From signs of a reinvigorated Formula 1 world title tussle to political wrangling and teams in a war of words, LUKE SMITH picks out the talking points provided from the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix
As with most birthdays that fell during lockdown, Formula 1 – born on 13 May 1950 – had to wait to celebrate its 70th but was rewarded for its patience on Sunday.
Fears the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix would turn out to be a carbon copy of the British Grand Prix at the same track one week earlier were long forgotten as Max Verstappen took a surprise victory for Red Bull.
Softer tyre compounds and hot temperatures at Silverstone created a fascinating tactical battle throughout the field, ultimately won by Verstappen as Mercedes’ perfect start to the season came to an end.
Here are 10 things we learned from the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
1. Verstappen surprises F1 – and even himself
On Thursday, Verstappen scoffed at the idea of the warmer temperatures and softer tyre compounds being enough to bridge the gap to Mercedes at Silverstone.
“Temperatures are not going to give you that extra second in qualifying!” he chuckled. “And what is it, half a second in the race or something? I don’t think so.”
And yet that was exactly what swung things in Red Bull’s favour on Sunday.
The team laid the foundations for Verstappen’s victory with a risky hard tyre run in Q2 on Saturday given fears over the durability of the mediums. They were well-founded concerns as both Bottas and Hamilton struggled ahead of their first pitstops.
While Bottas was able to take some bites out of Verstappen’s advantage after pitting for fresh hards, his tyre life soon began to fall off a cliff. Verstappen’s degradation plateaued nicely, allowing him to increase the gap as both Mercedes behind struggled with blisters.
Verstappen stayed calm and always appeared to have time in hand, evidenced by his late push to cover off a possible one-stop from Hamilton. On the final lap, he even checked in with his engineer to make sure he was staying hydrated.
Of Verstappen’s nine wins, perhaps with the exception of his debut victory for Red Bull, this might be the most surprising.
2. Mercedes proves it is not infallible amid tyre woes
The idea of a “perfect season” is rarely discussed in F1, chiefly to avoid tempting fate.
But given the unique circumstances of the 2020 campaign and the dominant nature of the Mercedes W11 car, such a feat seemed to be on the radar for the Silver Arrows this year.
Its first defeat did not come about as a result of a crash or a double DNF, but instead as a result of extreme tyre blistering that hurt both Bottas and Hamilton through the race.
Team principal Toto Wolff said Mercedes was “certainly not the quickest car, maybe not even the second quickest car” on Sunday, such were its struggles, with the increase in tyre pressures only rearing their head to cause the extreme blistering come race day.
PLUS: How ruthless Verstappen exploited Mercedes’s Silverstone strength-turned-weakness
Mercedes will go away and complete a full analysis of why the issues emerged to guard against a repeat at future races.
Even if it required a lot of stars to align, Sunday at Silverstone proved there is a weak spot in the Mercedes W11.
3. We have some more hope for the title race
When Bottas limped home in 11th after his late tyre failure in the British Grand Prix, the 30-point lead forged by Hamilton killed much of the hope many had for this year’s title battle.
And while Hamilton may have left the second Silverstone race with his advantage unchanged, the emergence of Verstappen and Red Bull offers a spritz of hope for the championship fight.
To expect Red Bull to now compete with Mercedes week in, week out is unrealistic, but with a swing of summer races coming up in Europe where conditions should be warm like Silverstone, the picture has certainly been altered.
“We are looking forward to [Spain], 34 degrees supposedly,” said Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko. “Then there will be two Italian races, in early September. The temperature should also be high then. That’s a plus point, of course.”
Wolff added: “If you consider they had a full DNF at the beginning of the season [for Verstappen’s power unit glitch in the Austrian Grand Prix], that gap is not large. It would only be five points behind and not 30.
“We’re up for a fight, and this looks like this could be a tough, tough season, and a tough season between the three of them.”
