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2020 70th Anniversary Grand Prix Blog

Fine margins are all it takes to alter the performance of an F1 car. Mercedes once again looked to be in complete control during Practice and Qualifying at the 70th Anniversary GP but F1’s decision to ask Pirelli to switch to softer tyre compounds, coupled with the unusually warm British weather, were all it took to make their car look like a shadow of its former self in the race.

Put simply, the power generated by the W11 meant they tore those softer tyres to bits around the high-speed corners at Silverstone. Nobody expected the issue to be as serious for Mercedes, but it was clear from early on that neither car could shake off the Red Bull of Verstappen. By lap 11 Red Bull said they wanted their driver to preserve his tyres. But Max is not one to let an opportunity go to waste, as we heard in his statement to his engineer: “Mate, this is the only chance. I’m not backing off and driving like a grandma.” True to his word, Verstappen pushed Lewis Hamilton as hard as possible for the next few laps until Mercedes pitted Lewis on lap 15. Bottas had stopped one lap earlier, which meant Red Bull were leading the race.

Lower down the order, Sebastian Vettel was not having a good afternoon. Following a first lap spin he found himself in last place and when his pit stop left him poorly positioned, he was quick to let Ferrari know his feelings: “We spoke about it this morning… You’ve messed up.” There’s talk of Vettel taking Sergio Perez seat at Racing Point next season but his performances must be a cause for concern? Tenth in the British GP last week and a twelfth-place finish here is not impressive when his teammate, Charles Leclerc, managed to get his car home in third and fourth place respectively.

Back to the race leaders and it was tactics that won the day for Red Bull. Their decision to start on hard tyres allowed Verstappen to continue until lap 27 before his pit stop, by which time he had built a 19 second lead over Valterri Bottas in second place. A poor pit stop didn’t matter. Bottas lead briefly but Verstappen quickly passed him and such was Red Bull’s confidence that when Mercedes pitted Bottas for hard tyres on lap 33, they simply followed suit.

There was a sense of déjà vu towards the end of the race as Hamilton was leading but with his tyres worn out. Lewis even asked over team radio: “The tyre is not going to blow though right?” This time it did not, as Mercedes pitted him on lap 42. The decision was a good one and allowed Hamilton a late surge to clinch second place from his teammate with two laps to go. Bottas was understandably annoyed to start in first place and finish third. He suggested that his team had been “sleeping” strategy-wise.

Red Bull definitely weren’t sleeping and a delighted Christian Horner said afterwards: “Today is an amazing day for the team with Max putting in a dominant performance in the race. After taking a risk in qualifying yesterday and electing to start on the hard tyre, Max made it pay dividends”. Toto Wolff on the other hand explained their problems as being caused by: “A combination of hotter conditions, a high-downforce car, softer compounds and higher tyre pressures that meant that we didn’t have the fastest car today and we were blistering our tyres far more than the others.”

This seems a fair assessment, but it is a little bit ominous for Mercedes that Circuit de Catalunya is the venue for next weekend’s Spanish GP. The track has similar characteristics to Silverstone, and the weather is likely to be even hotter.