Round 5 of the 2020 F1 season took place at Silverstone for the second week in a row. This was the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix to celebrate the first championship race at Silverstone in 1950. The softer tyres and soaring heat made for a great race where the ultimate decider was strategy.
Before we analyse this weekend’s race it is important to keep up to date on Renault’s protest against Racing Point. They have been accused of using last year’s Mercedes brake ducts unlawfully and the ruling came on Friday when the FIA fined Racing Point €400,000 and deducted 15 championship points from the constructors (the drivers get to keep their points). The issue with this penalty is the potential loophole in the rules – the brake ducts were drawn up from the Mercedes W10 in 2019 when such a practice was allowed but the new regulations that came into place at the start of the 2020 season mean they are now considered to be Mercedes’ designs, not Racing Point’s, meaning they are copied and so illegal. I find difficulty in the brake ducts being legal in 2019 and clearly the best but now being illegal in 2020. Are Racing Point meant to just forget those designs and make something obviously sub-par? This ruling is being objected to by some teams saying it’s not harsh enough, while Racing Point are debating appealing the ruling saying it is too harsh.
This weekend’s race used the C2, C3 and C4 tyres which are one step softer from last week’s compounds. This meant the degradation would be quicker so Pirelli recommended a two-stop strategy. To combat degradation, the front tyre pressures were increased by 2 psi, meaning less tyre surface was touching the hot asphalt but may compromise grip.
Hulkenberg subbed in for Perez again this week, with Perez testing positive again for COVID‑19. He performed well in free practice, catching up to young teammate Lance Stroll.
Free practice was mostly uneventful as the teams had set-ups ready from last week’s race. Vettel’s engine failed in FP2, spewing oil onto the track but before this premature end to his session, he only managed 14th on the timing sheets.
In qualifying, Russell managed his fourth consecutive Q2 appearance while Vettel once again failed to make it into Q3. The tyres that the top 10 set their fastest lap on in Q2 are the tyres that they start the race on. Verstappen rolled the dice and used hard tyres, while the other nine used mediums – a strategy that would prove very beneficial in the race. Verstappen’s tyre choice meant he qualified a little lower on the grid in 4th than maybe he would have done had he been on mediums. Bottas secured pole over Hamilton and Hulkenberg nailed a lap to start 3rd on the grid. Ocon was the only driver this weekend to receive a 3-place grid penalty, for impeding Russell’s flying lap in Q2.
Verstappen had a flying start, making up a place before turn 1 to get 3rd behind the Mercedes. Vettel spun on the kerb at turn 1 and dropped down to last place in a matter of seconds.
A radio message to Bottas stated his medium tyres were already struggling on lap 6, calling his front left ‘critical’. Hamilton’s tyres soon blistered on lap 12 allowing Verstappen to close the gap. Bottas pitted on lap 14 and Hamilton a lap later onto the hard tyres giving Verstappen the lead on his remarkably unblistered tyres. The Mercedes struggled in the heat with Hamilton’s hard tyres already blistering again after only 10 laps.
Magnussen was given a 5-second time penalty for a battle with Latifi on lap 19 but went onto retire from the race on lap 45 amid worsening vibrations from his tyres.
Verstappen pitted on lap 26 to switch to medium tyres (in a race, you must use at least one set of two different tyre compounds) and pitted again only 6 laps later to get back onto hards. Even though Bottas and Hamilton also pitted twice, Verstappen’s long first hard stint and short middle medium stint allowed him to be quicker overall than the Mercedes who did more laps on the mediums. Ultimately, this call by his strategists won him the race.
Hulkenberg pitted for a third time on lap 47 dropping him out of contention for a podium finish but his team tweeted he was ‘unlikely to have made the flag without it’.
Hamilton’s fresher tyres secured him 2nd place over Bottas, and an extra point for fastest lap. Leclerc in the Ferrari finished in 4th, a surprising result for him but was only possible due to his one-stop strategy. Albon performed well with three good overtakes around Copse corner to get 5th place and the two Racing Points finished 6th and 7th.
Holly’s driver of the day…and loser
Verstappen’s excellent strategy and cool driving secures him the driver of the day title. The camera shots after the race show his hard tyres still pristine while the Mercedes hard tyres were blistered, bubbly and splitting down the centre. He drove smartly and his choice to close on the Mercedes early in the race despite possible overheating issues gave him the potential of a win. Max Verstappen said on lap 12 as he closed on the Mercedes:
“Mate, this is the only chance of being close to the Mercedes. I’m not just going to be sitting here like a Grandma”
Vettel is my loser of the day. He again failed to get into Q3 when his teammate did, proving it’s not all down to the car. His spin on lap 1 shows how out of touch he is with his car as it wasn’t even the result of a collision. He only managed to regain positions to finish 12th and out of the points and was clearly frustrated with his strategy over the radio. The poor finishes and aggressive comments are making for a frosty relationship with his Ferrari colleagues.