Max Verstappen celebrated his first victory of 2020 as Red Bull thoroughly outclassed Mercedes at Silverstone’s second race this month. Far from being a re-run of the late action at the British Grand Prix one week prior, the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix was captivating from start to finish. Thanks to concerns over the softer tire compounds that Pirelli made available, the teams had multiple strategy concerns to worry over. The result, for fans at least, was a thrilling race.
Valtteri Bottas started from pole after a scintillating lap to do one better than his qualifying attempt a week earlier. Things started well for the Finn, who needed a positive result to remain in the championship fight, as he smartly defended an early onslaught from teammate Lewis Hamilton. Bottas eased off and accelerated away with perfect timing at Luffield to deny the championship leader any slipstream run down the old pit straight. But it wasn’t the sister Mercedes who was the real enemy for Valtteri.
Max Verstappen had swiftly dispatched the high qualifying Nico Hulkenberg who, once again, substituted for Sergio Perez. Now in third place, the young Dutchman was at a distinct advantage by being the highest place driver on the much more durable hard compound tire. It wasn’t long before Max learned that he held all the aces for the first time this year and reeled in championship leader Hamilton who was running second. The medium tires equipped to Hamilton and Bottas proved far too delicate in the scorching British heat, and the pair couldn’t help but lose more and more grip as the Red Bull driver kept applying pressure.
Verstappen smelt blood. His engineer requested that he hang back to save his tires. But Max, ever the racer, knew his limits and insisted on pushing his advantage by sticking close to Hamilton’s rear wing and forcing both the Mercedes into stopping. After briefly running in clear air, Red Bull pitted their star driver, hoping to have him leapfrog ahead of not only Hamilton but Bottas too. It wasn’t to be, and instead, Max emerged a car length behind the Finnish race leader. However, Valtteri’s earlier resilience in the slow speed Woodcote-Luffield section against Hamilton was absent. Verstappen powered through into a lead that he didn’t relinquish for the remainder of the Grand Prix.
While Verstappen’s fortunes improved from his P4 qualification on Saturday to leading the race on Sunday, Bottas wondered where it all went wrong. His first lap went flawlessly, but the rate that his Mercedes W11 chewed up the rear tires hurt him dearly. The team understandably tried to cover off Red Bull and had Bottas pit simultaneously with Verstappen for the third and final stint. But Mercedes split their strategy and attempted to put Hamilton on a single-stopper. That didn’t work, and ten laps before the chequered flag, the current champion couldn’t manage his rears any longer and pitted himself. It didn’t take long for Lewis on much fresher rubber to catch and overtake Valtteri down the Wellington straight in a very uneven fight to claim second.
Behind the three podium finishers, the action was equally as compelling. Charles Leclerc drove just about slow enough to nurse his tires into a one-stop finish but still quick enough to keep Ferrari’s competitors at bay. In a clear example of how much has changed in 12 months, the Monegasque was delighted with his fourth-place finish.
Meanwhile, fellow Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel had yet another weekend to forget. Neither the team nor the German seemingly has an explanation for the pace gap between the two Ferraris. Regardless of which party is to blame for the lack of speed, Mr. Vettel is solely responsible for spinning all by himself at the first corner, compromising his race. He complained on the radio against Scuderia’s pit strategy, but he must look inward as to why he finished eight positions behind his young teammate.
Another driver not performing against their counterpart is Alex Albon. Albon continued his woeful qualifying performances with P9 this week. The Thai driver did pull off many brilliant overtakes in the race to clinch a fifth-place finish. But when the same car is capable of outperforming both the Mercedes in a different pair of hands, Albon could’ve challenged for a podium had his starting position been higher. In the end, he was just ahead of the Racing Point pair of Stroll and Hulkenberg. The pink outfit will be happy with their P6 and P7, which won them 14 points. That leaves the team with a net -1 over the weekend following the guilty verdict and 15-point penalty from the ongoing brake copying protest. Esteban Ocon, Lando Norris, and a great drive from Danil Kvyat completed the top ten.
With round 6 at Barcelona coming up this weekend with more high temperatures forecast, could the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix be the start of Red Bull closing up to Mercedes? Verstappen’s victory moves him to 2nd in the championship at the expense of Bottas. Both men have suffered mechanical problems while championship leader Hamilton hasn’t. If Hamilton DNF’s while Max charges to a victory & fastest lap, Verstappen would be just 4 points from P1. It’s a big if, but if these things even out over the season, a three-way title fight may not be as outrageous as it may have seemed a few days ago.
Originally published at https://www.fortloc.com.