HAMIL­TON CLOSES THE GAP AT HOME

Bri­tish hero closes to within a point of the cham­pi­onship lead

Motor Sport News - - British Gp Report - BY STU­ART CODLING

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.

Qual­i­fy­ing

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.

Race

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.

Hamil­ton won on home turf as Ros­berg strug­gled

Safety car was an un­wel­come vis­i­tor for the race start in wet

Hamil­ton was de­lighted with his dom­i­nant race dis­play

Vet­tel: strug­gled

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