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2020 British GP Race Recap : A Tyre-ing Day at the Office!

Silverstone UK was the venue for rounds four and five of the 2020 F1 season. The teams travelled west, a fortnight after the first triple-header of the year. The teams took stock of their performances in the opening rounds and arrived in Silverstone, some with an upgraded package.

There was a buzz in the air with the 70th anniversary of the sport a week later. However, grim news hit the paddock on Thursday. Sergio Perez, Racing Point F1 driver, was isolated due to an "inconclusive" Covid-19 test. He later tested positive. The Mexican went into self-isolation as per UK quarantine guidelines and would miss the British and possibly the 70th Anniversary GP. He had flown to Mexico to visit his injured mother and believes he contracted the virus during travel. Thankfully, he was asymptomatic.

Racing Point had little time to search for a replacement. Nico Hulkenberg got chosen over Vandoorne and Gutierrez. The German was a part of the sport up until last year and had a 5-year stint with the team. He infamously holds the record for the most number of races without a podium ( in F1 ). Many hoped this would change in the extremely capable Racing Point RP20.

Hulkenberg was allowed into the paddock after a series of Covid-19 tests and a seat fit completed in the Racing Point factory which is next door.


Silverstone is a power-track which offers a fair bit of challenge to general car balance thanks to its fast, flowing corners. This track was the first test of the capabilities of each car on the 2020 F1 grid and the "home race" for Mercedes AMG Petronas, Red Bull Racing, Racing Point, McLaren, Renault, Haas F1 and Williams Racing. 

Varying track temperatures would make it a challenge for the right tyre choice come qualifying and race. The tyre selection ( by Pirelli ) were a step harder than the ones chosen for the weekend after. The engineers had their hands full for an action-packed British and 70th Anniversary GPs.


Let us have a quick recap of the British GP weekend!


Practice :

Free Practice 1 saw Verstappen top the session with Hamilton and Stroll hot on his heels. The Mercedes powered cars were on the medium tyres vs the soft for the Red Bull. Ferrari had a mixed session with Leclerc setting the 5th fastest time and Vettel unable to participate due to intercooler issues on his engine. Bottas could only manage P6 while the Renaults made it into the top 10. Hulkenberg was a commendable P9, only half a second slower than his team-mate. McLaren had a tricky start to the weekend with Sainz and Norris in 12th and 13th respectively. Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi had offtrack excursions - Raikkonen suffered from a spin in Luffield while Giovinazzi had an incident at Becketts. The Italian came off worse. The blistered hard tyre damaged the floor of his car and debris got strewn across the track. The session was red-flagged, Giovinazzi summoned to the stewards' room. Russell complained about balance issues but was able to split the Alfa Romeo cars. Latifi was the last driver to set a lap time.

Track Temperature during Free Practice 2 was 10 degrees higher than that predicted for Qualifying and the Race. Stroll was the fastest in the session from Albon and Bottas. Albon had a high-speed crash on the exit of Stowe corner, massive damage to the rear end of his car. FIA had to red flag the session briefly. Bottas was 3rd for the Mercedes works team while Charles Leclerc promoted his Ferrari to P4! Hamilton had to back off on his flying lap and finished in P5. Sainz got McLaren into the top 6. Hulkenberg improved to P7; 6 tenths of a second the deficit to his team-mate. Gasly and Ricciardo were 8th and 9th. Kimi Raikkonen got his Alfa Romeo into the top 10, encouragement for the Ferrari powered customer team. Giovinazzi was P13 in the other Alfa Romeo while Norris and Ocon finished in P11 and P12. Max Verstappen was impeded on his qualifying sim run by Grosjean and had to settle for 14th. He made his intense displeasure known on the team radio and returned the favour a lap later. He also held up Ocon's Renault in the process. Vettel's woes didn't seem to end in FP2 either with the German setting only the 18th fastest time. He was confined to his box again due to a loose pedal floor. He had work to do on Saturday due to the limited running on Friday. Haas and Williams were the slowest in FP2. Latifi suffered a spin, out of Stowe corner near the end of FP2.

