was still a highly impressive performance from the substitute, taking adding six points to the Racing Point total and finishing ahead of Esteban Ocon – one-stopping like Leclerc – Lando Norris and Daniil Kvyat.
While the two one-stoppers were delighted with their work, their team-mates were victims of their own errors. Sebastian Vettel spun at Abbey at the start and somehow didn’t collect Carlos Sainz, before Daniel Ricciardo later also swapped ends at Village, again trying to negotiate a right-hander on the inside of the Spaniard.
Sainz ended up outside the points himself after a slow pit stop, but will be hoping for a better time at Ferrari than Vettel is currently experiencing, after another radio message that betrayed the atmosphere within the team.
“This is the gap that we didn’t like, we spoke about it this morning,” Vettel said when running in traffic after his first stop. “I’ll hang in there, but you know you’ve messed up.”
At least the picture is a lot brighter at his former team after its fourth win in partnership with Honda and the first for anyone other than Mercedes this season. It sees Verstappen overtake Bottas for second place in the drivers’ championship, although Hamilton’s lead remains 30 points after setting the fastest lap.
The advantage Mercedes has in qualifying is not replicated to anywhere near the same degree in race trim, and Verstappen is driving superbly. He already has a DNF from the first race of the season that took him out of a podium position, and today’s win just raises the question of how close Verstappen can push Hamilton.
With more high temperatures in Barcelona expecting next weekend, maybe that march to a seventh world championship won’t prove quite so predictable after all.
2020 F1 70th Anniversary Grand Prix results
|1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||25|
|5||Alex Albon||Red Bull||10|
|6||Lance Stroll||Racing Point||8|
|7||Nico Hülkenberg||Racing Point||6|
|15||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo|
|17||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo|
*Additional point for fastest lap
Lewis Hamilton wins the 2020 British Grand Prix with his heart in his mouth as his tyre fails on the final lap of the race
By Chris Medland
Motor Sport Magazine
Even an eternal optimist would have struggled to see the dramatic conclusion of the British Grand Prix coming — despite the lessons learned from Austria.
At the season-opener, a well-timed Safety Car mixed up the field and eventually saw Lewis Hamilton drop off the podium in a chaotic final few laps. Like the Red Bull Ring, Silverstone is hosting two races in a row this year, and like the Red Bull Ring, it also opened up with a thrilling finale to round one.
Hamilton had just two miles left of a race he’d led from the start when his tyre failed on the final lap. As smoke poured from the disintegrating rubber, a charging Max Verstappen was in the process of setting the fastest lap of the grand prix in second place, closing down the stricken Mercedes.
It was a scene that cried out for a crowd on their feet, with a soundtrack of gasps and encouragement from the grandstands, but the living room scenes of TV viewers were not hard to imagine, as Hamilton limped to a narrow seventh British Grand Prix win.
The race started with a collision between Alex Albon and Kevin Magnussen, with the latter ending up with three wheels in the gravel trap at the final corner. Magnussen had hit the kerb on the inside of Club and run wide, allowing Albon a chance but the gap was always closing and the contact earned him a five-second time penalty.
“By the time I saw him it was way too late for me to really give him any room, I think it would have been very easy for him to be able to wait – he had a way faster car and he would have easily gone past me anyway,” Magnussen said. “Clearly there weren’t any bad intentions from him, just a misjudgment.”
Albon had already pit for hard tyres when the rest of field followed suit under the Safety Car, brought out due to a spectacular crash for Daniil Kvyat. The Russian lost control entering Maggots at high speed, the car snapping away from him in peculiar fashion and suffering a heavy impact against the barrier.
Given the strange location of the incident, it took six laps to clear the car, giving the whole field the chance to pit for hard tyres and run to the end. The only driver not to do so was Romain Grosjean who stayed out on mediums, but it was a gamble that wouldn’t pay off.
Like Austria, there seemed little chance for significant action given the fact that all cars were on the same strategy, but the final laps would prove enthralling once again.
The first signs came when Valtteri Bottas – who had been keeping Hamilton honest and within two seconds for much of the race – started to fade back towards Max Verstappen. The Red Bull was already more competitive in race trim but over ten seconds adrift until the final six laps, and with four remaining Verstappen suddenly made a big gain. Then it became apparent why, as Bottas went wide at Village with a flat front left tyre.
“Of course really disappointing, and very unlucky,” Bottas said. “Also where I got the puncture, I had to go round the whole lap.
“We knew it would be a long stint with the hard tyre, so of course I was trying to put pressure on Lewis. Towards the end, I was starting to get more and more vibration. I reported that and then in the end, I had in my mind, ‘who knows there could be an issue?’, so I started to manage it a bit. But it happened so suddenly, I couldn’t predict it happening.”
Hamilton soon got the message not to go for the fastest lap because tyre integrity was the overriding factor, and he acknowledged the call just as Verstappen pit for a fresh set of softs. With two laps remaining, the move was two-fold as he went in search of the extra point himself but it also covered off against a similar failure.
Mercedes opted against taking such a precaution, instead believing Hamilton could nurse his car to the finish as he had not complained about his tyres at that point. Five corners into his final lap, that changed.