It would be a good thing for F1 if this form can carry through and, at least for a little while longer, keep some buzz about a more open title battle.
4. Leclerc continues to shine despite Ferrari’s struggles
A one-stop strategy seemed risky for drivers to pull off at Silverstone, yet Charles Leclerc and Ferrari were able to do so with aplomb to secure a surprise fourth-place finish.
Ferrari slumped behind Racing Point, Renault and even AlphaTauri in qualifying on Saturday, leaving Leclerc sceptical he would finish the race any higher than eighth.
Yet he was able to start well and complete a mammoth 34-lap stint on the hard tyres – more than any other driver – that got him to the end of the race. His pace suffered no massive drop-off in the closing stages, allowing him to finish just 10 seconds shy of Bottas at the chequered flag. Given just how much Ferrari are struggling this year, that is a mighty achievement.
Leclerc celebrated loudly over the radio when he crossed the line in fourth, and later said the result was “like a victory”. It was the same comparison he made with his surprise second in Austria at the opening race, but was again fully justified.
For Leclerc to sit fourth in the drivers’ championship with three top-four finishes in a car that shouldn’t really be breaching the top five is a huge achievement.
Sebastian Vettel – who we’ll get on to shorty – noted a couple of races ago that this was Leclerc’s first “dip” in his career, not having a quick car and having to learn from the adversity.
He’s doing that alright.
5. Low on confidence, Vettel flounders once again
Another chapter was written into the tragedy of Vettel’s final year with Ferrari on Sunday at Silverstone.
Vettel has admitted himself he is low on confidence due to his struggles with the SF1000 car that were particularly pronounced at the first Silverstone race – but things were bleaker the second time around.
Even a run on the soft compound tyres that could barely last a lap at full tilt wasn’t enough to get Vettel through to Q3 on Saturday. Any hope he then had of points was frittered away on the opening lap with another unforced error.
Vettel got off the line well enough, but dipped to the inside of Abbey and ran onto the kerb, causing him to lose control and half-spin his car. He was fortunate not to wipe out McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr. and avoid contact with those behind, but dropped to last.
Vettel clambered back up the order but was pitted after just 22 laps on hards to ensure he did not get in the way of Leclerc, who had already pitted. It was a move that prompted Vettel to call out Ferrari for going against its pre-race plan on team radio, and leave him confused after the race about the strategy calls.
Team principal Mattia Binotto took a dim view on Vettel’s complaint: “His race was compromised at the start. That was the key, not the strategy chosen.”
A lowly 13th in the championship with just 10 points to his name, Vettel’s Ferrari swan song is quickly becoming harder to watch.
6. Even as a “temporary guest”, Hulkenberg is a star
One week on from his gutting DNS for the British Grand Prix, Nico Hulkenberg finally got the chance to make his F1 racing return at Silverstone on Sunday as he once again stood in for Sergio Perez.
Hulkenberg had been the stand-out performer in qualifying on Saturday, taking third place on the grid for Racing Point and fuelling hope that his long-elusive podium may finally be within reach.
Hulkenberg lost out to Verstappen at the start and stood little chance of catching the top three, but was in line for a top-five finish nearing the closing stages before a late, surprising stop for softs.
It dropped Hulkenberg back to seventh behind Alexander Albon and, notably, team-mate Lance Stroll, sparking many a conspiracy theory on social media that was swiftly debunked by both the team and the driver himself.
The performance only added to the plaudits that must be put Hulkenberg’s way for his “temporary guest” (his words) appearance at Silverstone. The likes of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo heaped praise on the German after qualifying on Saturday, and his race display proved that even after so long out, he’s easily ready to be back in F1 full-time if an opportunity were to come his way.
7. Pirelli’s tyre mix-up fulfilled its goal
Following the rejection of reverse grid qualifying races or any other format changes for the back-to-back events at the same tracks, a simple change of tyre compounds seemed like a tepid solution.
