Coming into this weekend, it was all set for a dominant display by Mercedes at the British Grand Prix. However, dramatic front left tyre delaminations for both Mercedes cars put paid to that, nearly costing Lewis Hamilton a victory that, up until the last lap, he was cruising towards.
On lap 14, Mercedes double stacked Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas under the safety car.
On lap 36, Hamilton spotted a blister appearing on his front left tyre while, on lap 42, Bottas was on the team radio noting vibrations.
These hard compound tyres were done for and three laps from the finish, Bottas’ front left tyre delaminated on the start-finish straight. The Finn had to limp his way all the way around the track to get back to the pits.
The drama was not over for Mercedes as on the final lap, Hamilton’s front left tyre also gave way and the Brit too was forced to limp his way for a full lap of the circuit. Incredibly, Hamilton held on to his lead and took the chequered flag.
Bottas was not so lucky, finishing just outside the points in eleventh position.
Tyres are punished around Silverstone with heavy load being placed on them on this high downforce circuit.
The hard compound tyres that Bottas used completed 36 laps before delaminating whilst Hamilton’s were on for 38 laps. The most durable tyre of the Pirelli set wasn’t as durable as perhaps what was predicted.
With softer compounds and hotter temperatures for next weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, also being held at Silverstone, it raises the question of whether actions will have to be taken to ensure tyre safety.
A likely scenario could be that teams have to go for a two-stop strategy rather than the one-stop strategy, which has become commonplace in recent seasons. This would decrease the threat of delaminations as tyres would not be pushed so much to the cliff as they are when a one-stop strategy is used.
Red Bull may be kicking themselves that they pitted Max Verstappen on lap 51 to go for the fastest lap point thus missing out on a potential race win had they not done so. In hindsight, could they have predicted that Hamilton’s tyres were destined for the same fate as Bottas’ tyres?
Red Bull chief, Helmut Marko certainly thought so, asking questions after the race of decisions made on the pit wall.
In the end though, Red Bull will be happy to take a second-place finish.
On the other side of the garage, it was another unfortunate afternoon for Alexander Albon.
On the first lap, Albon thought he could take advantage of Kevin Magnussen going wide on the exit of the Vale Chicane and get up the inside of the Haas driver into Club Corner. However, there was not really a move to be made and Albon’s front left tyre made contact with Magnussen’s right rear, sending Magnussen off the track and hard into the barriers.
Now came the recovery drive, which came into fruition after Albon switched onto a fresh set of mediums on lap 30. He picked off the drivers in front of him one by one, taking advantage of others struggling with tyre degradation, and got himself up to eighth place by the chequered flag.
One driver who was struggling today was Sebastian Vettel, who was only able to finish tenth.
Couple a poor starting position with poor race pace and it becomes clear why Vettel became stranded in the midfield.
Charles Leclerc wasn’t faring much better, maintaining fourth position for most of the race, but losing over a second a lap to Max Verstappen in front. He was lucky with Bottas’ tyre delamination to finish in third.
Strong results came from Daniel Ricciardo, who finished fourth, having managed to prevail in battles with the two McLarens of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, and Pierre Gasly, who finished seventh in his AlphaTauri.
A big disappointment came when Nico Hulkenberg was unable to start the race due to a power unit issue which prevented Racing Point from being able to start the car up. It has still been an impressive weekend for the German on his return to F1 at such short notice, keeping pace with Lance Stroll in qualifying.
Hulkenberg will continue to sub for Sergio Perez next week as Perez continues his self-isolation period after testing positive for COVID.
Today’s drama has resulted in Lewis Hamilton extending his lead in the drivers championship to 30 points over Valtteri Bottas, with Max Verstappen a further six points behind in third place.
In the constructors championship, Mercedes have built on their mammoth lead, which is now 68 points over Red Bull in second. McLaren are still third whilst Ferrari have moved ahead of Racing Point to sit fourth in the championship.