Tactical victory for Hamilton at Silverstone

The British Grand Prix was a rare instance where the Mercedes drivers used different strategies. Normally, the team has been very strong about giving them the same strategy so that it doesn’t favour one over the other.

The safety car certainly helped make it more comfortable with the tyres for Lewis Hamilton, but either way, there’s no way that Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas would have beaten him on a two-stop.   -  AP

The British Grand Prix was a brilliant race in the middle of a brilliant day of sport. Combined with perhaps the greatest ever Cricket World Cup final and a remarkable Wimbledon final, Lewis Hamilton’s victory showed off the true greatness in sport.

Mercedes recovered from a sub-par weekend in Austria to lock out the front row in qualifying. The silver cars were always expected to be the favourites at Silverstone with the fast, flowing corners inducing the mid-corner understeer that has hampered Ferrari’s pace in the longer corners all through the season. With corners like Abbey and Copse being taken flat out combined with only three slow-speed corners, there was always hope that Ferrari could push the Mercedes drivers more than in places like Barcelona and Paul Ricard, but in the end when you look at the race pace, I think they were closer, but not close enough.

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Charles Leclerc did an outstanding job in qualifying and for the third weekend in a row now he was the faster Ferrari driver. I genuinely think he outperformed the car to get within 0.079 of pole position – a massive six-tenths ahead of the other Ferrari. That’s something that wouldn’t have escaped the attention of one Mr. Sebastian Vettel, who I’m sure realises that he has a much bigger challenge on his hands now than he had with Kimi Raikkonen for the past few years.

Seb’s error in the race was of course a major talking point. He put his hands up and accepted the blame for it, and even walked over and apologised to Max Verstappen straight after the race in parc ferme, which was the right thing to do. But what has been going on with Sebastian since Germany 2018 – a year ago now – is one of F1’s big mysteries. This is a four-time World Champion who has made a lot of errors and really isn’t doing justice to his huge talent. Seb is a great character, a great driver and now very experienced, so quite why we’ve seen so many errors is confusing. Perhaps it’s frustration that he hasn’t been able to deliver that title with Ferrari? None of us but him know the true answer and frankly maybe even he doesn’t.

The Leclerc versus Verstappen duel carried on from Austria and it was brilliant to watch. Two of the most exciting young talents on the grid going wheel to wheel was very entertaining for the fans around the track. The battles between Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz at various points all showed that the future of F1 is in good hands with some seriously talented drivers out there capable of battling wheel to wheel and keeping it respectful and clean.

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But on to the winners – Mercedes. The British Grand Prix was a rare instance where the drivers used different strategies. Normally, Mercedes have been very strong about giving drivers the same strategy so that it doesn’t favour one over the other. But at Silverstone, with the high speed-high energy corners, we had a situation where, for a change, a two-stop race could be the faster one. The choice really came down to a driver’s ability to manage their tyres while delivering good pace and also the tyre allocation I think.

Going in to the race, Lewis didn’t have a new set of medium tyres available and I think that he was determined to make a one-stop work with the hard tyre while also pushing Valtteri into a two-stopper. Lewis knew that if he didn’t pass Valtteri on the opening few laps and then did the same strategy, he was probably going to finish behind him, so really the only way to win was to do the opposite strategy.

There were a few key things he did to make it work – first off in the early part of the race, Lewis piled the pressure onto Valtteri, forcing the Finn to push harder than he would like. We saw on Friday that Lewis was very good on his long run and I think he knew that if he pushed Valtteri hard enough, that would push Bottas into wearing out his tyres faster and committing to a two-stop race. That’s effectively what happened when Bottas pitted on lap 16 for another set of medium tyres.

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What slightly confuses me at that point is why Mercedes didn’t put Bottas on to a set of the hard tyres. That would have given him the option to at least try a one-stop strategy himself. Lewis was able to set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap, which showed that the hard tyre was pretty resilient and therefore Bottas could probably have also made it work. Even if he ran out of tyres late in the race, he could have then pitted and put the mediums on for a short burst to the flag, but at least that could have given him the option of a one stop.

After his early attacks, Lewis settled in behind Valtteri and bided his time. His second key element was looking after his tyres in that first stint and then unleashing some pace when Bottas pitted. He showed his team that the tyres were still in decent shape and therefore he extended his first stint long enough to get to the window for a one-stop. The safety car certainly helped make it more comfortable with the tyres, but either way, there’s no way that Bottas would have beaten him on a two-stop.

It was a tactical victory for Hamilton, aided by his ability to manage the tyres and still deliver strong pace both in the wheel tracks of his teammate in the opening stint as well as in free air to effectively knock the wind out of Valtteri’s challenge. That record-breaking sixth victory at the British Grand Prix has made a sixth World Championship more of a formality than it already was.