Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are absolutely peerless at Silverstone, the Briton taking pole by 0.3 seconds from teammate Valtteri Bottas and the next-closest constructor more than a second adrift.
The British Grand Prix was always likely to be something of a bloodbath on the evidence of the German marque’s impressive pace so far this season. The Silverstone Circuit has become increasingly power sensitive as downforce has ramped up during this regulatory era, and Mercedes has taken a massive step forward in the motor stakes this season.
But the advantage isn’t solely down to power, with the Mercedes W11 strong in just about all facets. Only in the heat does the car appear unbalanced, as was the case during Friday, but even then the team’s propensity to run with much reduced power during practice flatters to deceive.
That’s in direct contrast to Racing Point, ostensibly running the 2019 Mercedes. The pink car in the hands of Lance Stroll was rapid on Friday, but the Silverstone-based team has been pushing harder than other during practice as it attempts to find the limit of its new machine. It had nowhere to go come qualifying and ended up several rows back and likely out of podium contention.
Red Bull Racing was the next-quickest car instead, with Max Verstappen starting third. The RB16 looks much improved compared to its unpredictable worst during qualifying in Hungary, but Alex Albon’s Friday crash and trouble with balance in qualifying revealed there’s still fine turning to be done. But the gap to Mercedes is so large it’s difficult to imagine that much pace being locked up in the capricious chassis anyway.
Finally, Ferrari did its best frontrunning impression with Charles Leclerc qualifying fourth and only fractionally behind Verstappen, but the Monegasque admitted the team had made some radical downforce decisions to counteract the engine’s lack of power that have serious knock-on effects for race pace.
|PROVISIONAL STARTING GRID|
Distance: 5.891 kilometres
Lap record: 1:25.093 (Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 2019)
Track record: 1:24.303 (Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2020)
Lateral load: very high
Tyre stress: very high
Asphalt grip: high
Asphalt abrasion: medium
Traction: very low
Safety car probability: 100 per cent
Pit lane speed: 80 kilometres per hour
Pit lane length: 508.9 metres
Pit lane time loss: 22.9 seconds
Fuel consumption: 2.12 kilograms per lap
Tyres: C1 (hard), C2 (medium), C3 (soft)
Estimated tyre delta
Hard–medium: 0.7 seconds
Medium–soft: 0.9 seconds
With a variety of expressions of underperformance among the teams that are supposed to be challenging Mercedes, the battle for victory will come down to how much strategic flexibility exists between the two teammates in the leading German car.
The same was true for last year’s British Grand Prix, which was similarly a duel between Hamilton and Bottas in which a diversion in tyre strategy would have proved critical before a safety car intervened.
Now, as then, both Mercedes cars start on the medium, eschewing the softs as too fragile around the high-energy curves. Now, as then, Friday practice suggested the race ought to be a two-stop.
But now, as then, Friday isn’t representative. Hot weather, some 10°C warmer than is forecast for race day, means tyre life appears reduced compared to what is likely to be the case on Sunday.
In 2019 Hamilton won the race by proving a medium-hard one-stop was eminently doable while polesitter Bottas was hamstrung with a two-stop.
How will they battle with each other with all cards on the table? They’ll have relative freedom given the gap behind is likely to be substantial enough for them to fight exclusively between themselves, which might at least add some spice to this two-horse race.
Interesting too will be what path Max Verstappen chooses from third. The Dutchman, based on Friday’s long-run pace, should have a margin over the rest of the upper midfield and can afford to gamble on chasing Mercedes in the event of an error ahead. He’ll start on the favourable medium tyre and try to do the opposite of whatever the second-place driver does, stopping twice where they stop once and vice versa.
Charles Leclerc from fourth is unlikely to be a threat, even starting on the medium tyre. Ferrari has stripped downforce from the car to ameliorate its lack of power, but the effect is clear on Friday’s long-run charts, with Ferrari slowest on the softs and second-slowest on the mediums. Cooler weather will help, but Ferrari’s woes are unlikely to subside without a slice of luck.
The big unknown is Racing Point. The pink car ought to be rapid at Silverstone but underperformed in qualifying and looked lukewarm in race trim on Friday. Lance Stroll starts sixth, but four of the five cars ahead of him also start on the soft tyre, giving him little room to move strategically. Nico Hulkenebrg, starting 13th, will similarly be hamstrung on strategy, with most bottom-10 starters likely to start on the mediums.