Max Verstappen drives to victory at Silverstone

Ben's Spanish GP preview

By Ben Edwards
C4F1 commentator

The two recent races at Silverstone may have delivered quite different results yet Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen secured exactly the same total of 44 points each across the back-to-back weekends. 
 
And if the left front tyre on Hamilton’s #44 car had given up a lap earlier in the British Grand Prix, Verstappen would now be leading the championship.
 


That seems unbelievable given the speed advantage of the Mercedes in the first few races, and especially in qualifying, but it proves that nothing in F1 is ever guaranteed. 
 
Increased track temperatures, softer compounds and higher tyre pressures all contributed to an irresistible recipe in the Silverstone sequel. Verstappen’s victory in the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix was an unexpected concoction - and a second serving could be on the cards as the teams head for Spain. 
 
Weather conditions are likely to be very similar in the Catalunya region, delivering high track temperatures once again, and in some ways the Barcelona track is even more demanding. 
 
Turn Three is a long, fast right-hander that doubles back on itself. It is taken at full throttle but the left front tyre takes an enormous amount of load.
 
Tighter corners later in the lap then put the emphasis on the rear tyres as they deal with full acceleration from relatively low speeds. 
 
Pirelli is reverting to harder compound tyres for Spain, but a one-stop race will still be tough. When Fernando Alonso won the Spanish GP in 2013, his last victory to date, he made four pitstops; that means five sets of tyres.
 
Decisions, decisions
 
In 2016 a fascinating strategy battle developed following a crash on the opening lap which took out Mercedes teammates Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. 
 
Daniel Ricciardo assumed the lead for Red Bull, chased by his brand new teammate Max Verstappen, who had been transferred from the Toro Rosso team following the previous race in Russia.
 
Behind them the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were also competitive and nobody knew what the perfect strategy would be. So both teams split their plans, with Ricciardo and Vettel both on a three-stop race while Verstappen and Raikkonen were told to two-stop.
 
As a consequence, another legendary result was achieved. Verstappen won on his debut with Red Bull and, at 18 years of age, he became the youngest ever winner of a grand prix.
 
Verstappen’s ability to manage his tyres, to work them sufficiently hard to lap quickly yet protect their consistency, is something that became apparent that day as he defended from Raikkonen and it’s a skill which he has continued to develop ever since.
 
Last weekend at Silverstone, Charles Leclerc felt that he had cracked that game in his Ferrari, managing to complete the race with just a single stop, moving up from eighth on the grid to finish fourth.
 


He was delighted afterwards as he admitted that tyre management had been a weaker area for him in the past, and his celebrations over the radio as he headed into the pit lane sounded like he’d taken a victory. Perhaps he had in his own mind.
 
Back to the drawing board
 
Mercedes clearly have some work to do this week to ensure that the tyres are not over-cooked, but historically the team has a great record in Spain.
 
Verstappen's win for Red Bull remains the only time that Mercedes have been defeated on the 2.9-mile layout since 2013 and Hamilton has enjoyed a hat-trick of victories in Spain since then, including an impressive comeback on Vettel in 2017. 
 
The problems Hamilton encountered in the Anniversary race will serve as a wake-up call, and you can bet the engineers will be re-analysing every aspect of their approach; just as many of us have had to do in these Covid-19 times. 

Pandemic protocols
 
Talking of which, there will be some concern about F1 going to a part of the world that has seen a spike in coronavirus cases in recent weeks. However, the protocols that organisers of the sport have put in place are working well. 
 
Despite Sergio Perez being tested positive for Covid-19 prior to the British Grand Prix, there have been no other cases reported despite rigorous and regular testing. 
 
Working in an environment of small groups of people who are not allowed to interact with others, maintaining social distance and enforcing the wearing of masks does seem to be working and perhaps F1 can continue to be an inspiration to other sports and businesses.
 
Just as in the races, there are no guarantees. But while systems are working, it’s full steam ahead. 
 

Join the C4F1 team for highlights of qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix at 6:30pm on Saturday 15th August with race highlights and analysis from 6:30pm on Sunday.