The fourth round of the 2020 F1 season took place at Silverstone. The sunny weather saw some teams struggling in the heat while the tyres shredded causing some brilliant last lap action.
There was breaking news this week before the weekend had even started! Sergio Perez, of Racing Point, tested positive for COVID-19. He may have contracted the virus on his week off in Mexico. The teams hurriedly isolated him and his bubble, bringing in Nico Hulkenberg to replace him. Hulkenberg raced for Renault last year but failed to secure a seat this year. Of Racing Points’ options for a replacement, Hulkenberg’s recent retirement and previous racing with the team (then called Force India) from 2014-2016 made him the perfect candidate to take Perez’s seat.
Hulkenberg performed well in free practice and qualified in 13th, which is not bad considering he was sipping coffee (or cocktails) in Monaco two days earlier! Hulkenberg was always unlucky in his F1 career, never being able to secure a podium finish and his curse returned at Silverstone. His mechanics were not able to get the car started in the garage so Hulkenberg was not even able to start the race.
Otherwise, in FP1, Hamilton made his appearance with his second power unit of three allowed this season while Vettel had intercooler issues so did not set a time. Vettel also had issues with his brake pedal all weekend.
The heat on Friday made many of the cars lethargic but order was restored on Saturday for qualifying. Hamilton stuck it on pole with his teammate, Bottas, in second. Verstappen and Leclerc made up the second row of the grid. Russell performed well in qualifying for the third race in a row but was given a 5-place grid penalty for failing to respect yellow flags waved when Hamilton spun in Q2, dropping him to 15th. Kvyat was also given a 5-place grid penalty for a gearbox change dropping him to 14th.
The race started neatly until Magnussen was hit by Albon on the last corner on lap 1 bringing out the first safety car. On-board cameras show Magnussen miss the apex of the previous corner bouncing him across the track, meaning he collided with Albon. Albon received a 5-second time penalty that he later served during a pit stop for this incident but I think this was unfair as it was Magnussen who collided and came off worse for it.
The second safety car of the race came on lap 12 when Kvyat’s right rear tyre explodes at Maggotts-Becketts, a 180 mph left-right complex. This is an unusual place to crash, meaning Kvyat met the barrier at a force of 25G. He emerged from the car unharmed and batted away the cameras in his frustration. Everyone, except Grosjean, pitted here. These pit stops were about 10 laps earlier than Pirelli, the tyre manufacturers, recommended so the excitement came at the end of the race when the tyres could not hold out anymore.
On lap 50 of 52, Bottas’ front left tyre deflated. He limped around the track and pitted dropping him from 2nd to 11th. The Mercedes team knew the harsh degradation of the tyres but choose to keep Hamilton, in 1st, out for the final two laps. Inevitably, Hamilton’s front left tyre also deflated at turn 7 on the final lap. Verstappen had chosen to pit so was 30 seconds behind Hamilton. I was sat on the edge of my seat watching Hamilton limp around the remaining half of the lap while Verstappen closed in like a lion on a hunt. Hamilton crossed the line to win the British Grand Prix and Verstappen came in only 5.8 seconds behind.
Choosing to not pit Hamilton was a brave decision by the Mercedes team, having seen Bottas’ tyre deflated on lap 50 and Sainz’ on lap 51. Hamilton did have the time to due to the 30 second gap to Verstappen in second. They were lucky that the tyre did not delaminate and break apart because it would have caused huge floor damage, meaning the car would have to be driven much slower, and may have resulted in disqualification if the car was deemed dangerous to drive. I say slower, but he was still going 142 mph down the straight!
Grosjean’s driving this weekend was bordering on dangerous as he was waved two black and white flags for unsportsmanlike behaviour, one for weaving across the track to defend from an overtake and the other for exceeding track limits.
Stroll’s race was messy. He topped the timesheets in FP2 and qualified 6th but lost many places at the start of the race, dipped tyres off the track allowing easy passes by others and was issued a black and white flag for track limits.
Holly’s driver of the day….and loser
What a weekend for Hamilton! He dominated in qualifying and led the race from the start. He handled the last lap madness extremely well, saying it ‘was definitely [a]heart in the mouth feeling’, earning him my driver of the day title.
Poor Bottas. He drove well and kept Verstappen behind him the whole race. The timing of his tyre deflation was so unfortunate and by finishing in 11th outside the points, I think he is out of contention for World Champion this year.
I’m back next week to report on the second British Grand Prix, the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, where teams are set to use even softer tyres in even hotter weather.