The British Grand Prix is one of those special ones in the Formula 1 calendar, having hosted the motorsport through most of its lifetime and being denominated as a “second home” by a majority of teams and drivers – past and present. Somewhat like Monaco GP, it means a lot to win this one, and more so for the four British drivers racing today. All signs in Heaven and Earth suggested the day would indeed belong to a Brit – until the first bang! took place and the grid started crumbling down to a much unexpected finale.
After the Saturday qualifying in Silverstone it seemed Lewis Hamilton has finally found his star and would shine for the first time in full glow on top of his home grand prix’s podium. He did not disappoint at the start of the race either, when he shoot out ahead of the pack to instantly gain a decent advantage over Vettel, who benefited from Nico Rosberg’s not-so-great start to overtake his compatriot into second place. But then Formula 1 reminded everyone of its unpredictable nature, and in a deja-vu of last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix disaster struck the unfortunate British race-leader once more. It seemed such an irony of fate: who was the most likely to suffer from a blown tyre than the team who had been accused of illegally testing tyres in the course of the championship? When Hamilton’s limping Mercedes made its way down the circuits to the pits, predictions did not give him much chance of recovery, with the pundits expecting the damage to the car being too great for him to continue the race; but after a change of tyres, Hamilton was back in contention – and at the back of the grid. But not for long, as the popping party had only just begun.
A few laps later on the same Wellington straight Felipe Massa lost control over his car – after losing the same left-rear tyre as the Mercedes. He too bravely stirred back onto the track and into the pits to re-start his race on a new set of tyres. The Ferrari team had not been having a good weekend already: the Brazilian did not make it into Q3 whilst Alonso was the slowest out of the remaining 10 cars; and yet, despite his tyre woes, Massa ended the afternoon in 6. place, adding to Alonso’s third place finish – which was still not good enough result for the Spaniard:
“There were some other Sundays that we lost some points and maybe I was more optimistic,” Alonso said from the podium. “Today we recovered some points but we know there is a lot of work to do.”
If two tyre blow-ups weren’t already a cause for concern, Jean-Eric Vergne made a case out of it when his Toro Rosso blew up rubber into Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus behind him. The Frenchman impressed with skilful management of his car, keeping it from swerving into his competitors and coasting it into the pits – but there was nothing he could do about the damage to the chassis and after a few more laps he had to concede the race, becoming – surprisingly, in the circumstances – first retirement of the afternoon.
There was a wave of panic across the team-radios when the drivers were advised to keep off the kerbs and stay easy on the tyres until it got clarified whether it was debris on the track or overheating rubber causing the blow-ups. A safety car was deployed to keep everyone calm whilst the circuit staff did their best to clean up the track; after the final celebrations were over it emerged that the race director, Charlie Whiting, actually considered red-flagging the circus all together due to safety concerns.
At the time it was Sebastian Vettel leading the pack; after Hamilton’s departure he slipped into his favourite position and comfortably stayed in front, ahead of the other remaining Mercedes’ driver, who thankfully managed to get away with no major tyre issues. The Abu Dhabi reminiscence was still there and it looked like the Red Bull driver had this one in the bag. And then on lap 41 another disaster struck – but this time it wasn’t the tyres that saw the unstoppable Seb finish his race early – although having inspected the tyres after his pit-stop the team was mortified to discover the deep cuts in the rubber, which would inevitably add another bang! to the afternoon if they had let the German run a bit longer. This time it was the Red Bull’s gearbox that blew up, leaving Vettel with no choice but to park the car on the side of the circuit and watch another safety car go out on track – but only from the sidelines. A tender hug from team-principal Christian Horner wouldn’t have softened the blow of narrowing Vettel’s championship advantage over Alonso by 15points gained by the Spaniard that afternoon; and he might have remembered then Ferrari driver’s predictions that one day rivals’ luck would run out.
“Obviously it’s quite disappointing to retire when we were only a few laps from the end,” Vettel said. “It’s a shame because we were in a good position and it’s a nice race to win here, so yeah I guess we have to come back next year and try again.”
“What the hell happened on that start? Unbelievable”
If one wanted to analyse that response, one could find a dig there at Vettel’s team-mate, who will not have a similar opportunity next year. After announcing his departure from Formula 1 at the end of the season, Webber would have hoped for a better performance on his very local circuit (he’s settled in Buckinghamshire), but the afternoon started horribly for the Aussie. When the lights went off he instantly dropped from fourth to 15., unable to force any power into the car.
“What the hell happened on that start? Unbelievable,” his message on the team-radio was broadcast in the course of the race.
And yet, Webber managed the impossible – not for the first time anyway – and flew across the grid and ahead of his competition in the final stages of the race, to end up second overall. Whether it was his team-mate’s misfortune that gave him wings, or the support of the crowds (deafening when he was welcomed on the podium) is hard to say – but it’s fair to predict that with a few extra laps the Aussie could have claimed the top spot in Silverstone.
He didn’t, however, and it was Hamilton’s team-mate who eventually won the eventful race – but not before Sergio Perez made it a double-blow up on his McLaren, following a loss of tyre in third practice and bringing the race tyre-thrashing tally up to four. Like Vergne, he was unable to finish the race. His team-mate Button did not compensate the team or the British fans, finishing himself outside the points, in 13.
“Someone could’ve crashed… it’s only when someone gets hurt that something will be done about it”
It was hard to predict how much joy would the British public have from the last front-running home driver, who was not front-running at all in Silverstone – Paul di Resta’s fifth qualifying time was annulled when his Force India was found to be 1,5kg too light after the Saturday session, which meant he started the race from the very back of the grid. The Scot’s determination shone through once again and he managed to end the race in ninth – adding to his team-mate Sutil’s seventh finish which reinforced Force India’s top midfield form this season.
They are still far off Lotus, who, however, did not deliver this time round. Romain Grosjean was the last retiree of the afternoon due to a front-wing damage, whilst Kimi Raikkonen, who looked strong to claim second podium place, slipped behind faster rivals – on fresher tyres (including otherwise disadvantaged Hamilton) – to end up in unimpressive fifth place.
“Our strategy was great today until the last safety car when we should have called Kimi in to save at least one position and make the podium. Unfortunately, we made the wrong call for which we apologise to Kimi and to the team,” admitted Lotus’ team-principal, Eric Boullier.
All in all, the British Grand Prix turned out to be a German feast: not only did Rosberg claim his second GP win of the season and the third of his career, finally showing his true potential out of the shadow of a celebrity team-mate; the Silver Arrows have also put a stamp on this season, proving that their return to the sport was justified. Even with the shadow of the Barcelona testing affair looming over the team, after the Silverstone tyre madness it will be Pirelli who will come under greater scrutiny – the manufacturer’s role in providing 2014 entertainment becoming almost impossible – with Mercedes somewhat benefitting from the event, now being justly able to join their voice in the tyre company’s criticism:
“We had that tyre test to develop and improve the tyres to stop that from happening and after that tyre test they didn’t do anything,” Hamilton said after the race. “Someone could’ve crashed. I was thinking behind the safety car that it’s only when someone gets hurt that something will be done about it.”
Affairs aside, the team has now moved ahead of Ferrari in the constructors championship – for the frist time in history of the classification – and although Red Bull is still well away in the lead with a 48 point advantage, there’s no denying that Mercedes is returned for good, and they mean business.
Even more so with the German Grand Prix next week in sight.