Martin Brundle: Racing the winner as British GP serves up an F1 treat
In his must-read review of a fabulous British GP, Martin Brundle reflects on Lewis Hamilton’s record win, Charles Leclerc's retribution, and explains what Sebastian Vettel's latest racing mistake tells us
Last Updated: 16/07/19 4:16pm
What a stellar event the British GP was, yet again. The racing was great, the crowd as usual immense, the weather kind, and the venue delivered on all fronts. And the drivers raced brutally hard.
It's a shame in a way Lewis Hamilton's record-breaking sixth British GP victory was diluted by the equally exciting tennis and cricket on the same afternoon, but there's only so many Sundays in a British sporting summer.
It was Hamilton's 80th F1 victory, and suddenly Michael Schumacher's seemingly unassailable tally of 91 wins looks remarkably close. Inside the next calendar year close.
Lewis had his Silver Arrow feathers clipped in qualifying, by six thousandths of a second, in challenging conditions by his reconfirmed fast Finnish team-mate Valtteri Bottas. It was yet another Mercedes front row lockout despite the best efforts of Red Bull and Ferrari.
If we study the progression between the opening Q1 stage of qualifying to the closing top 10 shootout of Q3, then Merc still has greater reserves of power when it matters most.
Bottas just about hung on to the lead in the early stages but it was abundantly clear Hamilton and car 44 were the faster package. His efforts to wrest the lead in a thrilling encounter just failed as Bottas sensationally retook the place into the 190mph (305kph) Copse corner. Had his car been painted any other colour Hamilton would have closed him off at the previous Luffield corner.
Hamilton then throttled back and took stock as Mercedes pitted Bottas on lap 16 for the same medium compound tyres he started on, committing him to a two-stop race. Hamilton soldiered on hoping to get the benefit of a safety car for a 'cheap' pit stop, which duly arrived on lap 20 when Antonio Giovinazzi beached the Alfa Romeo at Vale with technical gremlins.
Lewis made his only pit stop for hard tyres and 32 laps later, on the final tour, he posted the fastest lap of the race with an average speed of over 151 mph (242 kph). This pipped Bottas' attempt on used, two steps faster, soft-compound tyres.
Observing the opening laps and the final tour I have no doubt Hamilton would have won the race whatever the strategies and rub of the green with the safety car.
Bottas recovered to a fine second place, confirming Mercedes' pace and benefiting from Ferrari and Red Bull fighting like the wild animals of their respective corporate logos.
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc had already said, after his bruising defeat to Max Verstappen two weeks earlier, he would accept the decision in the knowledge of how he could now go racing. He gave Max full retribution, and some, as they clashed tyre face to tyre face in a thrilling encounter.
I don't know about you, but I find that a whole lot more exciting to watch and talk about than a Stewards' enquiry three hours after the race. We have great gladiators who we have chained to a rule book such that they are scared to 'have a go' in the certain knowledge of instant penalties.
Austria and Silverstone feel so right. Unfortunately, what's going to happen now is the drivers will start taking liberties with track limits and barging, because that's how they are hard wired and in the heat of the moment they will not think rationally, and the Stewards will have to pull them back a little.
That's fine, it just needs common sense with an over rider of 'if in doubt don't' from the Stewards.
I remember saying in commentary in Austria 'what goes around comes around' and it certainly did for Leclerc to score his fourth consecutive podium. Like Bottas he did not get the helping hand of the safety car and he had more adventures passing the other Red Bull in the well-driven hands of Pierre Gasly. In the end Leclerc pulled off a stunning move around the outside of turn three and benefited when Vettel and Verstappen would end up contesting the same piece of tarmac a while later.
It was approaching a year ago in Germany when Sebastian Vettel made a critical error and threw away victory at Hockenheim. There have been several mistakes since, think Monza, Singapore, Bahrain, Canada and many more.
Is he just having an unfortunate run, or has he lost a touch of vision, reaction and judgement which shows up at these speeds when under pressure?
On Thursday evening we had a very well attended celebration event in memory of Charlie Whiting where Sebastian, speaking on behalf of the drivers, was simply superb.
I like the man so much and admire his track record, intellect, and human values, but I long ago lost the right as a pundit to sit on the fence. As we have seen with many drivers in the later stages of their careers, he has lost judgement and reactions in wheel-to-wheel action.
I know how easily that Silverstone incident can happen.
F1 cars, without brake lights, can slow five times harder than the finest road car. Then, just as you panic a little too hard onto the brake pedal you lose front downforce and grip as your two-metre-wide front wing disappears underneath your rival's gearbox.
To add to this, Vettel had some right steering lock applied, hoping to sweep across the back of the Red Bull, which would have but some roll moment and jacking into his front suspension. Boom, brakes and therefore tyres locked solid, retardation dramatically reduced, contact imminent.
Max was always going to slow early whilst approaching Vale corner from such a defensive and tight angle, at which point Vettel launched him across the kerbs, wrecking the chassis en route, and into the gravel trap. Somehow, they both carried on with Verstappen finishing fifth at representative pace.
Vettel fell to the back and received a 10-second penalty. Lewis does not make mistakes like that, and he's two-and-a-half years older than Seb for that matter. Meanwhile, Leclerc in the other Ferrari is gaining speed and confidence all the time.
Seb has the speed, can he regain the control? It's a very big question for him.
Once again the rest of the pack gave us some great racing, and McLaren marginally outshone Renault as best of the rest. It was interesting to see cars follow so closely throughout the field even through very fast sections, and then have the stability to attack in the next braking zone. I'm told that's because the tyres were not overheating on the new surface. Whatever the reason, we should bottle it and reproduce it more often.
Germany and Hungary are incoming, both of which should generate some fireworks and opportunity for Ferrari and Red Bull to take the fight to the Mighty Mercs.
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