The second-leg at Silverstone was scheduled around the same time as Formula 1’s 70th anniversary and so the organisers dubbed this race as the 70th Anniversary GP. It worked well with the fact that the first official F1 world championship Grand Prix also took place at Silverstone. So, the venue fit the occasion in that sense. I’m still not a fan of the Grand Prix name but let’s roll with it for convenience’s sake.
I found myself more excited about the 70th GP than I thought I would be a few weekends ago. The tyre drama from the British GP had turned an otherwise sleepy affair into a nail-biting finish. This time around, Pirelli had allocated even softer compounds and higher tyre pressures for the weekend to keep things fresh and somewhat unpredictable. Also, we were hoping to see the Hulk back amid the racing action.
In qualifying, both Mercedes were nearly a second quicker than their nearest rivals. Valtteri Bottas took pole position, seemingly re-energised after announcing his extension with Mercedes for 2021. Meanwhile, emergency substitute Nico Hulkenberg managed to clock the third-fastest lap in the controversial RP20. In case you missed that exciting story, Nico was filling in for Sergio Perez at Racing Point after the Mexican driver did not clear his COVID-19 testing (he is healthy but the tests were inconclusive). Joining him on the second row of the grid was Max Verstappen, hungry for the win after just missing out on it at the first race of the British leg of the season. This time, Red Bull had put him on a different strategy compared to the rest of the top 10 – he would be starting on the Hard tyres (used for setting his fastest time in Q2). Everyone else was on the Medium compound which was actually the same as last week’s Soft tyre option. So, on paper, Verstappen had the best tactical advantage for the first stint of the race.
A surprisingly strong performance from Daniel Ricciardo to be fifth fastest, ahead of the other Racing Point driven by Lance Stroll. Pierre Gasly was able to clock the seventh-fastest time in his AlphaTauri, only slightly quicker than Charles Leclerc. Meanwhile, Alex Albon’s qualifying struggles continued as he was only ninth fastest and was joined on the fifth row by batchmate Lando Norris. Vettel couldn’t do better than 12th in qualifying. That SF1000 is getting no love from the four-time F1 world champion or the Tifosi.
Both Bottas and Hamilton had a good start, the Finn staying ahead of the Brit while Max was able to pass Nico before the first corner. Behind the leaders, Vettel spun after bumping the kerb on the first corner as he tried to avoid his teammate who had a small lockup ahead of him. At the next couple of corners, Ricciardo seemed set to make a pass on Hulkenberg but ended up getting overtaken by the other Racing Point instead. A few corners later, Leclerc was down in P10 having been overtaken by Albon and Norris. Vettel was still in the race but plum last after the first lap.
Lewis was pushing Bottas in the first few laps to try and stay within DRS range but the Finn managed to stay ahead by just over a second. Behind them, Max was lapping pretty quick too and staying within attack range on his longer-lasting tyres. Within ten laps, both Mercedes had blisters on their medium compound tyres and were beginning to struggle for grip. Lewis had to back off a bit which put him closer to the No.33 Red Bull. At first, Max was told to back off a bit to preseve his tyres and that’s when we got our favourite radio message of the race and reminded us why we love him:
Mate, this is the only chance of being close to the Mercedes. I’m not just sitting behind like a grandma!!-Max Verstappen, Lap 11 of 70th Anniversary GP (Silverstone, 2020)
Red Bull pitted Albon before anyone to switch him from the Medium tyres to the Hard tyres after just 6 laps, confirming that the youngster was on a two-stop strategy. As the race leader, Mercedes pitted Valtteri first after 13 laps and Lewis pitted the next lap with Max right on his tail. Red Bull’s star performer was able to extract great pace from his Hard tyres, pulling a comfortable lead and going as quick as the Mercedes on the fresh sets. Tyre woes continued for Mercedes as both drivers could see the start of more blistering on their Hard tyres that were less than 10 laps old. In comparison, Verstappen’s tyres looked quite healthy despite twice the wear.
By Lap 26, Max had a lead of more than 19 seconds over second-place Valtteri. So Red Bull pitted him for a set of fresh Medium tyres at the end of that lap. An issue with rear-right tyre change (rare for the usually flawless Red Bull crew) delayed him just enough to rejoin the track just behind Bottas. But the Dutchman was able to make quick work of the black arrow just a few corners later thanks to the DRS zone and extra grip through Turns 6, 7 and 8 (Luffield and Woodcote).
Much to the surprise of many, Verstappen was entering the pits again just 6 laps to switch from the Medium for a fresh set of Hard tyres. It seems even Red Bull were struggling to eke pace out of the softer compound around Silverstone. Following Max into the pits was Bottas who was able to stay closer this time around on his blistering set of Hard tyres that had done a 19 lap stint and were looking in very poor shape. For fear of a repeat from the last weekend’s tyre failure, Mercedes seemed to be taking a more cautious approach. At least that’s what we thought until we saw that they weren’t bringing Lewis in for a stop too. In fact, they left Hamilton out on track with what looked like half a tire’s width of tread on each corner for another NINE laps.
The defending world champion had a lead of around 10 seconds over Verstappen behind when he pitted for his final stop to put on a fresh set of Hard tyres. Max had upped his pace a few laps earlier just in case Mercedes tried a one-stop strategy with Lewis in the lead. Hamilton rejoined the race in P4 behind Leclerc with 11 laps to catch up the leading Red Bull. The Ferrari was in no place to fight for the podium but it did take Lewis a couple of laps before getting past on his fresher tyres. Meanwhile, Verstappen was 5 seconds clear of Bottas and 10 second clear of the Brit.
