Red Bull pulled an absolute blinder with their strategy in the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone, as both Mercedes cars struggled with tyre management. Meantime, Max Verstappen was running comfortably on the hard compound tyres.
The warm temperatures seen at Silverstone this week have played havoc with the tyres, which were one step softer than those used in last week’s British Grand Prix. In fact, this was the first race since Pirelli became the sport’s sole tyre supplier in 2011 that no one started the race on the softest tyre available.
Red Bull approached the first stint of the race differently to their rivals, opting to start Verstappen on the hard tyres whilst most of the field started on the mediums.
By lap 7, Verstappen had a tyre advantage over Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in front and closed in on the two Mercedes drivers.
Ignoring his race engineer’s request to hang back and preserve the tyres, Verstappen kept harrying the two Mercedes until they made their pit stops. Bottas pitted on lap 13, Hamilton pitted on lap 14 while Verstappen was able to carry on until lap 26 before pitting.
The Mercedes continued to struggle compared to Verstappen no matter what tyres were on the car. They had been defeated by the heat, leaving the door open for Red Bull to take the win.
Hamilton finished second whilst a downbeat Bottas finished third.
Starting from pole, this was Bottas’ chance to claw back some of the deficit to Hamilton in the championship. Instead, he leaves Silverstone having suffered yet another setback, being affected by tyre-related problems for the second race in a row.
Always the bridesmaid but never the bride, Bottas looks destined to play the wingman role for Hamilton at Mercedes once again in 2020.
That said, it was good to see Mercedes allow their drivers to race each other towards the end of the race as Hamilton made a late charge on a fresh set of tyres after making a second pit stop on lap 41. Hamilton made a fairly easy move on his teammate down the Wellington Straight to take second place on lap 50.
Verstappen wasn’t the only Red Bull driver to have a good race though as his teammate Alexander Albon made some sensational overtakes on his way to a fifth-place finish.
There have been murmurs of criticism towards Albon recently, but the Thai-British driver surely silenced the critics with some top-quality race craft shown today. It’s no mean feat pulling off overtakes around the outside of Copse corner, taken at full throttle!
One driver who will be in for some criticism after a disappointing display today is Sebastian Vettel.
The Ferrari driver took too much kerb on the inside of Abbey on the first lap, unsettling the car, which first went into a tankslapper before spinning across the track. Vettel tried to control the slide but, unfortunately, it was soon out of his hands.
He could only recover back up to P12 by the chequered flag.
There will be some people who will take this opportunity to double down on their long-standing criticism of Vettel’s driving in recent seasons, blinded by the fact that it’s another spin by the four-time world champion.
That may be true, but this year’s Ferrari can be a handful to drive and, if I’m being honest, people should give Vettel a break. Yeah, Vettel’s performances are perhaps not as good as they could be, but this Ferrari is not as good as it could be and that has to be taken into account.
This was just an unfortunate error from Vettel today.
Charles Leclerc was in high spirits after finishing fourth, having made the most of a difficult situation. It says a lot about where Ferrari are right now that a fourth-place finish is being celebrated as much as a win or even a podium would have been last season.
Here’s hoping things get better for the Scuderia, especially for Vettel who is having a tricky time of it at the moment.
In the midfield, Nico Hulkenberg finished the race in seventh place, which is quite an achievement for a bloke who has only been back racing in F1 for little over a week. If the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix is to be the Hulk’s last race, he can leave the paddock knowing he put in a great effort, keeping tabs with, and even bettering, his teammate, Lance Stroll.
Lewis Hamilton goes into next week’s Spanish Grand Prix with a 30-point lead at the top of the championship, with Max Verstappen moving ahead of Valtteri Bottas and into second place.
In the constructors’ championship, Mercedes have a 67-point lead over Red Bull. A battle for third place in the championship is brewing between Racing Point in third on 56 points, Ferrari in fourth on 55 points and McLaren in fifth on 53 points.