Free Practice 3 got underway with conditions being overcast. An ERS Issue for Albon resigned him to the pits for the majority of the session. Vettel's FP3 program also hit a blip when his brake pedal came loose, the German visibly frustrated with these setbacks. Bottas was the fastest in FP3 from Hamilton and VerstappenA gust of wind through Maggots and Becketts compromised Hamilton's flying lap, his real pace still unknown. Mercedes had a clear advantage to the rest of the field. Less than a second separated P1 from P9 with Stroll slotting himself into P4 ahead of Sainz and Leclerc, the only Ferrari powered car in the top ten. Hulkenberg reduced the deficit to his team-mate to only two-tenths of a second and finished in P9. P13 was the best that Albon could do after having his first lap time invalidated due to exceeding track limits. Vettel ended the session in P14. Five Ferrari powered cars were in the bottom six with Haas and Alfa Romeo bringing up the rear of the field. 
Alpha Tauri changed gearboxes for both their drivers. Gasly had retired in the previous race so didn't incur a penalty. However, Kyvat got a five-place grid drop. Renault broke the curfew restrictions on Friday night, their first of the two exemptions allowed in the season to change the chassis on Ricciardo's car after it developed a hairline fracture. Giovinazzi and Hamilton switched to their second MGU-K units, no penalties incurred.


Qualifying :

Bottas was the dominant Mercedes in Q1. Hamilton and Verstappen completed the top 3. The Racing Point cars were 4th and 5th. Russell once again bumped his Williams up into Q2 with a 13th place finish. His team-mate Latifi had a big spin at Luffield in the final minutes of Q1 and brought out yellow flags. Russell set his personal best time under yellow flag conditions ( P13 as mentioned earlier ) and was investigated by the stewards after the session. Raikkonen and Giovinazzi had improved on their times but couldn't get themselves out of Q1. Alfa Romeo Racing F1 was the only team to have not entered Q2 till date, troubled times for the Swiss-based outfit. Magnussen, Grosjean and Latifi were the other casualties. Raikkonen reported his displeasure at being impeded by Ocon and the stewards decided to investigate the incident.


Q2 got underway with a varied tyre choice for drivers. Mercedes, Racing Point, Red Bull and Leclerc chose the medium tyres for their first run. The rest of the field were on softs. Bottas set a new track record whereas Hamilton made a rare mistake at Luffield and got spun around. To add insult to injury, the Stewards decided to halt the session when Hamilton was on a flying lap ( his second attempt ). The marshalls had to clear the gravel off the racing line before the resumption of the session. The seven-time World Champion had a decision to make in the interim. He chose to use his final set of Medium Tyres for his second run in Q2 with eight minutes left on the clock. He set the 2nd fastest time, the move paying off. In the final minutes of the session, Vettel and Stroll exited the pits on a fresh set of medium tyres while the rest of the field ( including the Mercedes ) chose the soft tyres. Stroll couldn't improve on his final run, neither could Vettel. Stroll was the driver under threat in P10. Gasly matched his lap time ( to the thousandth of a second ) but was classified eleventh since Stroll was the first driver to set the same lap time ( as per FIA rules ). Albon was the big casualty of Q2 with twelfth being his best effort. Hulkenberg too was a disappointment in 13th. He believed the car had more pace. Russell and Kvyat were the other eliminations. Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Stroll and Leclerc would start the race on the medium set of tyres, enabling the quintet to go longer than the others ( in Q3 ) before their pitstops.


