HAMILTON CLOSES THE GAP AT HOME
British hero closes to within a point of the championship lead
Lewis Hamilton reigned supreme in an edgy and action-packed British Grand Prix at Silverstone, mastering the changing conditions with barely a slip.
Hamilton was well in control and fending off a late charge from team-mate and main championship rival Nico Rosberg when the second Mercedes fell back with a gearbox problem in the final laps.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was also a star, thoroughly impressing the denizens of the packed grandstands by forcing his Red Bull’s nose between the battling Mercedes W07 Hybrids and tracking them closely across the finishing line. Three hours after the podium ceremony he was upgraded to second place courtesy of a time penalty for Rosberg.
Delighted though the home crowd were with this result, it was yet another crushing display by Mercedes. Fourthplaced Daniel Ricciardo crossed the line 17.9s adrift of the leading group, and during qualifying both Hamilton and Rosberg broke the record for this track configuration at Britain’s own temple of speed, last reset by Hamilton himself in 2013 before the current hybrid-turbo era began.
Given the recent improvements to the Mclaren-honda package – and Fernando Alonso’s decent turn of pace during practice – Jenson Button was the most surprising scalp of Q1, bumped down to 17th in the closing moments by former team-mate Kevin Magnussen. Button had only been able to make one run after part of his rear wing detached itself at Woodcote.
Some confusion over whether Magnussen had overstepped the track limits on his hot lap prompted Button to sprint back up the pitlane and return to his MP4-31, but in the absence of any intervention from race control before the start of Q2 he had to stand down. With prior agreement from the drivers, the FIA was taking a zero-tolerance approach to the track boundaries at Copse, Stowe and Club.
Both Renault drivers had their first laps in Q1 deleted after exceeding track limits at Stowe, and the team’s determination to break out of Q1 was underlined by both Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer making three runs each, but Palmer fell a tantalising two tenths short. The Manors were fractionally slower still, also completing three runs each, while there was further misery for Sauber as Felipe Nasr propped up the list. Marcus Ericsson didn’t take part at all, having taken all four corners off his car in a frightening shunt during practice.
Ferrari’s newly re-signed Kimi Raikkonen only just squeaked through Q2 on his third attempt after blowing his first two hot laps. Magnussen essayed one perfunctory flying lap on used tyres during the session – albeit five seconds off the pace – and during the course of it he managed to block Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso. They were slowest of the remaining 16 and duly eliminated at the end of Q2 along with both Haas entries, the Williams of Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez’s Force India.
Q3 was also a scrappy affair, and there was an audible intake of breath around the circuit as news broke that Lewis Hamilton’s provisional-pole lap had fallen victim to the FIA’S zero-tolerance approach to track limits. “I just touched the inside kerb [at Copse] and it pulled me a bit wide,” was his verdict on that attempt, but he delivered the goods with an even quicker lap at the second time of asking. Roars of approval greeted his return to the top of the timing screen – by over three tenths from his team-mate.
“I wish people could feel what I feel when I look out and see the flags waving,” he said during the press conference afterwards, eyes moist with emotion.
Verstappen and Ricciardo underlined the impression that recent developments have made Red BullRenault Formula 1’s next-best package – ahead of Ferrari – by annexing the second row of the grid. Verstappen had one of his laps deleted, but he had done enough to stay just ahead of Ricciardo. Raikkonen was tidier during Q3 than he had been in Q2 and narrowly outpaced Sebastian Vettel, who would have lined up sixth but for a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
A heavy shower doused the circuit shortly after the cars assembled on the grid, only relenting 10 minutes before the start while several teams were still struggling to erect awnings over their cars to shield them from the rain. The scene brought to mind Bernie Ecclestone’s remarks several years ago in which he likened the British Grand Prix to a village fete.
To the disappointment of several drivers – Hamilton would later remark “I personally thought we could have started from the grid” – the race got under way behind the safety car with the entire field wearing Pirelli’s wetweather tyres. Aquaplaning over the large areas of standing water was less of a problem than keeping up brake and tyre temperatures, and at one point Hamilton almost collided with the safety car at Copse as he tried to remedy his glazed rear discs.
After five slow laps Hamilton raced away at the green flag, backing the field up early at Stowe and then stepping on the gas, leaving second-placed Rosberg trailing. Nearly half the field – Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas, Carlos Sainz, Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso, Vettel, Romain Grosjean, Esteban Gutierrez, Magnussen and Pascal Wehrlein – pitted immediately for intermediate tyres, making for a chaotic scene in the pitlane. Hulkenberg and Sainz missed one another by inches as they departed their boxes.
