British Grand Prix – Lewis Hamilton’s comfortable win at Silverstone came after a race that saw Ferrari unable to stick with Mercedes, even before the calamitous finish for the red cars.
Hamilton ran away with the race on Sunday, easing out an ever increasing gap over second placed man Kimi Raikkonen continuously and relentlessly. Such was his advantage that he was was able to afford to back off significantly on the last two laps when both Ferraris encountered tyre failures that sent them tumbling down the order. It was a final moment of despair for the Scuderia, capping off a weekend where they never seemed capable of getting close to Mercedes’ pace as the championship hits its halfway point.
By the time F1 rolls into Hungary next week, it’ll be over two months since Ferrari have won a Grand Prix – astonishing, considering Vettel still holds a solitary point lead in the Driver’s Championship. Monaco, the most idiosyncratic circuit on the calendar, was the last win and, since then, Mercedes have beaten Ferrari on pace, even if they did lose in Azerbaijan due to the loose headrest on Hamilton’s car. Silverstone was particularly worrying. At a power-hungry track, Ferrari introduced an upgraded power unit on Vettel’s car, and yet still seemed about half a second a lap off the pace of the Mercedes, which hasn’t had any significant upgrades since the Spanish GP in May. Sebastian Vettel was quick to point out the positives, saying that Ferrari were 10km/h faster through Copse than Mercedes could manage, and that they seemed to have the edge through the high speed sweeps. But, the power unit still counts for a large portion of lap time, and Ferrari were found lacking, even before their tyre failures.
Everyone at Mercedes and Ferrari are reluctant to acknowledge a possible shifting of momentum towards Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton saying “There are constantly turns and swings of the pendulum, back and forth. The pendulum swung towards us this weekend, and that’s only good for Formula One and the close battle. We hope it stays the way that it’s swung this time but, as you know, pendulums swing…” Hungary is up next, one of Hamilton’s favourite circuits, and one he’s won at five times, the record holder for the track. Vettel has only won it once, the famous 2015 victory on a weekend of emotion for the Scuderia after the death of Jules Bianchi earlier that week.
Musical chairs at Red Bull/Toro Rosso?
Toro Rosso’s two drivers colliding together couldn’t have come at a worse time for either man. While Carlos Sainz & Daniil Kvyat have peacefully co-existed together since Kvyat’s demotion from Red Bull Racing, Sainz has gotten very frustrated after being overlooked in favour of Max Verstappen. The Spaniard was not at fault for the crash that ruined both men’s races on Sunday, the helpless victim of an out of control Kvyat who fought back needlessly aggressively over a first lap pass from Sainz at Copse. It’s the second weekend in a row Kvyat has ruined a Red Bull race, having crashed into Fernando Alonso and Max Verstappen in Austria at the first corner last weekend. However, with Sainz purportedly up for sale and being linked with a Renault seat for a possible mid-season replacement of Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, Red Bull are put into a tight spot.
A lot of it depends on Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen. Should the Finn be re-signed for 2018, that closes the door on a possible switch for Daniel Ricciardo or Max Verstappen. Ricciardo was cheeky with the press on Saturday, speculating that he felt there would be “musical chairs” at Ferrari for next year, although denied any personal involvement in that particular game. Presumably, should a seat become available at Red Bull Racing, they would have to internally promote either Kvyat or Sainz to the seat, or otherwise diminish the value of their young driver program by looking elsewhere. If Ricciardo & Verstappen stay put, then they could evaluate putting Pierre Gasly into the Toro Rosso to replace whichever driver they want rid of. With none of their other junior drivers looking ready for F1, there’s a possibility that Red Bull could actually fall short of drivers for next year without signing some fresh blood from elsewhere.
Force India consolidating their position
Force India continued their strong run to claim P8 & P9 on Sunday, with Esteban Ocon leading home Sergio Perez. It’s the first time Ocon has beaten Perez when both drivers have finished, and it emphasises just how strong the rookie’s first season is going. Perez was, in theory, the quicker man in the race, ending up trailing Ocon to the flag and constantly within DRS range. But, he wasn’t able to get by and there was no threat of any shenanigans like what went down in Baku or Canada. Team boss Vijay Mallya said after the race that he will allow fair racing between his two drivers, which is exactly what happened at Silverstone, praising both of them for their strong drives and double points finish that solidifies their P4 position ahead of Williams in the championship. The team are best of the rest behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
Mallya also highlighted Williams as the team’s main rivals in the second half of the season, but didn’t entirely discount Renault either. The French squad scored a P6 with Nico Hulkenberg on Sunday, the German driver putting in an assured performance all weekend. He had been pleased with the car’s single lap performance on Friday & Saturday, but had been pessimistic about long run pace. In the end, the car proved quite good and, had a minor technical problem not struck his car with a few laps to go, he may even have been able to hold off Daniel Ricciardo for P5. Mallya spoke of his admiration for Hulkenberg’s talents after the race, saying “I had Nico, I would have liked to have kept Nico, I know exactly what he’s capable of, and how dangerous he is. But Renault only have one car doing the job and, while there’s a long way to go still, that’s why I think Williams will stay our main rivals”.
If Renault’s driver line-up changes soon, which may well be the case for Spa-Francorchamps onwards after the Hungarian tests with Robert Kubica, then the fight for P4 could be a three horse race between Force India, Williams & Renault.