With rain pelting down at the Silverstone Circuit right around the time of Martin Brundle’s pre-race grid walk, it was easy to think that this year’s British Grand Prix was bound to be one of the season’s most dramatic races. However, despite the rain stopping minutes before the start, a perilously wet track warranted that the race be started behind the safety car. Okay, sure, there was lots of standing water around the track, especially at the apex of Turn 1—so starting behind the safety car was a smart choice lest a car or two lose control and cause an almighty shunt.
The problem was, I think the safety car stayed out for too long and we easily lost five full racing laps of the 52-lap race. I would have loved to see the race start after only a lap or two, really. In effect, drivers in the midfield made a bee line to the pits during the restart to switch from full-wet tires to intermediates. I remember hearing Martin Brundle on commentary questioning the purpose of the full-wets when drivers aren’t even allowed to go racing until a dry line around the circuit is made. Furthermore, I don’t recall any driver claiming zero visibility once the race was brought under way, highly likely because the rain had already stopped. As a spectator, I just found it quite frustrating to wait for the track to dry until getting the real action started. I’d say just let them race on a wet track, on full wet weather tires, provided there are no drivers complaining about visibility. Anyway, enough of my little rant and on to the results.
On his backyard, polesitter Lewis Hamilton practically took control of the race from the safety car on Lap 6 and weathered the storm until the checkered flag, victorious at Silverstone for the third year in a row. The reigning World Champion has cut his championship deficit to teammate Nico Rosberg down to just one point after Rosberg was handed a post-race 10-second time penalty for a breach of the radio message rules. Rosberg and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen accompanied Hamilton to the podium as second and third-place finishers respectively but that order was switched in the final official results.
Similar to what was evident in Monaco a few races ago, Hamilton is clearly a better driver on a wet track than Rosberg. The championship leader started from second and never got to keep up with his rival’s pace. Hamilton gunned it from the restart all the way to the end, while Rosberg struggled with slow pace and was eventually overtaken by the charging Verstappen with a sneaky move around the outside of Becketts corner and into Chapel curve.
It was clear how brave and confident the 18-year-old Red Bull driver was on the tricky conditions. Ever since his promotion from the junior Toro Rosso squad, Verstappen has displayed solid defensive skills that truly complement his feisty attacking. During the latter half of the race, Rosberg found pace on the drying track and on slick medium-compound tires. Just like in Montreal last month, Verstappen defended skillfully against Rosberg in the dominant Mercedes. Although the German eventually got through after several attempts, the Red Bull driver sure made him labor for it.
With time ticking and the number of laps to the finish wound down, Hamilton continued to enjoy a healthy lead but Rosberg seemed to slowly reduce the gap, lap after lap. That’s when Rosberg encountered a gearbox problem, his car stuck on 7th gear. Immediately, his engineer advised him to make a quick adjustment, which proved to be a stopgap solution at least to bring the car home. Mercedes’ advice to their driver seemed to have been a spur-of-the-moment occurrence and this was fair enough since the problem was potentially terminal and the car could have suffered retirement. However, Rosberg was further advised to avoid 7th gear and it was this radio message that was deemed illegal by the stewards, hence the driver being handed a 10-second time penalty after the race. With the time added, Rosberg simply dropped to third but what could have been a four-point championship lead over Hamilton became only a single point gap approaching the halfway-point of the season. Following similar issues in Baku, I’m hoping there will soon be amendments to the radio communication rules, given that there’s quite a number of negative opinions regarding them.
As Mercedes continue to dominate and Red Bull enjoys a resurgence, Ferrari meanwhile had a pedestrian weekend. While Kimi Raikkonen merely consolidated his fifth-place start with a fifth-place finish, teammate Sebastian Vettel was again hampered by a gearbox problem during a practice session and suffered a five-place grid penalty. Vettel was unable to make the most out of qualifying and had to start in eleventh. Despite his confidence that he could make his way up the field, he could only manage a ninth-place finish. Vettel simply couldn’t find pace with his Ferrari and was one of many drivers who were caught spinning at the stubbornly wet Turn 1. Alex Yoong from Fox Sports Asia summed up Ferrari’s performance as “underwhelming” this weekend and I agree, thinking that the team seems to be fading. The threat from Red Bull towards the Italian squad is very palpable now, with only six points separating the two teams in the constructors’ standings.
Teams and drivers will take a breather this weekend after two consecutive grands prix before kicking off another two-week slate in Hungary and then Germany to round up a busy July. GP2 and GP3 will follow along on the tour so there’s sure to be lots more action.