Slow to Boil – The 2017 British Grand Prix

Halfway point of the season reached, and a race that, whilst not hugely exciting, delivers a pivotal shift in the world championship fight. That’s the short summary of the British Grand Prix. The long version? Well, if you’re a Lewis Hamilton fan the weekend was near perfect. In qualifying Hamilton put in a stonking lap to secure pole, finishing up some half a second quicker than Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. It was the start of a dominant weekend for Hamilton, and ultimately Mercedes, though it didn’t start out that way. Valtteri Bottas received a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change (the same issue that afflicted Hamilton a week earlier), and by being out qualified by both Ferraris, would therefore start ninth. 

Q1 threw up variable weather conditions that allowed a very rare sight – the McLaren of Fernando Alonso finishing top of the charts. A 30-place penalty (what a joke) for replacing several parts always meant Alonso would start at the back of the field, but his effort was a timely reminder of his talent. Meanwhile, penalties also meant the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo would join Alonso on the back row. The main permutation, as far as the title battle was concerned, was that Hamilton started on pole and Raikkonen had pipped Sebastian Vettel to second. Would Ferrari swap their men around early on? They wouldn’t get the chance.

Hamilton got a clean start and so did Raikkonen, but Max Verstappen got his Red Bull away very strongly, going side-by-side with Vettel around the first couple of corners and muscling into third. Hamilton and Raikkonen pulled away from Verstappen whilst Vettel couldn’t find a way past. With Bottas moving up the order, there was a very real threat of Vettel being caught, but aggressive defending from Verstappen (something of a trademark of his) kept Vettel at bay. 

Further back, a first lap incident involving the Toro Rosso pair of Danill Kvyat and Carlos Sainz ended with Sainz being dumped out of the race. The two had been jockeying for position and Kvyat ran wide, rejoining the track by bumping into Sainz. Kvyat (whose career is in the balance) kept going but damage plus a penalty meant he would retire early. There was also disappointment for Joylen Palmer – his Renault failed on the warm-up lap, ending his race before it even began. 

Beyond that it was a straightforward race for the most part – Vettel managed the undercut on Verstappen to move into third and Bottas would also end up getting ahead of the Dutchman by the time Bottas finally stopped (being on an inverted strategy of soft to supersoft). Bottas would catch and pass Vettel in fairly short order once he’d stopped, and then for the final few laps he would chase after Raikkonen.

Before getting to the finale (which is where the ‘pivotal’ nature of the race comes in), a word on a few other proceedings. Ricciardo successfully scythed his way up the order, demonstrating his enjoyment of the fight along the way. He would ultimately rise to fifth place, and earned himself the title of driver of the day for his efforts. Nico Hulkenberg gave another highly credible performance to take sixth, whilst Force India got both cars into the points, with Ocon eighth and Perez ninth. After a poor performance from Williams in qualifying, Felipe Massa fought back to finish 10th. Meanwhile, Stoffel Vandoorne, who had actually qualified in the top ten for McLaren, just missed out on the points.

So the finale – with Bottas chasing down Raikkonen but rapidly running out of time, fate would smile down upon the Silver Arrow in the form of a tyre failure for Raikkonen- his front-left tyre started to peel away, forcing Kimi to pit, which allowed Vettel into third – damage limitation on the points lost to Hamilton, or so it seemed. The problem was, with the cars on the penultimate lap, Vettel would suffer the same problem! Having also been forced to pit, Vettel would drop to seventh, with the consequence of his championship lead being cut from 20 points to just one. All of a sudden, the title fight is in the balance, and Bottas is only 23 points (less than a win) behind as well. The destiny of the 2017 title hasn’t been decided, but Ferrari will be hoping the nature of the next race in Hungary will better suit them, and will want to use the summer break to make whatever improvements they can. Mercedes have upped their game, with Hamilton winning at Silverstone for the fifth time (equalling Jim Clark and Alain Prost), and also his fourth in a row here. 

Hamilton got pole, led every lap, and I believe he also took the fastest lap on his way to victory. The dominant nature of the win will alarm Ferrari. They need to bounce back, and quickly.

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