This was a sort of perfect storm – but with positive rather than the negative connotations normally associated with the phrase.
Perfect because the comparatively cool British summer meant Silverstone’s asphalt was not about to overheat tyres usually made fragile by absurdly heavy cars; perfect because the fast layout of one of F1’s great race tracks totally suited the excessively complex downforce chemistry created by today’s F1 cars; perfect because the drivers proved why they are the best in the world with one breathtaking move after another; perfect because stewards kept the fat rule book firmly shut and allowed racing to follow its dramatic course; perfect because it justified the recent agreement between F1 and Silverstone to give us at least another five years of this; perfect because Lewis Hamilton established a record sixth British Grand Prix win with a clever drive worthy of the crowd’s favourite; and perfect because F1, guilty of boredom in the past, actually came up with a sporting event to match nail-biting contests at Lords and Wimbledon.
We had the added bonus of a result that was decided on the track and not in the stewards’ room. There may have been uncertainty and a bit of unpleasantness after the Leclerc/Verstappen clash in Austria, but the plus side has to be Leclerc’s increasingly impressive and mature attitude along the lines of: ‘Okay, if that’s allowed, at least now I know. So let’s get on with it.’
The continuing fight between these two was stunning; so very close to the edge of reasonable – but never over it. If this is F1’s future, then a potentially thrilling battle to be Hamilton’s successor is something to be savoured.
As for the man himself, Sunday’s race was another demonstration of how to maximise the most competitive car and team. Thoughts that he had been helped by a safety car were later ‘disavowed’ (to use a word employed by Rich Energy in a bizarre sponsorship story last weekend that had got off to a bad start in February when the company’s CEO confidently assured us Rich Energy was about to challenge Red Bull in the energy drink market. Yeah, and I’m up for the Nobel Prize in Literature).
It seems Lewis never intended to make two stops in the first place. It’s just that the Mercedes pit wall didn’t know this. And neither, of course, did poor Bottas. The huge psychological plus of snatching pole from Hamilton at home (albeit it by just 0.006s over 5.89km/3.66 miles) seemed to have given Valtteri wings as he vigorously defended and then regained his initial lead with an incredibly brave move down the inside going into Copse.
The trouble is, television frequently does F1 a disservice – not helped on Sunday by the clueless director (clearly up for a gong with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts) cutting to a crowd scene in the middle of this intense battle. But even when selected correctly, the cameras didn’t actually do justice to Hamilton and Bottas being side-by-side at 180 mph/290km (!) with neither willing to lift for a right-hander that is blind and very scary. Commitment and respect were the two words that came to mind as they emerged without taking each other out.
Hamilton may have conceded but he knew that this had aided his master plan as Bottas took the maximum from his left-front, a potential problem that affects the World Champion to a lesser degree thanks to a more economic style that is not visible to the eye.
As Bottas would later commit to the planned two-stop by taking another set of mediums, Hamilton was keeping his cards close to his chest and looking for the one stop. That became a no-brainer thanks to the opportunity thrown up by the Safety Car just before half distance. By then, it was game over for Bottas in any case. The final poke in the eye for the Finn came during the final lap when Hamilton somehow conjured fastest race lap from a set of hards that were 31 laps old.
Is it fair to ask why future racing cannot be improved by having tyres of similar durability and performance instead of the nonsense of drivers lapping a couple of seconds off the pace on delicate rubber? Or was it simply part of this perfect racing storm on Sunday 14 July?