5 Thoughts from the 2020 British Grand Prix
As the old saying goes, never leave the TV set before the checkered flag!
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Silverstone, UK - As flashbacks of France 2019 started to go through the minds of many fans watching the 2020 British Grand Prix, it wasn't until the final five laps that we had a reason to be on the edge of our seats. After some early incidents which led to many laps under the safety car, the grand prix became somewhat of a glorified test session with no real meaningful action happening. That was until Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas received a puncture after running comfortably in P2. That incident led to a snowball effect of a Verstappen pit stop, Carlos Sainz puncture, and then Lewis Hamilton's own unfortunate puncture with one lap to go. Luckily for Hamilton, the gap was big enough that he was able to limp home on three wheels to take his seventh British Grand Prix victory and take a thirty point lead in the championship. Let's dive into the 5 thoughts from the 2020 British Grand Prix.
1. Will a tyre change be necessary for next week?
At the end of 52 laps around the Silverstone circuit, a total of 5 drivers had tyre related incidents and or failures. Hamilton, Bottas, Kvyat, Sainz, and Raikkonen all had their misfortunes with Pirelli rubber at different stages of the race. For some like Bottas and Sainz, the timing was downright cruel with failures coming at the late stages of the grand prix. We haven't seen collective tyre failures like this in quite a while and it has definitely caught the attention of Pirelli ahead of next weekend's race at this same circuit. What concerns drivers and teams is that it was the white side wall C1 tyre which failed for many drivers. Next week's allocation is one step softer so the hardest tyre available to drivers will only be the C2. At the moment, Pirelli are not sure of what lead to so many failures. It could be high tyre wear around a very demanding track, but it could also be debris from incidents such as Kvyat's and Raikkonen's (which are both suspected to be caused by punctures). Mario Isola of Pirelli has said they will need to conclude their investigation by Tuesday at the latest to be able to prepare for Sunday's 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. Changing the tyre compounds for the second race was a good move to shake things up at the same circuit. Forcing drivers into a two stop strategy might make the race more entertaining than just the one stopper that we got this weekend. But if Pirelli finds that their is a significant concern with those compounds around this circuit, they might need to implement a stint limit with each set of tyres to avoid more failures. At the end of the day, we want an exciting race with a variety of strategies and pits tops but not at the cost of safety.
2. Mercedes even win on three wheels!
Who needs four wheels to win a race anyways? Certainly not Mercedes in this 2020 car. For the large majority of the British Grand Prix, Mercedes were alone out in front with neither a competing constructor in sight. Their qualifying advantage was astounding and their nearest rivals left in the dust just hoping to be within half a second of the mighty W11's. Then bad luck (or good luck depending on who you support) struck as Bottas picked up a puncture knocking him out of the points. Shortly their after, his teammate and race leader Lewis Hamilton suffered a similar tyre issue and had to limp home on three wheels for the victory. Verstappen was charging from behind but ultimately the gap was too large in the end. Fans immediately were wondering why Red Bull pitted Verstappen as he would have won the race had he stayed out. While that is certainly a possibility, Rec Bull made the decision based on what they knew at the time and not what happened afterwards. But as Christian Horner revealed, the decision to bring in Verstappen and still secure a podium was probably the right move. “The tyre that came off the car had about 50 little cuts in it,” said Horner. “So it’s been through debris," Horner said. “If we’d stayed out, we could have lost a second position with the same failure as Lewis, Carlos Sainz and Bottas,” said Horner. “So it was right on the limit. We’ll be grateful to what we’ve got rather than what we potentially lost.” The decision to pit or not to pit is actually not the problem at hand. The real issue at hand is how every team is miles off the pace of Mercedes and how in their 7th consecutive year of domination, the gap has gotten even bigger. Yes Max Verstappen could've taken victory, but it would've been a very lucky one indeed and not a victory based on merit or pace. If Hamilton can race home on three wheels and still take victory, the other nine teams need to point the finger at themselves and not steer away the blame to something else.
