Lewis Hamilton won his home Grand Prix for a record seventh time in a spectacularly dramatic final few minutes where both he and his teammate suffered tire punctures resulting in the Briton crossing the line on only three wheels. Hamilton was fortunate that Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team opted to pit in to get fresh rubber for the extra fastest lap point. Otherwise, the victory, which looked like a formality for much of the race, would’ve eluded him in this slow burn of a British Grand Prix.
It was a typical 2020 affair at Silverstone for most of the race, with both Mercedes’ comfortably ahead of the competition and Verstappen leading the rest. Hamilton led from pole and never conceded first place despite early pressure from Valtteri Bottas on the opening lap. Two early safety car periods kept the pack tightly bunched early on after both Kevin Magnusson and Daniil Kvyat ended their races in the barriers.
Magnusson hit the curb at Club corner hard, putting him off the racing line with the low starting Alex Albon looking to take advantage of this early mistake. The Thai driver wasted no time trying a move on the inside of the following corner. However, Magnusson cut back across, and the pair collided, sending Magnusson first airborne, then skidding across the gravel before finally smashing heavily into the tire barrier. This brought out the first of two safety cars, but no drivers took advantage to take a pit stop at such an early point. Albon will wish he did as his car suffered vibrations he only felt when back up to speed, and he emerged in last place after pitting the lap after the SC period ended.
Ten laps later, and it was the AlphaTauri of Daniil Kvyat that needed recovering. The Russian driver suffered an unusual accident on the entry to the high-speed left-hander of Maggots, losing the back end and hitting the barriers hard. Daniil’s frustration was evident as he shoved a TV cameraman out the way as he left the scene of the accident, apparently convinced it was a mistake of his. Though team principal, Franz, Tost, has suggested it may have been a puncture. Regardless, this time the subsequent safety car had the entire field pitting.
The only exception was the sole remaining Haas of Romain Grosjean, who tried a contrary strategy for the second successive race. The inevitable slide down the order of the Frenchman supplied most of the mid-race entertainment. Although the midfield runners ran close together, with the ten cars from P5 to P14 covered by just ten seconds, there were few overtakes. Grosjean’s erratic defense against Carlos Sainz when he moved in the braking zone earned him a black and white flag. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo described the move as ‘sketchy’ when the Haas driver repeated his weave against the Australian as he descended to the back of the pack.
The few overtakes not involving Grosjean weren’t what many expected. Kimi Raikkonen added to his miserable weekend by succumbing to Nicolas Latifi’s Williams as the Canadian enjoyed his first race not being the last car to cross the finish line. Pierre Gasly also surprised as he sped past Sebastian Vettel, who had no pace in his Ferrari all weekend, on the outside of Stowe. The AlphaTauri finished in an impressive 7th place. But perhaps the biggest mid-race surprise of all was the anonymity of Racing Point.
After such strong showings in the opening three rounds and claiming P1 in the second practice session, Lance Stroll was the slowest of the midfield, aside from Vettel. His teammate Sergio Perez failed a Covid-19 test on Thursday and sat out the race. The hastily arranged replacement, Nico Hulkenberg, couldn’t even start his engine pre-race thanks to drivetrain trouble. Stroll received the second black and white flag of the day for his move against Esteban Ocon in a carbon copy move of the Grosjean/Sainz incident before Gasly overtook his Racing Point in the closing laps.
But the big dramas of the race all came in the last three laps with three drivers suffering the same delamination problem with their Pirelli tires. Carlos Sainz and both Mercedes cars had their front left tire give up, but Hamilton was the only one who didn’t lose a position as his puncture came on the very last lap. Both Sainz and Bottas complained about tire vibrations over the radio, with the latter commenting that his visibility was affected. The end product for both were late trips to the pits before finishing their race out the points.
Max Verstappen, who spent much of the race by himself in third, had extended his lead over Ferrari’s fourth-placed Charles Leclerc enough to earn a ‘free’ pit-stop. The Dutchman used his advantage after he passed the three-wheeled Bottas to score an extra point. He could’ve claimed six more and the win if he hadn’t, as Hamilton’s tire suffered the same fate as the sister Mercedes on the last lap at the old pit-straight. Verstappen was 30 seconds behind Hamilton, and a win, thanks to his late stop when the reigning champion’s tire went. Max reeled in 24 seconds in just half a lap but crossed the line 6 seconds behind, with Charles Leclerc claiming his second podium of the year thanks to Bottas’s problem.
Silverstone hosts next week’s ’70th Anniversary Grand Prix’ on the same circuit layout, but with even softer tire compounds. The teams will be looking at Pirelli for answers so they can avoid any further unexpected failures. We should expect a rare two-stop strategy for most of the field next week as the drivers will not just race each other, but their tires’ lifespan, too, as F1 celebrates its 70th birthday at the track where it began in 1950.
Originally published at https://www.fortloc.com.