Low fuel loads, a fresh set of soft tyres and maximum engine performance are the hallmarks of every dry Q3. The final session of Qualifying got underway with some drama in the pit-lane. Stroll had to slam on his brakes after Ferrari released Leclerc in his path. Ricciardo was behind Stroll and had to do an evasive manoeuvre. Stewards decided to investigate the unsafe release. Mercedes pulled a considerable gap to the rest of the field with their banker laps. The order at the top had changed with Hamilton getting the jump on Bottas. He held onto provisional pole after the first runs and set a new track record in the process. Verstappen was the best of the rest in P3, a couple of tenths clear of Stroll and Leclerc. Vettel's lap was compromised after he put a wheel on the dirt at Chapel but managed to get provisional P6. The order would change drastically in the final run of Qualifying though. Hamilton went even faster, by three-tenths of a second, to grab pole at the British Grand Prix. Bottas pushed hard but had to settle for P2. A qualifying masterclass by the seven-time World Champion! Verstappen qualified in P3, a second down on the Mercedes duo. Leclerc produced a stellar lap to qualify in P4, a great place to start for the Ferrari driver. Norris and Stroll completed row three, Sainz and Ricciardo row four and Ocon and Vettel row five on the grid. Vettel's final lap time was invalidated as he had exceeded track limits, a dismal couple of days for the four-time world champion. 


The stewards decided to hand Russell a 5-place grid penalty for ignoring double yellow flags in Q1. Russell failed to interpret the "double-yellow" signal and wasn't instructed ( by the team ) to abort his lap ( as per the rules ). He also got three penalty points on his licence for this infringement. There was no further action on the Ocon/Raikkonen, Leclerc/Stroll and Stroll/Ricciardo incidents.

Hamilton bagged the 91st pole position of his career. It was also a day of milestones for both driver and team!

More on that here :

https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.qualifying-facts-and-stats-hamilton-claims-100th-front-row-start-for.3Osq6MptqI9lu9lc5Yf2WC.html


Mercedes were the class of the field on Saturday again. Verstappen was their closest challenger, albeit a second behind. McLaren and Racing Point hoped to have better race pace than the Ferraris while Albon had his work cut out for Sunday afternoon. Renault would be in the mix too. Duels in the front, midfield and at the back awaited fans on Raceday!


Race :

Hulkenberg, the replacement for Perez in Racing Point failed to make it to the grid due to engine issues on his car. Racing Point tried for a pit-lane start but to no avail. A disappointing end to a roller-coaster weekend for the German.  

Everyone ( bar Hulkenberg who didn't start ) outside the top 10 chose the medium set of tyres. Norris, Sainz, Ricciardo, Ocon and Vettel were the drivers who started the race on soft tyres.

The five red lights illuminated and a frenetic lap 1 got underway. Hamilton managed to fend off Bottas while Leclerc went wheel-to-wheel with Verstappen. The Dutchman held on to P3. Ricciardo moved up to P5 ahead of Sainz and Norris. Vettel ran wide at Corpse corner but managed to hold onto P10. Magnussen and Albon tangled at the last corner of the opening lap. Magnussen lost momentum after clipping the inside of the kerb and Albon tried a move on the inside. The left front tyre of the Red Bull hit the rear right tyre of the Haas, sending it into the barriers through the newly laid gravel.
The FIA immediately deployed the Safety car as well as the Medical car. Thankfully Magnussen was safe. The stewards initiated an investigation.

Racing resumed on lap 6 with Hamilton having a great restart. Ocon tried a move on Stroll but couldn't pull it off.  Albon pitted on lap 7 for hard tyres after reporting vibrations on the mediums that he had started the race on. He didn't suffer any suspension damage from the incident, a relief for the team. Vettel was stuck in P10 when DRS got enabled on lap 8. The Mercedes drivers were pulling away from Verstappen who was himself building a gap to Leclerc in 4th. Kvyat overtook Giovinazzi for P12 on lap 11 but had a massive crash at Maggotts a lap later. The car was a wreck after the High-G crash and brought out another Safety Car. The team suggested it was a right rear puncture to blame for the crash, not the driver. 