Next time around another group – Ricciardo, Felipe Massa, Kvyat, Button, Palmer and Rio Haryanto – stopped for intermediates, and Ricciardo barely got out ahead of Raikkonen. The timing was clearly right for the remaining frontrunners to change, and they received a welcome boost as Wehrlein’s Manor twitched on a patch of water at the entrance of Abbey and skated off sideways into the barrier. Race control imposed virtual safety car conditions, enabling the leading trio of Hamilton, Rosberg and Verstappen to pit and emerge well ahead of their rivals, and cementing the rise of Sergio Perez from 10th on the grid to a net fourth place ahead of Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Sainz.
The Williams-mercedes of Massa and Bottas were running eighth and ninth, but the FW38 is weak in the wet and Bottas promptly spun and rejoined at Club, dropping to 13th. Over the following laps Massa would prove something of a roadblock to a chasing pack that included a very determined Hulkenberg, Alonso and Vettel. It was
hardly surprising, then, that Ferrari made the first move to slicks, bringing Vettel in for mediums on lap 15 in the hope that a daring strategy might give the four-time champion an opportunity.
It was certainly the case that the track was drying in places, but plenty of wet patches remained to trap the unwary, a fact underlined the very next lap as Rosberg’s Mercedes twitched viciously at Becketts. Verstappen made the most of Rosberg’s lost momentum to slip by and lead on to the Hangar Straight, defending neatly against the Mercedes’ greater grunt as they swept through Stowe.
As Vettel demonstrated that the timing of the move to slicks was opportune by setting the fastest lap of the race so far, Hamilton and Rosberg made their stops – they were far enough apart on track to do so on the same lap – along with Perez and Ricciardo. Verstappen stayed out for a further lap on his intermediates before breaking for the pits, and was quick enough to emerge with even more time in hand over Rosberg – over four seconds.
There were other losers in the pitstop shuffle. Ricciardo failed to jump Perez, so they remained fourth and fifth, while Alonso railed against Mclaren’s strategy over the team radio. He had a point: having been just behind Hulkenberg, he entered the pits behind the Force India but emerged with Massa and Kvyat – who had stopped a lap earlier – between them. A subsequent red-mist moment resulted in a spectacular trip through the gravel at Abbey.
Ricciardo managed to overcome Perez with a bold move around the outside at Stowe on lap 21, but by then third-placed Rosberg was 13 seconds up the road and busily chasing down Verstappen. Barring reliability worries, only one Red Bull was in contention for the podium.
Rosberg reeled off a succession of fastest laps to close on Verstappen, and when the leading duo ran wide at Abbey independently of one another on lap 22 he was able to close within DRS range of the Red Bull. But could he get past? Not without a thrilling bout of ducking and diving. Lap after lap he closed on the Hangar Straight, sometimes getting his nose alongside, but whether Rosberg tried the inside or the outside line Verstappen simply braved it out.
It took another 15 laps for Rosberg to make a move stick, during which time Hamilton had ample opportunity to drive within himself, manage his tyres, and preserve his car for the run to the finish. Rosberg had 8.786s to make up to the leader once he passed Verstappen – the long way round, on the outside at Stowe – but he seemed well capable of doing so, chipping two seconds off that margin.
But then Hamilton lifted his own pace, and the pressure departed when Rosberg’s gearbox began to misbehave, briefly sticking in seventh. After a conversation with the pitwall Rosberg drove around the problem – resetting a chassis mode and shortshifting between sixth and eighth – and he was able to stay ahead of Verstappen to the chequered flag. Red Bull, of course, placed a call to race control, protesting that the conversation breached the FIA’S anti-‘coaching’ rules.
Hamilton duly took his third consecutive British Grand Prix victory, a 47th career win, and Rosberg subsequently lost second place when the FIA hit him with a 10s time penalty for the illegal radio message.
Hamilton is now only one point from the championship summit, but poor reliability earlier in the season may begin to hinder his title momentum as we enter the closing stretch, since he has almost exhausted his allocation of five units for the year. Any further changes will now bring grid penalties.
“I approached the race with an incredibly positive attitude so I didn’t at any point think the car would fail on me,” he said. “I could see the crowd beginning to stand up and cheer in the excitement and I felt exactly what they felt. It’s just the most amazing feeling, when you come across the line as the winner of the British Grand Prix.”
The delay behind Perez proved costly for Ricciardo, who chipped away at the margin to his team-mate without meaningfully breaking it down. In effect, he was in another race entirely. Raikkonen was a further 40s adrift in fifth, having finally overhauled Perez, who crossed the line less than a second ahead of team-mate Hulkenberg in sixth.
To conclude an underwhelming day for the Scuderia, Vettel took the chequered flag ninth behind Carlos Sainz, but he was scrappy over the final laps and incurred a five-second time penalty for shoving Massa off at Village, dropping the Williams outside the top 10.