Lewis Hamilton again showed why he is the pinnacle of motor sport at Sunday’s British Grand Prix, somehow guiding home a seriously compromised car. In the process, he earns his seventh victory at his home Grand Prix at Silverstone. With the result, he becomes the most winning driver at a home race and equals Schumacher’s record of most wins at a single race for the second time this season. Another entry for the history books and further statement as to his stature as the best driver the sport of Formula One has yet seen. This is perhaps the most difficult of the seven victories, though, and surely one he won’t forget in a hurry.
The race started perfectly, without any real issues on the opening segments on the course. Kimi Raikkonen did find himself going a little wide and off course briefly, but there wasn’t any significant coming together of cars as is often the case. The two Mercedes machines again started on the front row of the grid, and it would be Hamilton just edging out Bottas into the first corner, taking lead of the race. Leaving Max Verstappen, the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris’ McLaren in a battle for position directly behind the black liveried Silver Arrows. The resulting battle would last much of the race, and offer some exciting moments.
What was looking like a potential Cinderella story for Nico Hulkenberg soon became a gut-wrenching fall back to Earth. In a wild spin of events, Hulkenberg was called up to replace the stricken Sergio Perez, who had twice tested positive for COVID-19 and placed into self-isolation. Within a span of just seventy-two hours, Hulkenberg had been fitted for a seat and found himself sat in the cockpit of Perez’ Racing Point. It appeared a rough adjustment for German, who has been without a seat since being let go by Renault, but despite feeling the physical effects of Formula One racing, Hulkenberg was putting up good times at the British Grand Prix. In practice anyway. Ultimately, come race day, a faulting power unit would mean that the Pink Panther sporting the number twenty-seven wouldn’t take part in the British Grand Prix.
Whether or not Hulkenberg will get a second chance next weekend seems to be up in the air. Sergio Perez, in theory, should be in quarantine for fourteen days, meaning he would also miss the upcoming 70th anniversary race around Silverstone. Although the FIA has set a minimum of ten days before Perez would be eligible to return. Hulkenberg and Perez were team mates while with Force India, the predecessor to Racing Point, and have remained friends in the years since.
However, it wouldn’t be long before there would be a coming together. Late in the opening lap, Kevin Magnussen appeared to clip the curb and jolt slightly, leaving a gap that Alex Albon lunged for. The Red Bull’s front left wheel and the right rear of the Haas would collide, sending Magnussen spinning off into the wall, where he would lose his front wheel in the impact. For a second year in succession, Kevin Magnussen’s Silverstone race would end in drastic fashion.
Then, the safety car was once again deployed on the thirteenth lap, as a mixture of a rear tire puncture and a clipping of the apex sent the Alpha Tauri of Daniil Kvyat hard into the wall. The impact looked severe enough for the medical team to be deployed, as Kvyat had hit the wall nose-on. Sheering off two of the vehicles wheels in the process. Thankfully, Kvyat would emerge unscathed albeit displeased. Shoving a cameraman aside in frustration. Just six of the opening eighteen laps were driven under green flagged racing conditions.
Albon appeared to have picked up no damage on the impact, yet made his first pit stop on lap seven, and moving onto hard compound tires. It would later be deemed that he was the cause of the incident involving Kevin Magnussen, and would receive a five second penalty as a result. That penalty was served on the thirty-first lap, before Albon could have a fresh set of rubber slapped onto his car. He returned to the track in seventeenth and last place, following the retirements of Magnussen, Hulkenberg and Daniil Kvyat. What came next was a masterful drive, as Albon made his way back up the grid. Even setting a fastest lap along the way.
As the Mercedes were once again dispersing into the distance, with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen in pursuit but seemingly all alone to tear around the track, a mighty mid-battle was taking place. Roman Grosjean was constantly challenged but found ways to ward off his attackers time and time again. Both the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo and the Racing Point of Lance Stroll were engaged in a tremendous struggle for position. Several times, Grosjean appeared to move to block passing attempts, something that is frowned upon, especially under heavy breaking. Eventually Ricciardo did get by Grosjean but not without Grosjean making a “sketchy”, in Ricciardo’s words, defensive move. Grosjean had already earned a black and white flag warning for a similar maneuver. This again caught the attention of the stewards who vowed to look into the incident following the race.
With ten laps to go, both the Mercedes cars had visible blistering on their front tires, while ten seconds behind them, Verstappen was pushing hard and setting fastest lap times. It looked as if the final moments of this race could become quite interesting, and indeed they did. Both Mercedes pilots began reporting similar issues with their tires. Irregular vibrations as well. And it would ultimately come down to an unbelievable finish. Meanwhile, Albon had been pushing his Red Bull to the obsolete limit, and had caught the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, overtaking him for the final points position. Gasly had caught Stroll, and Carlos Sainz had a tire blowout while running in fifth place and began descending the grid all the way down the pecking order, and out of a deserve points finish.
Heartbreak for Valtteri Bottas, who had driven a near perfect drive up until his tire failure. In the laps leading up to the puncture, Bottas had reported a great deal of vibration from the wheel. As had team mate Hamilton. The Finn was also becoming aware of lowered visibility as the vibrations from the tire, accompanied by high speeds, were shaking him about the cockpit in considerable fashion. Still, the actual degradation and of the tire came rapidly and at the worst possible spot on the course. Bottas was aligned with the pit wall when the implosion occurred,meaning he had a full lap to limp around before he was able to pit. Racing can be a cruel beast.
Lewis Hamilton’s tire was all but off its rim. Sparks flew out from underneath it and the body work now scraped the tarmac due to the lost tire pressure. The reigning world champion was now limping towards the checkered flag as his team mate and closest competitor in the points race fell through the grid, finishing an astonishing twelve place. Bottas had deserved better, but such is motor sport. Hamilton would later describe the final seconds of the race as heart-in-mouth, as he watched the rapidly approaching Max Verstappen in his rear-view mirrors. Checkered flag within reach.
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Just how Hamilton was able to hold on to a car that was visibly in peril, is astounding. Had it not been for the gap that he held over Max Verstappen, who had just pitted for fresh rubber a few laps prior, the result most defiantly would have been different. Verstappen had a fairly quite race up until the races fading moments. He held his head down and drove a superb drive, unchallenged and without error. In fact, the maturity that the young Dutchman now possesses is far away from the brash all-out style he displayed in his earlier days in the racing discipline. His style is still aggressive, thankfully, but now with a real sense of discipline as well. A second place finish was well deserved. Sure, there was some luck at play, bad luck for Bottas, and good for Verstappen.
With a second racing weekend at Silverstone upcoming in just seven days, and with weather temperatures expected to rise, tires will be the main focus of all teams. As of now, the teams are expected to race on softer compound tires, which should be proof to be fascinating should that decision not be reversed. The 70th anniversary race, a second British Grand Prix is a row, should be a wild and exciting affair, as has been this entire season.
The British Grand Prix had been a wonderful spectacle which would only have been better with an audience in attendance. Lets hope that will again soon be the case. Hamilton was joined on the podium by Verstappen, and Charles Leclerc. In fourth place was Ricciardo, followed by Lando Norris. Ocon held onto sixth despite a solid push from Gasly. Astonishingly, Alex Albon took eighth place, all the way from seventeenth. As Stroll and Vettel rounded out the points places. Bottas limped home in twelfth place and Carlos Sainz fell all the way back to thirteenth.
What a fantastic weekend of racing it was, and we’ll do it all again in seven days time. This next excursion around the British Grand Prix will be the 70th anniversary race for Formula One.