“Until that last lap everything was relatively smooth sailing,” Hamilton said. “The tyres felt great, Valtteri was really pushing incredibly hard, and I was doing some management of the tyre and he looked like he wasn’t. When I heard that his tyre went, I was just looking at mine and everything seemed fine, the car was still turning no problem so I was thinking maybe it’s OK.
“Those last few laps I started to back off and down the straight it deflated and I just noticed the shape just shift a bit. That was definitely heart in the mouth feeling because I wasn’t quite sure it had gone down until I hit the brakes. And then you could see the tyre was falling off the rim.
“I was just driving it trying to keep the speed up. Sometimes it will take off and break the wing, I was just praying it would get round and it would not be too slow, I nearly didn’t get round the last two corners. But thank God it did. I really owe it to the team, but ultimately we should have stopped towards the end once we saw the delaminations.”
Suddenly, a race that had looked like an absolute cruise for Hamilton gave way to an edge-of-your-seat climax. He had a little over two miles to go on three wheels, while Verstappen was on soft tyres and in the process of lighting up the timing screens.
Hamilton kept the tyre in shape and was able to three-wheel his way to the final sector, with a 30-second advantage being erased in huge chunks. Verstappen could see the Mercedes as he exited Stowe, but it wasn’t to be enough as Hamilton limped across the line less than six seconds before Verstappen set the fastest lap.
“As the minutes go by I feel worse and worse when I realise what just happened!” Hamilton said when he had time to process the finish. “In the heat of the moment you have the adrenaline flowing and I’m guessing that fight for survival instinct comes out and I was able to stay calm and really measured and try to bring the thing home, but of course I’m just sitting here thinking of all the things that could have happened. If the tyre gave up in a high-speed corner it could have been a much different picture, so I feel incredibly grateful that it didn’t.”
While Hamilton was left to question why Mercedes didn’t pit him before the final lap, with hindsight, Verstappen could be forgiven for asking the same of Red Bull. Yet in a sign of his growing maturity, he backed the call to pit and would not let anyone retrospectively analyse the late pit stop.
“It’s always easy to say afterwards but I think we were also lucky today that Valtteri had that puncture, so we gained a position,” Verstappen said. “So I’m actually not disappointed at all or anything. Once Valtteri had that puncture I thought ‘OK this is an easy P2’ so we just pit for new tyres and make sure, because I was also not sure what was going on with my tyres.
“Normally when you see other cars getting punctures and you pitted on the same lap you think it might happen to you as well, so you don’t want to have that problem. Lewis had his puncture but that’s also unlucky, it could have been lucky for me but unlucky for Lewis. In the end it is what it is and I’m very happy with second.”
Verstappen’s comments were vindicated when the team discovered around 50 small cuts on his tyres that came off the car at the pit stop, suggesting he too would have struggled to make the finish.
The Dutchman also conceded it was “a very boring race for me” as he ran a lonely third for much of it, but the battle for fourth – which became the final podium spot late on – was more captivating. Charles Leclerc held position at the start and was backing up the field in the opening laps but was far more competitive after the switch to hard tyres, and gained the benefit of Grosjean’s strategy gamble placing the Haas between himself and the chasing McLarens.
Once Carlos Sainz cleared Grosjean he didn’t have the pace to close down Leclerc, and the Ferrari driver benefitted from Bottas’ issue to take a surprise second podium of the season.
“We know we’ve been lucky to get to the podium but, apart from that, we’ve been satisfied with the way we’ve been working throughout the weekend,” Leclerc said. “For sure we don’t want to be fighting for fourth place for so long, but, at the moment, that’s what the car is capable of.
“I think we extracted absolutely everything out of the strategy and the car. I’m very happy, it’s a very unexpected podium, so I’m more satisfied than last year with third place.
“It was not easy, we had a very aggressive downforce level coming here, so we had quite a lot of speed down the straights, but it was very difficult in the corners. We were quite worried for the race, especially for the tyre degradation, but we did quite a good job on that.”
Sainz might have put pressure on the Ferrari in the final laps but he too suffered a front left puncture and was demoted out of the top ten, promoting Daniel Ricciardo to his joint-best Renault finish in fourth after an afternoon hunting down and passing both Lance Stroll and Lando Norris.
While Norris would finish fifth – retaining fourth in the drivers’ championship as a result – Stroll would fade to ninth place behind Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly and the recovering Albon. He was spared any further pain as Sebastian Vettel’s troublesome weekend yielded a solitary point in tenth as Bottas just failed to score.
Still, it could have been worse. Nico Hülkenberg’s impressive return to the cockpit came to a crunching halt on Sunday as Racing Point discovered a gearbox or power unit issue as the car was fired up to head to the grid, with the drivetrain seizing and the substitute failing to make the start.
The second Austria race might not have quite matched the drama of the first, but next weekend Silverstone has the added twist of softer tyre compounds that will mean Sunday’s conclusion will give plenty of engineers sleepless nights over the coming days
2020 British Grand Prix results
|1||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||1hr 28min 01.283sec||25|
|2||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+5.856sec||19*|
|8||Alex Albon||Red Bull||+32.670sec||4|
|9||Lance Stroll||Racing Point||+37.311sec||2|
|14||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||+54.205sec|
|17||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo||+1 lap|
|Nico Hülkenberg||Racing Point||DNS|