Same errors, different penalties

Sebastian Vettel was given a five-second penalty after running into the back of Valtteri Bottas at the French Grand Prix, but Kimi Raikkonen got a 10-second one after making contact with Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone, while Romain Grosjean got away with an identical incident.

Championship standings: Ten races into the 2018 season, Sebastian Vettel (centre) leads the drivers’ standing with 171 points, eight ahead of championship rival Lewis Hamilton (left). Kimi Raikkonen, with 116, is a distant third.   -  AP

The British Grand Prix gave us the second brilliant Formula One race in seven days. There was so much to watch and talk about right from the start to the finish. Throw in the good weather and the capacity crowd, and this was truly one of the best races I can remember at Silverstone for some time.

The biggest talking point coming out from the race was unquestionably the incident between Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap. Hamilton and Toto Wolff both made subtle hints questioning whether this was poor judgement or tactics, but, once the adrenaline had passed, I think they both realised that it was just a clumsy misjudgement of grip from Raikkonen on the dirty inside line with a fat load of fuel on board.

In the previous race in France, Sebastian Vettel ended up running into the back of Valtteri Bottas, and that too was a clear mistake from the Ferrari driver — he ended up damaging his front wing and ultimately that compromised his race and cost him a clunk of points.

At Silverstone, Raikkonen apologised for his error and that was that. I don’t believe there’s any deliberate campaign from Ferrari to hit the Mercedes cars. What confused me was the penalty imposed on Raikkonen, to be honest. The stewards decided to give him a 10-second stop-go penalty, which was fine, but I once again don’t fully understand the inconsistency between what happened at Silverstone and what happened at Paul Ricard, where Vettel was given only five seconds. Frankly, I also don’t see a big difference between what Raikkonen did and what Romain Grosjean did to Kevin Magnussen at the same corner. Yes, Magnussen didn’t spin like Hamilton did, but the actions by the drivers down the inside — Raikkonen and Grosjean — were similar and akin to what Vettel did in France.

Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia Toro Rosso on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone.   -  Getty Images

 

The penalty given to Pierre Gasly towards the end of the race was also quite harsh, I think. Both Sergio Perez and Gasly are friends of mine, so I’m not picking sides. But if I objectively look at the incident, Gasly was nearly fully alongside the Force India when they made contact, and the racing after that was just two hard racers squeezing each other. When watching it on TV and from the replays, most people in the paddock (apart from Force India, of course) didn’t really think there was going to be any action. So, it was a bit of a surprise to see the Toro Rosso driver get a penalty.

The stewards have a very tough job on a race weekend, and having an experienced race driver in there as a driver steward is very useful. They now have more defined guidelines as to what penalties to apply to a driver at fault, and these are designed to bring greater consistency. For the most part, they seem to be working quite well, but this weekend showed that there are still some grey areas in this.

Strategically, the British Grand Prix was a race that came alive with the safety cars. The Mercedes strategy department has been under pressure since Austria and I was fascinated to see how they would react this weekend if and when things got tricky. In the end, they chose to leave both cars out on used medium tyres when their major rivals pitted for new softs under safety car conditions for the final charge to the flag. Mercedes, when questioned, will undoubtedly argue that it didn’t have any new softs left, so it wasn’t as beneficial to pit, but making sure you have enough tyres left to cover off every scenario in the race where the points count is part of the strategy.

In the end, I think leaving Hamilton out was 100 per cent the right call. It gave him track position and his tyre management was better than Bottas’ in the first stint. That allowed him to finish second instead of what probably would have been fourth or fifth, so it worked out for him. At the time I thought that they made an error by leaving Bottas out and I still believe that he would have basically come out behind Vettel in second place with Hamilton right behind. They could have swapped the cars around to help Lewis in the championship and had a double podium. I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, it only cost Bottas one place, so it’s not the end of the world, but in a championship battle that’s so close and with two teams so evenly matched, those three points could be critical in Abu Dhabi.

Daniel Ricciardo needs to strike back in his inter-team battle at Red Bull with Max Verstappen.   -  Getty Images

 

Having a weekend off after a tough triple header is going to be good, especially for the people who have had a tough run in recent races. I think Daniel Ricciardo needs to strike back in his inter-team battle at Red Bull with Max Verstappen. Since the Dutchman’s crash in Monaco, he has bounced back to outqualify Ricciardo 4-0 in the past four races and took three podiums along the way.

Williams had a miserable weekend where the rear wing and floor were causing issues when the air had to “reattach” at the point of closing the drag reduction system (DRS), causing both drivers to spin off at high speed. The team’s aero department really needs to have a major think about its direction because it’s not going well at the moment.

Stoffel Vandoorne is another man under pressure. I’m personally a bit disappointed of the Belgian. I was a big supporter of his when McLaren signed him up. His performances in the junior Formulas were brilliant and I spent months telling people last year that he was going to be right up there in the Verstappen/Esteban Ocon territory of brilliant young future stars. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t happened for him this year and, as we sit here, he’s been outqualified 10-0 by Fernando Alonso. At Silverstone, Vandoorne looked miles off Alonso’s pace, and it really does confuse me. Yes, Fernando is an utterly brilliant double world champion who’s lost none of his speed, but Stoffel isn’t someone I would expect to be so far off his pace. He’s certainly a man under pressure with lots of rumours about Carlos Sainz or Lando Norris replacing him in 2019.

On to Germany next and a return to Hockenheim. The battle between Ferrari and Mercedes is now super-tight and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds in a fortnight’s time!

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