F1 – British GP – Qualifying

Hello, MiniFans! Welcome to the first of the three sprint qualifying races that we are going to experience this season. What we understand as “qualifying” was held yesterday, in order to provide a starting grid for this sprint race. Only a third of the length of an average race will determine who starts on pole position tomorrow.

The feedback has so far been mixed at best: Qualifying has always been about putting in the fastest lap, but Baku proved earlier this year that very short races provide high amounts of entertainment. It might be more exciting than seeing cars doing laps by themselves, but a mistake could be extremely costly, even if the driver is not at fault. More racing might bring in more spectators that are used to multiple-race weekends, but the cost could go up, especially during a time when teams’ spending habits are being constricted.

Usually, when qualifying takes place, tyres are very looked at during Q2, as they are what drivers in the top 10 will start on. This time, they were checked as soon as the warmers came off, as no such thing is compulsory this weekend. Only four chose to use softs, the biggest surprise being Bottas, as the other three are part of the midfield and are more willing to take risks. The Mercedes driver, however, was starting third, and this choice might have been made in order to fully target Verstappen.

Mercedes’ bet didn’t pay off in the first couple of corners, where Verstappen overtook Hamilton, stealing his first place and kicking off a fight during that whole first lap. The only one who took great advantage of his brand-new soft tyres and overtook six cars to settle in fifth. The other side of the coin toss was given to Sainz, who dropped to dead last after a small collision with Russell and needed to start climbing up the timing tower. The incident was announced to be investigated after the session by race direction.

The big fright was caused by Pérez, who lost the rear and almost collided into the wall, managing to get control of his car and narrowly avoiding the impact. The reincorporation to the track proved to be a bit dangerous, but he was now barely in front of the Haas. At the front, Verstappen kept slowly adding time to his gap to Hamilton by means of fastest laps, while Alonso finally got overtaken by Norris and Ricciardo in two very clean manoeuvres, clearing the way for Vettel.  Soft tyres were clearly starting to suffer, but mediums weren’t in too much better of a shape, as both Verstappen and Hamilton were having to deal with blistering in their front lefts.

The last handful of laps were duller than the starting ones, as it was right around the moment in which a race settles after the start. The eye grabber was Sainz, still trying to gain one or to more positions to at least match his starting grid after his early incident with Russell, while Pérez, who had been racing with flat spotted tyres, was finally asked to retire the car. Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas grabbed the only positions that award points in this new style of qualifying, with Red Bull dampening the party that was going on in Silverstone by grabbing pole position.

MiniDrivers – F1
2021 British GP
Sprint Qualifying

If there’s something we can definitely say about this new style of qualifying that is being tried out is that it was different from what we are used to. The start of the race was incredibly exciting, as Verstappen reclaimed his place as the best driver so far this season, and Alonso showed how to take advantage of a grippier tyre at the start of the race, even keeping both MacLaren cars behind him for a while and not losing any more positions after that.  But it also felt like a race that’s too short for people who are used to hour-and-a-half long racing. No compulsory pit stop meant all exchange of positions had to be done on track, which is always preferred by fans, but it also meant racing was flat out, without need to conserve tyres or fuel. It remains to see whether it was worth it for fans and management alike.