The Safety Car period caused a flurry of pit stops with everyone switching to the hard tyres. The front runners ( top 6 ) followed suit a lap later. Grosjean opted to not pit and got elevated to P5 at the expense of Sainz, Ricciardo, Norris and Stroll. Stroll was having a tough day at the office, the Racing Point car unable to live up to its true potential. Raikkonen also lost track position due to a poor double-stack by Alfa Romeo. The top 4 remain unchanged. The safety car period came at an ideal time for those on the soft tyres. It was a no stop race to the end now.

A prolonged period of seven laps under the safety car ended on lap 19 after a safe extrication of the stricken Alpha Tauri of Kvyat. Hamilton had a great restart again. Bottas doing likewise with Verstappen and Leclerc. There was action further down the field though. Sainz defended from Ricciardo who got bogged down and lost a place to Norris, the McLaren protege pulling off an amazing overtake on the outside of the corner. Norris then went wheel-to-wheel with Sainz but had to relent after running wide at Corpse. Further down, Ocon and Raikkonen overtook Vettel and Russell for P10 and P15 respectively. The stewards decided to punish Albon with a five-second time penalty for the incident ( on lap 1 ) which he served on his second stop.
 
Hamilton and Bottas were trading fastest laps in the front and pulling away from the rest of the field. Grosjean moved under braking while defending his position from Sainz. The Spaniard made his displeasure known over the team radio but got the move done on lap 22. Norris followed suit a lap later. Grosjean got warned with a Black & White Flag for unsporting behaviour on track, the stewards having studied his incident with Sainz. Stroll put a wheel on the dirt out of Becketts and was vulnerable to an overtake on the Hangar straight, Ocon unable to pounce at the opportunity. Raikkonen lost P15 to Russell on lap 28, a torrid time for the Iceman in the underperforming Alfa Romeo. Albon was slowly moving up the field and had Gasly in his sights. Gasly overtook Giovinazzi ( on lap 31 ) for P12 while Albon decided to pit instead of sparring with the duo in front. He served his time penalty, put on a new set of medium tyres and rejoined in seventeenth and last. Giovinazzi came under scrutiny a lap later over a Safety Car infringement. Raikkonen lost another place to Latifi on lap 33. Giovinazzi got punished with a five-second time penalty by the stewards and Ricciardo made a successful move on Grosjean for P7 ( lap 36 ). Grosjean had adopted dodgy tactics to defend his position again. The incident got flagged for investigation post-race.

Grosjean got overtaken by Stroll before he pitted for a set of hard tyres on lap 37, got stuck in the box, rejoining in 17th and last. Hamilton had retaken the fastest lap crown in the interim. Gasly passed Vettel for P10 on lap 38, the German's day going from bad to worse! 

Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Leclerc, Sainz, Norris, Ricciardo, Stroll, Ocon and Gasly were the top 10 on lap 39.

Albon resumed his charge up the field by passing Raikkonen and Latifi on laps 40 and 42 respectively. Verstappen held the point for the fastest lap after it changed hands between Hamilton, Albon and him. There was excessive tyre wear on both Mercedes cars. Bottas reported vibrations and decided to conserve his tyres till the end. The gap to Hamilton started increasing steadily. Raikkonen was relegated to P17 and last when Grosjean overtook him on lap 45. Albon closed in on the duo of Giovinazzi and Russell in the battle for P12 and passed them on lap 46. Vettel in the Ferrari was next, seven seconds adrift. Stroll moved under braking while defending from Ocon on the Hangar Straight and got served a Black & White Flag for unsporting behaviour. It was job done for Ocon on lap 47 who was up to P8. Albon was taking chunks out of his deficit to Vettel and set the fastest lap of the race. 

Hamilton's lead to Bottas now extended to 6.5 seconds while Verstappen reduced his deficit to less than 9 seconds. McLarens were also reporting issues of blistering and Norris was coming under pressure from Ricciardo. Raikkonen's miseries didn't seem to end when he suffered a front wing failure and a left front puncture on lap 48. He limped to the pits and rejoined after a fresh set of tyres and front-wing swap. Gasly overtook Stroll for P9 on lap 49 and Albon was honing in on Vettel for P11. 