By Lap 50, Valtteri had completed 17 laps on his second set of Hard tyres compared to Lewis’ set which had only done 8 laps. The Finn was nearly 9 seconds behind the race leader and wasn’t able to defend against his teammate for long. A mix of extra grip and DRS allowed Hamilton to move into P2 but his stunning pace in the final few laps was all for nought.
Verstappen took the chequered flag at the 70th Anniversary GP with a lead of more than 11 seconds over the defending World Champion. It was a stunning drive from the Red Bull driver to clinch his 9th F1 career win, his first at Silverstone. For the team, it was their first win on British soil since 2012. It’s been a strong performance for Max in 2020 despite his first lap retirement at the season opener race in Austria. He’s recorded a podium finish every race since and might be the only true competitor for the Mercedes duo in 2020.
Despite starting on Pole position, Bottas finished a grumpy P3, fully aware that he had fallen considerably behind Lewis in the driver’s championship. In his initial statements after the race, he felt that the Merc garage was sleeping on strategy and he had been cheated out of a better result by giving Lewis a better plan. Later on, Mercedes refuted the driver’s initial response stating that when they pitted Bottas and were able to take a closer look at the worryingly blistered tyres, they realised that there was still a fair amount of grip/tread left on them. That’s why they revised their strategy and left Lewis out on track for a longer stint.
Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc was quite elated with his P4 finish. He was one of the two drivers to run a single-stop strategy and finish in the points. Given that Ferrari has openly accepted that the SF1000 is not a competitive car, a P4 finish with tricky tyre management was only possible thanks to Charles’ fantastic performance. His performance seems even more exceptional when you see that teammate Vettel failed to reach Q3 and wasn’t able to finish in the points either, crossing the line in P12. Had there been a repeat of the previous weekend and one of the race leaders had a serious issue, he would have managed another podium too.
Despite Max’s entertaining banter and dominant drive, it was his teammate who had the most eventful race of all. After pitting the earliest, Albon dropped to the back of the pack and made plenty of overtakes to make up places. He made the most of the extra pace and lack of tyre troubles that seemed to be plaguing the rest of the grid to be more aggressive. Despite his two-stop strategy always putting him amid the middle order, Albon was able to make up a lot of track positions. Thanks to a late third pitstop for Hulkenberg, he only had to get past Stroll to finish the race in P5.
Racing Point got some much-needed constructor’s points with Stroll and Hulkenberg finishing P6 and P7 respectively. It was a most impressive drive from Nico to turn up with little to no experience in the 2020 cars and deliver such a strong result for the team. While he was within half a chance for that ever-elusive podium, vibrations in the closing laps forced him to make that extra stop, without which he would have finished ahead of Stroll at least. It’ll be nice to have Checo back (hopefully) for the next race but this was a pretty good advertisement for all teams looking for a decent driver next season.
Esteban Ocon was the only Renault driver to finish in the points as he crossed the line in P8. The Frenchman had started 14th on the grid and also ran a single-stop strategy. Daniel’s day had gone from bad to worse. After starting fifth on the grid, he’d slipped down a few places in the first stint before having a spin soon after putting on a set of the Hard tyres which forced him to pit again for his final stint. The Renault driver finished the race in P14, a frustrating result given his P4 finish on the same track the week before.
Another man who can’t seem to catch a break on a race day is McLaren’s Carlos Sainz. The car was not as quick as it had been in previous races to begin with and Sainz started 12th on the grid. He was on track for a points finish until a botched pit stop threw his entire race strategy out of whack, again. First, there was an issue with changing the front-left wheel and then he had to slam the brakes to avoid pitlane traffic, which ended up undoing all his hard work until that point in the race. He crossed the finish line in P13. Meanwhile, teammate Norris seems to be getting most of the luck as he too was struggling for pace and grip but managed to secure a P9 result.
The final point of the 70th Anniversary GP was claimed by Daniil Kvyat. He also put in a strong performance in the AlphaTauri Honda after starting 16th on the grid. It’s not much but it must have felt like redemption for the Russian driver after his early crash the week before. Teammate Gasly had qualified well but was struggling with the tyres in race trim and finished just behind in P11.
Kevin Magnussen was the only retirement of the race, this time in parking his car in the pits instead of being shunted into a fence. He wasn’t doing particularly well in the Haas despite an impressive start. You can check out Kevin’s first couple of corners and some more cool on-boards from the race in the Formula 1 clip below:
The racing action continues next weekend in Spain where teams have had the most practice so far thanks to pre-season testing. Like Silverstone, the Catalunya circuit too features sweeping fast bends which could give trouble to Mercedes yet again and allow Red Bull an opportunity for another win. Can Sainz make up for his poor luck in the British leg with a strong finish at his home circuit? We sure hope so. Stay tuned and subscribe to the Auto Loons blog for plenty more updates from F1 and the car world.
Here are the final standings for the 70th Anniversary GP:
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda — 1:19:41.993
- L. Hamilton Mercedes +11.362
- V. Bottas Mercedes +19.231
- C. Leclerc Ferrari +29.289
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +39.146
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes +42.538
- N. Hulkenberg Racing Point BWT Mercedes +55.951
- E. Ocon Renault +64.773
- L. Norris McLaren Renault +65.544
- D. Kvyat AlphaTauri Honda +69.669
- P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda +70.642
- S. Vettel Ferrari +73.370
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault +74.070
- D. Ricciardo Renault +1 Lap
- K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +1 Lap
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +1 Lap
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 Lap
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes +1 Lap
- N. Latifi Williams Racing Mercedes +1 Lap
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari DNF