Few thought that Pirelli’s decision to go a step softer in its tyre selection between the two Silverstone races – going from C1, C2, C3 to C2, C3, C4 – would actually make a difference, but it helped fuel a brilliant tactical battle.
PLUS: Why Silverstone is “not friends” with tyres
Teams were able to look at a variety of strategy options through both qualifying and the race, paving the way for Verstappen’s victory, Leclerc’s surprise run to fourth and a grand prix that was far from settled until the final few laps.
While we’re not currently planned for any more tracks to host multiple races in 2020, it proves that Pirelli can help the on-track spectacle by rolling the dice a little more with its tyre picks.
8. The Racing Point saga is only just beginning
Aside from all of the on-track action at Silverstone last weekend, there was a huge amount of political chicanery and shenanigans behind the scenes that may have huge ramifications.
The FIA delivered its long-awaited verdict on Racing Point’s brake ducts, deeming that it had breached the rules in the design process, but was permitted to keep using them for the rest of the season. The ruling pleased no-one, triggering five appeals and anger from many other teams.
In fact, it’s a case that has dragged in all 10 teams in some shape or form.
PLUS: Why the FIA’s Racing Point verdict pleases nobody
Racing Point and Mercedes – who supplied the brake ducts to the team – have both welcomed going down the appeal route, saying it can only work in their favour. McLaren, Renault, Ferrari and Williams are all eager to see a harsher penalty handed down, hence their appeal decisions, while Alfa Romeo has also raised concerns.
Ferrari is trying to use this case get some punches in on Mercedes over its involvement, while Red Bull (and, by proxy, AlphaTauri) also raised questions over whether the supplier should be implicated if something is awry. Haas is fuming it is being used as an example by Racing Point in defence, hitting back at any suggestion its model breached the regulations in the past.
That’s all 10 teams covered by a verdict that was meant to put the case to bed. It’s done anything but that, and will only rumble on.
9. As the Concorde deadline looms, F1 faces an important few days
The other political drama emerging at Silverstone was the ongoing push to finalise the Concorde Agreement, outlining the new commercial terms that will be in place from next year.
Many teams have said they are in a position to sign the agreement, but Wolff stressed Mercedes was not willing to do so currently, hinting at mistreatment and a lack of recognition for Mercedes’ achievements and contribution to F1.
Wolff also said that many team principals were unwilling to criticise Liberty Media publicly, and that they were “up the arse” of the commercial rights holder, with most apparently looking for some revisions to the terms.
F1 hit back with a rare statement on Concorde, saying it would “not be delayed any longer” in getting the agreement finalised. A deadline of 12 August – this Wednesday – has also been set for the teams’ lawyers to make their final arrangements, before putting pen to paper at the end of the month.
Wolff said he does not think it will cause any issues if all teams have not signed by this date, but it shows there are big fractures in F1’s political landscape.
There may have been a spell of consensus when agreeing terms to safeguard F1’s future in the wake of the pandemic, but this weekend has proved that only goes so far.
10. Silverstone delivers, but misses its fans dearly
F1 made a nice nod to its roots by naming the second Silverstone race the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, honouring the circuit that hosted the very first world championship round back in 1950.
The track proved why it is regarded as one of the finest in the world with two excellent races – the first admittedly spiced up by the late drama – and why a season without it would have been unthinkable.
PLUS: How Verstappen stacks up in F1’s 70-year speed battle
But there was still something odd about a British Grand Prix without any fans. There were no klaxons blaring or Union Jacks flying, or any chance for Hamilton to celebrate another home success by crowdsurfing.
We can hope that come the 2021 British Grand Prix, the world is in a different place that would allow fans to return to Silverstone. Because just as Monza will be eerie without the Tifosi, Silverstone wasn’t quite the same without its usual fervour.
Huge credit must be given to Silverstone managing director Stuart Pringle and his team for delivering such a brilliant event over the last two weeks.