3. Vettel to Aston Martin a done deal?
Sebastian Vettel seems to be making more news off the track rather than on it in 2020. When it comes to racing, his SF1000 certainly isn't a 'headline maker' type car. To say that Vettel struggled all weekend would be an understatement. Lack of running, brake issues, and setup woes saw Vettel nowhere near the pace of rivals Renault and McLaren. Vettel's struggles were best highlighted when he locked up in Copse corner on Lap 1 which even baffled F1 veteran Martin Brundle. With all the drama in the last few laps, some news surrounding Vettel's future might have flown under the radar. Ted Kravitzy of Sky Sports F1 reported post race that their is little doubt around the paddock that Sebastian Vettel will be joining Racing Point/Aston Martin next season. He goes on to say that an announcement was expected before this weekend but with Perez's positive Covid test, they postponed the announcement. More fuel was added to the rumor fire after this video of an interaction with Lawrence Stroll and Sebastian Vettel in the paddock.
Now this innocent interaction is by means a confirmation to the rumor, but with someone like Ted Kravitz reporting that members of the paddock believe the move is all but done, it certainly adds more validity to the rumor. We'll have to wait and see what happens in the coming weeks but Vettel would like to make a decision sooner rather than later. If he does indeed move to Aston Martin for 2021, it would really shake things up for the driver market and put some drivers under the hot seat.
4. What happened to Racing Point?
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You have to feel for Racing Point a bit after a very tough weekend in Silverstone. They had such high hopes for their home grand prix after a strong finish in Hungary. With Sergio Perez forced out of his drive due to a positive Covid test, the team were up against it to find a replacement in less than 24 hours before FP1. Luckily, Nico Hulkenberg was more than up to the task and they were able to get both cars out despite the long hours for the mechanics. It seemed very promising on Friday as Hulkenberg was competitive fairly quickly while defacto team leader Lance Stroll topped the time sheets in FP2. But then it started to unravel in qualifying when Hulkenberg barley missed out on Q3 and Stroll only just made it having set the same time as Pierre Gasly in 11th. He ended up qualifying in P6 which was disappointing but the team had set the car up for better race pace. When it came to the race, that pace never really materialized. Stroll struggled at the start and lost two places and from them on progressively fell back down the order to cling home to a P9. His teammate on the other hand never even got the chance to run a lap in his return to Formula 1. A sheared bolt in the clutch housing unit did not allow the power unit to fire up therefore Hulkenberg was not able to start the race. It was a terrible turn of events considering some fans were fantasizing about a Hulkenberg podium in the 'pink Mercedes'. It's been a strange year so far for Racing Point through four races. They've shown glimpses of being the third best team but haven't really brought it all together for consistent performances. Does the Renault protest have anything to do with it? It's difficult to say but it most likely doesn't help. Let's see what they can do in a week's time at the same track but copying the 2019 Mercedes hasn't yielded the results they were hoping for just quite yet.
5. A round of applause for Pierre Gasly
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Which driver do you ask is the least talked about and most under rated so far in 2020? That would be Alpha Tauri's Pierre Gasly. One can't help but look at Alex Albon's start to 2020 and see similarities to Gasly's short tenure at Red Bull. Since Gasly has returned to the junior squad, he's been nothing short of exceptional and has re-proven his worth as a top Formula 1 driver. In four races so far, Gasly has two P7 finishes and has put in some stellar qualifying performances. In an Alpha Tauri that seems a little less competitive than last year's car, Gasly has kept the team afloat in the midfield battle. Alpha Tauri sit 7th in the constructor's standings and the British GP was a very good race for the Frenchman. He'll be happy to finish P7 knowing he powered past a Ferrari on true pace and managed to finish ahead of Alex Albon and the lone Racing Point. We don't know what will happen with Albon and the second Red Bull seat but Pierre Gasly has done a remarkable job since being demoted. He could have easily taken a step back and hung his head in disappointment, but he's been able to achieve better results in a Red Bull 'B' car than he did with the 'A' car. He's a driver that hasn't been talked about all that much but deserves the recognition for his performances so far this season.