Five talking points from the 70th Anniversary GP

10th August 2020
Damien Smith

“I didn’t see that coming,” said Max Verstappen following his sensational victory in the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone, on a sweltering Sunday afternoon. Neither, it must be said, did Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes-AMG, who found themselves well and truly beaten by the inspired Dutchman and Red Bull Racing, in a race that turned the formbook on its head.


Mercedes boils over

Some had spoken about an ‘Invincibles’ season from Mercedes-AMG, that the team might remain unbeaten throughout this truncated season. But boiling and blistering Pirelli tyres put paid to that, on a day when Merc’s clear superiority was not only pegged back, but even surpassed by Verstappen’s Red Bull. After just 10 laps it was clear the W11s were struggling on the medium compound tyre the majority had chosen to start on. A softer range of rubber than those that had proven susceptible to alarming failures a week early at the British Grand Prix always meant tyre wear was going to be a concern and a factor, and with track temperatures bubbling beyond 40 degrees Celsius Mercedes’ Achilles’ Heel was laid bare. Why were the black cars so badly affected? Perhaps their superiority of performance put more strain on the rubber, exaggerating its weakness more than less efficient rival cars. Whatever, the team will be hard at work this week and racing against time to understand exactly why, before the teams pitch up in Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix next Sunday – when temperatures are expected to be a still significant 29 degrees Celsius.


Red Bull and Verstappen grab their chance

Red Bull played a masterstroke by compromising Verstappen’s qualifying to leave him starting the race on the hard tyre. Without any obvious wear issues, he was able to hound Bottas and Hamilton in the early stages after predictably getting the better of fellow second row starter Nico Hülkenberg from the lights. A 26-lap first stint compared to pretty much half that from his Mercedes rivals gave him a surprise advantage. He rejoined from his first stop just behind Bottas after switching to mediums, but was back ahead by the end of the Wellington straight and after just six laps on the yellow-rimmed tyres, returned to the pits for the hard compound once more, with Bottas following him in. The Finn, having started from a hard-earned pole position, was now a beaten man.

Hamilton gave Red Bull pause for thought on his long middle stint on hard tyres. Despite very obvious and severe blistering on his rears, it looked for a while that Mercedes might call on the six-time world champion’s revered tenderness with fragile rubber and make him go the end. Verstappen was ordered to chase down the gap just in case, but when Hamilton pitted on lap 41 Max was in the clear and his ninth grand prix victory secure.

No wonder his boss Christian Horner described it as an “amazing performance”. Early on Verstappen was warned about tyre wear and advised to back off from his chase of the Mercedes, but fired back an amusing message about preferring not to drive “like grandma”. His aggressive instincts were bang on and he wasn’t about to waste a rare chance to beat the best cars on the grid. As for Bottas, his frustration in describing his team as “sleeping” on strategy was perfectly understandable, while Hamilton was also bemused by the switch in form caused by the heat. His late charge on fresh rubber and a strategy that proved superior to his team-mate’s took him past first Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari for third, and then Bottas without any trouble. But Vertstappen was long gone. Hamilton’s extra point for fastest lap leaves him 34 ahead of Bottas in the title race, but impressively Verstappen now sits between them. All we need is a series of boiling summer races and similarly soft Pirelli tyres to give Max the most unlikely of long-shots… The title is still Hamilton’s to lose, but thank the Lord for Verstappen and Red Bull for at least keeping it interesting.


Leclerc shows his class

A one-stop strategy just a week after the front-left tyre failures in the British GP was a daring choice for Ferrari, but like Red Bull the team has to think clever to be competitive right now – and with a talent as sensitive to wear as Charles Leclerc, it has the driver to make such risks pay off. The 22-year-old put in a stunning performance to claim fourth place from eighth on the grid and his enthusiastic whooping on the team radio on his cool-down lap only confirmed just how good this drive had been.

The top four were Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas and Leclerc. It’s a pretty accurate snapshot of the best performers in F1 right now. On a day like this, no one else could touch them.


Hülkenberg makes his Racing Point

The 70th Anniversary GP was supposed to be a celebration, but it was mostly a bad-tempered weekend in the wake of the Racing Point ‘Pink Mercedes’ copying verdict from mid-week. The squabbling was starting to get a little personal between the team principals, and one interesting dynamic was the tension between Toto Wolff and Zak Brown, given that McLaren will become a Mercedes engine customer next year.

On track, Racing Point showed an upturn in form close to that displayed at the Styrian GP, with Nico Hülkenberg making the most of his second chance as replacement for the COVID-19-struck Sergio Pérez by qualifying a brilliant third, two places ahead of Lance Stroll. It was always a tall order to expect the German to maintain that position in the race and claim the long-awaited first podium everyone kept reminding him about, but seventh place – just behind Stroll – ensured he had delivered the points the team hoped and expected from him. Based on this performance, he could still be a Formula 1 player for one team or another come 2021.

A hot and bothered day for Vettel and Co

Alex Albon drove an impressive race from ninth on the grid to salvage fifth. But on a day when his team-mate clinched a stunning victory, his lowly grid slot was only a reminder that he needs to start qualifying higher to make the most of his potent Red Bull, if it’s not to be snatched away from him and given to someone else.

Renault was underwhelming after Daniel Ricciardo qualified a promising fifth, the Australian fading to a lacklustre 14th after a spin. Team-mate Esteban Ocon claimed some points in eighth, but it was small consolation.

McLaren too was disappointing, Lando Norris finishing a low-key ninth and Carlos Sainz Jr. 13th after a slow pit stop. The Spaniard finished one place down on the man he is due to replace next year, but for Sebastian Vettel the 70th Anniversary race was just another reminder that he’s currently a shadow of the feisty operator who won twice at Silverstone, the second time as recently as 2018. His half-spin at the first corner lost any advantage starting on the hard-compound tyres might have gained him and his complaints about Ferrari’s strategy thereafter sounded a tad desperate. We’ve asked it before and we ask it again: if you were Lawrence Stroll, would you sign Vettel for Aston Martin next year on the basis of his current form? It’s getting harder to make a case.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Formula 1

  • F1 2020

  • 2020

  • Max Verstappen

  • Nico Hulkenberg

  • Lewis Hamilton

  • Valtteri Bottas

  • Mercedes

  • Red Bull

  • Racing Point

  • Alex Albon

  • Ferrari

  • Charles Leclerc

  • Sebastien Vettel

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