Sebastian Vettel snaps a long drought for Ferrari at Silverstone, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen sends home hero Lewis Hamilton into a spin, and Red Bull struggle to hang onto the top two teams.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM
The English summer – two words that often can only be used together when they’re accompanied by a laugh track – hit Silverstone with a vengeance for qualifying, air temperatures touching 25 degrees and the track temps topping out at a Bahrain-like 52 degrees. But Lewis Hamilton proved he could handle the heat, the home hero smashing the circuit record with a lap of 1min 25.892secs to take his 76th career pole. The Mercedes man needed every bit of that time too, as primary title rival Sebastian Vettel was just 0.044secs behind, and Vettel’s Ferrari teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, just 0.098secs off pole himself, but having to settle for third. “That lap took everything out of me, it was the toughest lap I’ve ever had to do in a qualifying session,” Hamilton gasped afterwards, following his fourth straight pole at Silverstone and 50th with Mercedes. “I had to go over the limit to get that time out of the car and I could have easily not pulled that lap together.”
Second for Vettel was a good save after he had to deal with a sore neck that saw him miss a good chunk of final practice, while Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas let the two red cars off the hook with a mistake on his final lap when second looked a possibility. “I lost it in the last two corners,” he admitted after finishing fourth.
The grip and cornering speed of the fierce 2018-spec F1 cars negated some of Red Bull’s usual ascendancy in high-speed turns at Silverstone, and their lack of straight-line grunt meant fifth and sixth were always their likely starting spots, Max Verstappen again well ahead of Daniel Ricciardo (by nearly half a second), although Ricciardo’s run was hamstrung with DRS issues. “When you go through a corner that’s almost flat and when you accelerate out of the corner our engine is just not pulling,” Verstappen explained. “You know you just don’t have the horsepower.”
While Ricciardo said his qualifying was “a bit frustrating”, the driver next on the grid, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, was ecstatic to finish seventh, which he called “a pole position in the ‘B’ championship” behind the big three teams. A trio of Frenchman, Magnussen’s teammate Romain Grosjean, Sauber’s super-impressive rookie Charles Leclerc and Force India’s Esteban Ocon, all made Q3 and rounded out the top 10.
Further back, Renault had no joy as Nico Hulkenberg was 11th, while Carlos Sainz was way back in 16th, missing the top 10 for the first time all season. Williams had a session to forget with both Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll spinning because of aerodynamic issues with the car’s floor, Stroll getting beached in the Turn 6 gravel trap, and the cars qualifying 18th and 19th of 20 respectively. At least they got out for qualifying – 20th and last on the grid would be Brendon Hartley, who didn’t take to the circuit at all after a massive front suspension failure saw his car spat into the Turn 6 barriers in final practice, Toro Rosso changing teammate Pierre Gasly’s suspension completely ahead of qualifying as a precaution. Hartley was, fortunately, fine; his car was a mess and needed rebuilding for Sunday’s 52-lap race.
The race in exactly 69 words*
Vettel took his second British GP win and the first at Silverstone for Ferrari in 11 years, but Hamilton minimised the damage to his championship chances by recovering to second after being tapped into a spin by Raikkonen on the first lap and falling to last. Raikkonen was penalised for the incident but finished third, while Bottas faded to fourth after two late safety cars prompted a manic finish.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)
Qualifying left the Australian more hoping than expecting to have a strong Sunday at Silverstone, and while he gained an early place when Raikkonen sent Hamilton spinning to the back, sixth looked the best Ricciardo could do, which prompted a second pit stop for new soft tyres on lap 30 in an attempt to have fresher rubber for the final laps. That plan, or at least the maximum effectiveness of it, was scuppered to some degree by Marcus Ericsson crashing his Sauber heavily at the first corner two laps later, a safety car being called the extract the Swede’s car, which had buried itself deep into the tyre barrier. Where Ricciardo was hoping to use his fresher tyres to make inroads into the drivers ahead of him, Vettel, Raikkonen and Verstappen all pitted as the race was neutralised, negating his one strategic chance to vault up the order. Neither Hamilton nor Bottas pitted for new Pirellis, and while Ricciardo was all over the back of the Finn’s tyre-worn Mercedes by the end, he fell just short of snatching fourth place, finishing 0.6secs behind without ever launching an overtaking move. Ten points for fifth was at least a better result than the previous Sunday’s non-finish in Austria, but the chasm between the Ferrari/Mercedes front-runners and Red Bull seems to have widened, even taking into account Verstappen’s win seven days earlier, which owed itself to some degree to Mercedes’ mechanical misfortune.
