Conclusions from the British GP
Hamilton delivers the perfect result for Silverstone and F1, Bottas may have hit a glass ceiling at Williams, McLaren’s patience with Honda is wearing thin, and don’t mess with Susie Wolff…
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 08/07/15 8:05am
The crisis can be called off
All's well that ends well. For Lewis Hamilton, outspoken in his criticism at the start of the week about the tin-pot quality of F1's silverware, a golden new trophy wife; for the sport as a whole, a trophy weekend to silence the critics.
Crisis averted? It’s amazing what an action-packed race, a home win, a bit of sunshine and packed grandstands can do for F1's image.
Slowly but surely, our own image of Hamilton is also being transformed, with his race-winning decision to pit for intermediate tyres with ten laps remaining of a topsy-turvy race vivid illustration of his newly-developed maturity. Hamilton wants to be considered Mercedes' team leader; literally and metaphorically, it appears he is beginning to learn how to lead from the front as well.
Nevertheless, depicting Hamilton’s inspired call as a stroke of tactical genius would be a betrayal of the impression that it was a decision desperately primarily applied due to Rosberg’s assault; just as Nico gave no thought to pitting after reducing Lewis’ lead from five seconds to one in two laps, staying out was a guaranteed lose-lose for Hamilton. Had the world champion stayed out on track, it was a racing certainty he would have been overtaken by Rosberg.
A brief surrender to rearm was smart thinking from Hamilton – remember when he was portrayed as the unthinking man’s driver a year ago? - and his struggles to match Rosberg’s pace in the preceding laps can be attributed to the understeer which he had dialled into his car before qualifying. While his quick thinking was the race’s decisive moment, it would be remiss not to stress that Hamilton was sauntering to victory before the rain fell after dovetailing his hitherto recalcitrant Mercedes perfectly to the conditions.
One way or another, this was a deserved victory – and all things considered, the perfect result for F1.
Rosberg is lucky to be as close as he is
Hamilton’s superiority over Rosberg in qualifying is another trenchant response to any suggestion that the Englishman was in any way fortunate this weekend. In the context of Hamilton’s 8-1 season-long Saturday advantage, Rosberg’s proximity in the standings – still the equivalent of a second place finish – is remarkable and owes a heavy debt to the mammoth size of Mercedes’ advantage.
The tenth of a second that separated Rosberg from Hamilton in their battle for pole this weekend may not sound substantial but the same difference in lap times covered positions eight to eleven. In normal circumstances, an 8-1 deficit in qualifying would convert into a hefty difference in the standings as well. But there’s nothing normal about the advantage, which reached eight tenths this Saturday, currently Mercedes hold over their distant rivals.
And the elephant in the title room remains the Monaco desecration. But for the 17-point swing produced Mercedes’ pitwall aberration, Hamilton’s lead would now stand at 34 points – a healthy buffer in any currency and a far more accurate reflection of the two Mercedes drivers’ respective performances this term.
Bottas may need a new challenge
Has Valtteri Bottas hit a glass ceiling at Williams? The Finn has certainly grown into an outstanding driver during his three years at Grove and the label of ‘potential future world champion’ sits comfortably on him. But judging by some of the details of his sketchy performance at Silverstone, a move to Ferrari may be as much in his interests as the Scuderia’s.
Williams certainly didn’t help Bottas’s Silverstone cause by initially refusing to let him challenge Felipe Massa despite the younger man clearly boasting superior pace. But rewind the race to the first lap and look again at the feebleness – there can be no other word – of Bottas’s defence – others may choose another word – against Hamilton after leapfrogging the Mercedes off the line. Tepid and inadequate, it smacked of a driver caught out by the unfamiliarity of his position.
Second place was briefly recovered when Hamilton ran off track at the restart, but from then on Bottas's race was a tale of frustration. Williams' strategy made no sense - their radio calls amounting to an order to their faster driver to slow down - but would a driver more familiar with the cut and thrust of front-running ignored it and dealt with the consequences later? Perhaps. If he wants to become a world champion, Valtteri needs to develop a ruthless streak – a vicious virtue that may not be able to grow in the family environment of Williams.
He also needs to learn how to drive in the rain; at the chequered flag, over 25 seconds separated Valtteri from Felipe, a chasm that pit-stop stacking and strategic misjudgement cannot account for.
As Williams ponder how much to demand for releasing their prize asset, and Ferrari consider how much they are prepared to pay, Bottas himself has much to think over. Is he more likely to become the finished article as Williams’ de facto number or as Ferrari’s latest hired gun? On Sunday's evidence, the latter appears the better bet.
McLaren are losing patience
If this was the weekend when, as written after qualifying, time began to work against McLaren-Honda, it was also the weekend when the first chink of daylight appeared in the partnership. While the latter continues to preach the virtues of playing the long game, with their boss Yasuhisa Arai insisting he is staying on for a "long-term project, McLaren are, for the first time, beginning to sound impatient.
“I don't think we can wait for very long anymore,” Eric Boullier, whose increasing frustration has been writ large through his body language in recent races, told reporters on Saturday. "I keep telling Arai every day we need to be successful as soon as possible – twice a day and three times a night.”
The alacrity is understandable. Commercially, hefty damage is being inflicted on the McLaren brand and a budget still bereft of a title sponsor, From a sporting perspective, their ongoing failure to reach competitiveness has begun to assume ominous dimensions towards 2016 as well. The honeymoon ended long ago; unless Honda start to deliver soon, the first row may not be far away too.
Susie Wolff is not to be messed with
From Toto Wolff’s post-race press briefing with reference to Mercedes’ 'dummy' pit-stop:
“My wife sent me a WhatsApp [during the race] saying ‘You guys think you can fool us? Ha ha ha'.
“I’m not sure I am having dinner with my wife tonight… perhaps an Indian takeaway.”
Don’t miss the F1 Midweek Report for all the analysis of the British GP. Former FIA president Max Mosley and F1 correspondent for The Times Kevin Eason join Natalie Pinkham in the studio. Catch it at 8:30pm on Wednesday July 8 on Sky Sports F1.