Monday, 9 July 2018

British GP Report - Red ratification?

The British Grand Prix was about coming to a realisation. Martin Brundle called it in Friday practice - that in 2018 we have to get used to the idea that Ferrari will be quick everywhere. And if this one was the red car's ultimate test then it passed it triumphantly.

Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel passed their toughest
test with flying colours
Photo: Octane Photography
In every sense - literal and metaphorical - Silverstone is Ferrari's away fixture. Not only as one of a small minority of teams not to have a base a short drive away, it also is a track that we thought could have been designed for its chief rival Mercedes. Results say this too with the silver team winning the previous five here - most dominantly - and Lewis Hamilton in Nigel Mansell-esque style being particularly happy at home, taking the last four.

Yet this time Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari won, and deservedly. On that basis they can win anywhere. Maybe it's the car to beat this year.

Granted there were some adventures in getting there, but the bottom line is that Ferrari - armed with a new floor which seemed to electrify the red cars and straightline speed that rival Daniel Ricciardo described as '"insane" - looked at least as fast as Mercedes throughout on the latter's happiest of hunting grounds. Only Hamilton pulling a rabbit out of the hat - again Mansell-esque on his home ground - denied Ferrari pole. Otherwise the Scuderia was never denied.

Much pivoted on the start and opening corners. Hamilton's launch was poor and both Vettel and fellow Merc Valtteri Bottas were quickly by. Then worst of all for Hamilton he was nudged into a spin by Kimi Raikkonen which put the Englishman to the back. The fault was Raikkonen's - indeed he got a 10 second penalty for his pains and Kimi accepted the blame - but equally it looked every inch a genuine error and it was a pity that Hamilton and his team spent some of the post-race hinting otherwise. Lewis has since apologised for the insinuations but you suspect in many quarters the truth will not now overtake the lie.

Vettel and Valtteri Bottas both beat
Lewis Hamilton off the line
Photo: Octane Photography
Whatever though it put the race into Vettel's palm and in that familiar way of his he grasped it - building a five second lead by lap seven over Bottas.

Hamilton also in familiar style picked off the F1 'B class' swiftly and was up to sixth by lap 10. The Red Bulls - slightly tepid this time on what these days is a power circuit - and the penalised Raikkonen may have been just about in range but leader Vettel by now nearly half a minute away was not.

Mercedes was given an opportunity however - then dashed it again in familiar fashion.

Bottas edged in on Vettel in the second stint to be only two seconds shy but that battle was disrupted by a safety car appearance when Marcus Ericsson went off in his Sauber, leaving eventually a 15 lap sprint to the flag.

But just as in China and Austria, Mercedes faced with a decision made no decision - though it maintained afterwards its strategy of doing the opposite of what Ferrari did was deliberate. Either way, it left Bottas and Hamilton out on old rubber while virtually all others stopped to change under the safety car. The Mercs therefore now had track position - Bottas leading and Hamilton third - but either also had eventually a freshly-booted Ferrari on its rear bumper.

The decision just about made sense for Hamilton but Bottas, on tyres of greater vintage, was easy meat once green flag racing resumed. Vettel quickly gobbled him up to lead again via a bold move at Brooklands and the Ferrari was never again headed. Hamilton got by too to finish second and Bottas by the end sank from his own sure runner-up place to fourth behind Raikkonen. His latest case of not getting what he deserves in 2018.

Vettel was delighted with his weekend's work
Photo: Octane Photography
Ferrari and Vettel were suitably thrilled with their weekend's work, edging away in the table to now sit eight points clear of Hamilton after a scrum won against the head. Hamilton will view his second place as a save but equally knows, if he didn't already, that he is in quite a title battle this time. To think just a week ago for all its Austrian traumas we thought Mercedes had stolen a march.

"Obviously the safety car spiced it up," said Vettel later of his win. "It was a nice time because Valtteri was pushing like crazy. I had the advantage on tyres but it was not so easy to find a way through but then I surprised him. I wasn’t sure I'd make the corner but I did, so it worked really and very, very happy."

"This weekend was a bit different," Vettel continued on Ferrari's competitiveness. "It was very warm, which is a bit unlikely for here, compared to recent years. Also there was less wind, new asphalt, so a couple of new things but I think the main thing is that we were competitive, which we weren’t in the past.

"It's a tricky circuit, you need to get the balance right, of downforce and drag. I think we have a very good car, we brought some bits, they seemed to work, so, I think we were very, very happy with the result.

"It's been a difficult track for us. This year I think we were a match."

Quite. Hamilton meanwhile insisted he had given everything in coming through the field.

Hamilton gave everything in coming through to finish second
Photo: Octane Photography
"I gave every bit of energy I had," he said. "I didn't have anything left when I came in.

"I gave everything I could, I was struggling to stand. It's so physical nowadays.

"It's different when you're in the lead and can control the pace. I was coming from last."

Max Verstappen left the party late on with a brake-by-wire problem, spinning then getting stuck in gear, leaving Ricciardo - who earlier lost out by pitting just before the safety car - to finish fifth, also shadowing Bottas at the end.

Nico Hulkenberg in the Renault was best of the rest in sixth on a track where he went well at last year too - he was aided this time by appearing on the first lap also in sixth having started 11th on medium tyres.

Hulkenberg was followed home by Esteban Ocon in the Force India, and next up was Fernando Alonso in the McLaren who as ever battled hard, and got by Kevin Magnussen's Haas on the final tour having been vocal about the Dane's defensive tactics. The pair fell out in practice too.

Ocon's stable mate Sergio Perez took the last point, recovering from a first corner spin. He only got it though when Pierre Gasly was penalised post race for making contact with the Force India on the way by, a decision Gasly called "completely ridiculous".

Next up F1 returns to Germany, at Hockenheim, in a fortnight. As has been the case in every round lately predicting which way that one will tilt at the front will not be easy. But there is one thing we can count on it seems - that Ferrari will be fully in the picture.

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