F1 – 70th Anniversary GP – Race
Hello, MiniFans! Back again at it in Silverstone, this time celebrating the 70th anniversary of Formula 1 as we know it in what may be its weirdest season ever. But we can always count on Silverstone and drivers out of position to make up for the strange context we find ourselves in, as does Max Verstappen on the opposite strategy as the other cars that can fight for the win.
Tyres have been the talk ever since we landed in this track last week. The realization that softer compounds were to be used for this weekend almost caused mass hysteria, creating a starting grid where no red rimmed tyres could be seen anywhere. Some of the expected became true in the start of the race. Hulkenberg was quickly overtaken by Verstappen, as Ricciardo was by Stroll, all while both Mercedes escaped from the peloton in formation. As if continuing his stroke of bad luck, Vettel dropped to last after touching dirt on the inside of turn 1 and spinning due to lack of grip. Verstappen’s early grasping of P3 was key to his strategy, as he was the only one in the top ten who started with hard tyres, as did a small handful of drivers who didn’t make it into Q3.
The race quickly settled down, but a Mercedes radio message calling the front left tyre’s condition “critical” kept people on the edge, wondering if they’d follow Albon’s early stop to get out of traffic and get rid of his medium tyres. Attention would soon be focused on Verstappen who, on hard tyres, was easily catching up to Hamilton and jokingly scolding his team when asked to stay back to preserve tyres, as both Mercedes seemed to be struggling with their own sets, visibly worn down. Bottas was the first of them to pit, Hamilton copying him just a lap later, to get rid of the bothersome yellow compound. Meanwhile, Vettel was slowly but steadily coming back from his early last place, as Verstappen confirmed with his team whether the tyres looked as good as they felt, maybe thinking of a wild one stop strategy.
The Mercedes fairytale didn’t look as it’d repeat itself this weekend as, not even halfway through the race and only a handful of laps into his hard tyres, Hamilton reported a blister, all while Verstappen was still claiming his tyres, which he had been sporting since the start of the race, were still in as pristine of a condition as it was possible. A few laps later, though, he pitted for mediums and came out barely a couple of tenths behind Bottas, something he proved wasn’t a problem as he was able to overtake him after just a few corners. Red Bull made clear over radio that he’d be doing a two stopper as well, telling him to push and not worry about tyre management. Purple sectors and laps were then started to be owned by the Dutch driver, right before he pitted alongside Bottas for one last ser of hard tyres.
The midfielders were mostly settled, with a Ricciardo spin and some overtakes here and there, mostly by Albon and Vettel climbing back up to the points. Hamilton seemed to be trying to be holding on to an appearance by the safety car not to lose too much time with his last stop, but the race seemed settled enough, bar Verstappen hunting the British driver down, not to need it. Mercedes sounded as if they were confident that the lack of pace and the problems were just due to a blister they were hoping to fade away as the tyre lost rubber. It didn’t sound as the best idea, due to how it ended up for them just last week with harder compounds in the same track, but it at least looked to be working, as Verstappen wasn’t taking enough time away per lap in order to overtake him, so the Dutch driver was told to push. As soon as this happened, Hamilton was called in for new hard tyres and the hunt for the third step of the podium, miraculously occupied by Leclerc, who was missing a stop as well, began.
There was only one driver mad enough to try and use softs, the returned Hulkenberg, maybe to try and score the fastest lap as the prospect of a podium had completely disappeared. Hamilton made quick work of Leclerc and set his sight on his teammate, on older tyres, and free of team orders. That would allow Verstappen to breathe just a bit more and even be allowed to nurse his tyres a bit. One last overtake by Hamilton on Bottas would lock in the podium steps and Ferrari’s throw of the dice on doing just one stop with Leclerc secured their fourth position.
Even with the tried and true problems Mercedes had experienced last week with tyres, it wasn’t crystal clear that they’d come back and their drivers wouldn’t score yet another 1-2 on Hamilton’s home soil. Red Bull’s different strategy, having Verstappen start on hard tyres while everyone else who had made it into Q3 used mediums, gave the race a small push, allowing us to posit a race win not by a German car. A Ferrari somehow made it back up the ladder and score a fourth place yet again unimaginable when checking the weekend as a whole. Racing Point was the first of the midfielders, both cars together, but both Renault and McLaren failed to get both cars in the points, as did Ferrari. Verstappen and Red Bull managed to outsmart everyone in a move that shouldn’t have been as surprising as it was, taking into account the previous weekend and the softer compound allocated for this week.