What the result means
It seems entirely appropriate that the first triple-header in F1 history gave us three different winners from three teams in three weeks, Vettel’s Silverstone success coming after Verstappen won at the Red Bull Ring, and Hamilton at Paul Ricard a week before that. But as much as F1 has shaped itself as a two-tier formula with three teams in the upper class, reality suggests that, at most circuits, Mercedes and Ferrari have the legs on Red Bull, with the final 11-lap run to the flag after the second safety car of the race caused by a shunt between Grosjean and Sainz at Copse shaping up as a furious fight between Bottas, Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen, with Verstappen and Ricciardo left to play distant spectators. A gearbox problem did for Verstappen five laps from home, the Dutchman’s run of three straight podiums coming to an end after his car was stuck in fourth gear because of a brake-by-wire issue, but neither he nor Ricciardo had podium pace all weekend.
Much as Hamilton was crestfallen to have not extended his home winning streak in front of a massive Silverstone crowd (and as much as he was criticised for skipping the pre-podium TV interview afterwards to retreat into the drivers’ green room before the podium ceremony), he and Mercedes will take some solace in that, on pure pace, the W09 in his hands still appears to be the car to beat. Vettel, as he has done so often throughout his career, made the most of an opportunity presented to him and didn’t let go, and his robust pass of Bottas for the lead of the race at Turn 6 with five laps left should quieten any critics who still, after all these years, question his ability to overtake. He also set the fastest lap of the race (1:30.696) on the same lap.
As we reach the (nearly) halfway mark of the season, with 10 races run and 11 to go, the real winners of 2018 so far are the fans, who, after four years of Mercedes turning the sport into a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ they’ll win the world championships (plural), have a genuine fight to watch unfold, with the pendulum swinging back and forth between Grands Prix, and – often – within the same race weekend.
For historical purposes …
That’s now six British Grands Prix in a row to have featured a safety car, and this one featured two thanks to Ericsson’s scary shunt (fortunately the Sauber driver emerged unscathed) and the Grosjean/Sainz incident, which the Haas driver was certain was the Spaniard’s fault. “He turned into me,” Grosjean said.
The number to know
51: Vettel’s 51st career victory sees him draw level with Alain Prost for third all-time on the F1 win list; only Michael Schumacher (91) and Hamilton (65) have more.
In a sporting world full of athletes making excuses, blaming their equipment/someone else/the way the stars were aligned on a particular day, we’re giving Raikkonen a space here for the way he put his hand up for the first-lap touch with Hamilton that ruined the home hero’s race. “It was my mistake, that’s fine,” he said of the 10-second penalty served at his first pit stop on lap 13 that dropped him to 11th place. “I deserve it and I took the 10 seconds and kept fighting. That’s how it goes. Obviously on the third corner I locked a wheel and ended up hitting Lewis in the rear corner and he spun. My bad, that is how it goes sometimes.”
Further back, Hulkenberg turned an alternate tyre strategy, starting from outside the top 10 on mediums, and a cracking first lap into sixth place, just beating Ocon’s Force India, which started a spot in front of him.
The other under-the-radar winner was once again Fernando Alonso, who started 13th in a McLaren with very little pace, made his usual decisive start and then was relentless for 52 laps as he hauled his car into eighth to nab four world championship points. Remarkably, the two-time world champion still sits inside the top 10 in the standings (eighth with 40 points), and leads McLaren teammate Stoffel Vandoorne 40-8 in points and 10-0 in qualifying this season.
The naughty corner
Raikkonen has to sit here too, for causing the lap one contact before taking responsibility for it, while the team who had things roughest under the Sunday sun at Silverstone were Sauber, Leclerc’s lap 19 retirement after a wheel wasn’t affixed correctly at his pit stop preceding Ericsson’s meeting with the Turn 1 barriers 13 laps later. All nine other teams had at least one car finish.
Other than a well-earned beverage of choice for the sport’s mechanics and team members who slogged through Formula One’s first-ever triple-header and emerged unscathed? A weekend off next week precedes the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim (July 22), which has become a bi-annual event to cover the steep costs of a place on the ever-expanding calendar in countries far, far away from F1’s European heartland. Hungary (Jul 29) follows the next weekend before the season goes into recess until the end of August.