No scriptwriter could have imagined the drama that unfolded in the last three laps of the race. Bottas suffered delamination on the left front tyre going wide at turn 1. Verstappen was up into P2! There was more action further down the field with Albon overtaking Vettel for P11 and Ricciardo going past Norris for P6.  Bottas had already begun his lap when the tyre mishap occurred and would have to tip-toe around the entire length of the circuit, losing a lot of time to those behind him. He pitted on the penultimate lap, got a set of soft tyres in a 6.5 second stop and rejoined in P12 behind Vettel. Disaster for the Finn! 

Verstappen also pitted for a fresh set of tyres, Red Bull aiming to bag the point for the fastest lap. It was a guaranteed P2 for Verstappen who had a comfortable buffer to LeclercMercedes had the option of pitting Hamilton to mitigate the chances of tyre delamination. They chose otherwise. Hamilton had a thirty-six seconds cushion after Verstappen's pit-stop and instructed to exercise extreme caution with his tyres.

Albon's recovery drive continued with an overtake on Stroll for P9 on the final lap. There was more drama further up the field. Sainz was next on the list of casualties from tyre delaminations. The Spaniard's left front tyre gave up the ghost, losing P4 to Ricciardo. He pitted and rejoined in P16 and out of the points. 

Lewis Hamilton, the Race Leader, was halfway through the final lap when he too suffered delamination on his tyre! Mercedes had made a tactical error by not pitting him when they had the chance. It was a nerve-wracking time for the six-time World Champion. There were continuous changes to the settings ( on his dash display ) to manage a car that was limping around on three wheels. Verstappen was informed about Hamilton's predicament and kept pushing till the end. The gap reduced drastically but Hamilton limped over the finish line, less than 6 seconds clear of a late-charging Verstappen. Leclerc came home in 3rd after putting in another flawless drive. Ricciardo equalled his best finish in Renault with P4, Norris was P5 for Mclaren and Ocon P6 for Renault. Gasly, Albon, Stroll and Vettel completed the top 10. Bottas put Vettel under intense pressure but couldn't pull the move off at the end. A dismal end to such a promising weekend for the Finn. Giovinazzi was P12, another good drive put in by the Italian for Alfa Romeo. Russell, Latifi, Sainz, Grosjean and Raikkonen were the rest of the finishers. 

Some experts believed that Red Bull blew the chance of victory by pitting Verstappen on the penultimate lap. However, Team Principal Christian Horner refuted the claims by saying that Verstappen had cuts on his tyres and would have suffered the same fate as the Mercedes duo had he not pitted. Mercedes had a bitter-sweet day and rued the missed opportunity of another 1-2. Hamilton and Mercedes seem unbeatable even under duress. Ferrari is having a challenging 2020 but will be encouraged by a strong showing on Sunday. Alan Permane, Renault's Track Operations Director, completed a milestone of 500 race weekends on Sunday. P4 and P6 by his drivers is quite a tribute for his dedication to the team's cause. McLaren also had a mixed day at the office with Norris getting P5 and Sainz being denied a points-finish at the end. Gasly put in another strong weekend for Alpha Tauri in P7. Albon once again proved his skill to fight on a Sunday. Stroll and Racing Point had a forgettable British GP and will look to bounce back the next weekend. Hulkenberg seems destined for another round of racing next weekend with Perez restricted to the confines of his room. Vettel was frustrated after a trouble-ridden weekend but will have a second shot at it. Williams is improving with each passing weekend while Haas F1 and Alfa Romeo seem lost at sea. 

Grosjean got a formal warning from the stewards for his unsporting defensive manoeuvres in the race.  

Pirelli promised a thorough investigation of the tyre delaminations at the end of the race. Their findings will be critical since the dry tyre compounds chosen are a level softer with higher track temperatures forecasted for the 70th Anniversary GP. 


The 70th Anniversary of F1 is nigh. The teams will return to Silverstone this weekend for a second bout. A special event awaits one and all.