The first race of the British double-header proved to be an extremely dramatic event, with three driver retirements, plenty of penalties and complete tire degradation.
VERY Tired Tyres
Clearly the biggest talking point of this weekend's race was the disintegration of tyres in the final two laps. Fans and commentators had been aware that tyres were beginning to reach their limits towards the end of the race, as well as noticing an obvious blister on the front left of the two Mercedes cars. A few drivers, including Max Verstappen, dived into the pits for a change of tyres but many stayed out, including the 'Black Arrows' who held first and second positions.
It was Valtteri Bottas' car that suffered first, with his front left suddenly disintegrating with two laps to go. This occurred just past the pit lane entrance and so the Finnish driver had to crawl round an entire lap before heading in for replacements. After a new set of tyres, he entered the track in 11th and made it is aim to score the point for fastest lap.
All eyes quickly turned to Hamilton, whose tires were equally worn and showing signs of blistering. Suddenly, on the final lap and with Verstappen 35 seconds behind, the Brit's tyre finally blew, and sent shockwaves around Silverstone and thousands of homes around the UK. Now, with only three working tyres, Hamilton had to make it round the last lap at a slow enough speed to stop the rubber flying up and damaging his car, but quick enough to hold off Verstappen who was closing in with some pace.
After a nail-biting final few corners the six-time world champ was able to limp across the line, with the Red Bull driver just 5.9 seconds behind. A couple more corners and the result could have been quite different. His teammate Bottas was not able to gain a place in the final lap in finished out of the points.
Another victim of tyre disintegration was McLaren's Carlos Sainz, whose front left fell to pieces shortly after the incident for Bottas. This was a hugely disappointing outcome for the Spaniard, who was due to finish in 4th after a tricky past few races.
It was likely that the second safety car period (that will be discussed later in this article) caused most of the drivers to head into the pit for new tyres far earlier than normal race strategy would've envisaged. This put most cars, including both Mercedes, onto the hardest tyre for the remaining 39 or so laps. It will be interesting to see how events unfold this weekend when softer tyres are used.
If it hadn't had been for those dramatic last laps, possibly the biggest talking point of this weekend would have been Nico Hulkenberg's return to F1.
The story began on Thursday afternoon, when it was revealed that Sergio Perez's COVID-19 test had come out positive on his return to the F1 bubble. The Mexican had been to visit his ill mother during the short break between races, but was certain he had stuck by all recommended precautions. Perez was immediately ordered to self-isolate for 7-10 days, and now arrived Racing Point's biggest issue: who would drive the second RP20?
Fans and media discussed the possibility of Racing Point and Mercedes' reserve drivers Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Gutierrez stepping in, but Vandoorne was committed to Formula E, and the Racing Point team decided bringing back an ex-driver made the most sense.
Hulkenberg knew the team and engineers very well and is seen as still a very competitive driver having only retired last year. Although the world was unaware, Nico had been contacted by Otmar Szafnauer as early as 3pm on the Thursday afternoon. By 7pm, the German driver had landed in England and traveled straight to the Racing Point factory across the road from Silverstone and took a COVID-19 test.
After this he underwent seat fittings until around 2am, and was up early the following morning to secure some time on the simulator. Before being allowed to enter the F1 paddock, Hulkenberg had to take another coronavirus test, and he and the team waited nervously for these results until about 10 minutes before the start of FP1.
It was then that Racing Point's stand-in driver was finally revealed to the world, and he dashed into the garage to partake in practices. Despite some comfort issues in the car, the previously retired driver was performing well in practices, and sat in 9th at the end of FP3. Quali was not quite as successful, however the 32-year-old was set to start Sunday's race from 13th on the grid.
However, as 2:10pm approached on Sunday afternoon, it emerged that there were problems in the Racing Point garage, and when all the cars drove out of the pits and onto the grid, Hulkenberg's RP20 was not among them. A big issue was discovered with his car just minutes before he was due out on track, and at 2:03pm it was confirmed that he would not be competing in the British Grand Prix. What a roller-coaster four days for the German driver!
Media and fans around the world were gutted to learn that the former Renault and Force India driver would not get his spectacular return to F1; in a car that many felt could have secured him that oh-so-special first podium that he had been chasing his whole career. His fingers are crossed that he may get the chance to race next week, depending on the self-isolation period imposed on Perez.
Safety Car Supremacy
A rather impressive 23% of Sunday's British GP was spent with the drivers snaking behind the safety car, following two nasty crashes early on in the race. Lap two saw a collision between Kevin Magussen and Alex Albon that sent the Haas driver plummeting off the track and into the wall. Albon's car was extremely fortunate to come out of the event essentially unharmed, and joined the rest of the pack as they trailed behind the safety car for around 5 laps whilst the Haas was removed. Albon later received a five second penalty for the incident, which he took during a pit-stop.
The second safety car period came about in lap 13, when Daniil Kvyat caught the curb awkwardly at Maggots and hurtled into the barriers. The damage to the car was quite extensive, but the Russian driver thankfully walked away unharmed. On this occasion the safety car was out for almost 7 laps, with many drivers complaining about its slow pace on some occasions. Both safety car periods led to very exciting restarts, where we witnessed the pace of the W11 as Hamilton and Bottas roared away from the pack.
These safety car periods, in particular the second one, resulted in some early pit stops for most of the drivers, meaning they had to finish the race on one set of durable, hard tyres. We know now that this caused extreme tyre degradation that led to the intense and exciting final laps around Silverstone.
Arduous weekend for Albon
After a high speed crash into the barriers in FP2 on Friday, murmurs emerged yet again about the British-Thai driver's security in his seat at Red Bull. The 24-year-old has had back luck after bad luck since he stepped into the second Red Bull halfway through the 2019 season, with podiums being denied and car trouble halting his progress.
The situation was no different this weekend, with his nasty crash in FP2, and then missing the majority of FP3 due to an electrical issue in his car. It can be expected that when Quali rolled around the young driver was lacking confidence following a difficult 24 hours. Albon secured a spot in Q2, but could not make it into Q3, ending the session in 12th. In comparison to his teammate Max Verstappen who qualified 3rd in the same car, this was a disappointing result.
Only two laps into the race, the Thai driver suffered a collision with Kevin Magnussen, and although his car was reasonably undamaged, he had to dive into the pits for new tyres, placing him into P18 when he returned to the track. Later, after an investigation by the stewards, Albon was handed a five second penalty for causing the accident, another blow in the 24-year-old's difficult weekend.
Despite all of this though, Albon remained determined. He battled his way up through the pack, passing a number of drivers to edge towards the points. With some strong overtakes and a fiery attitude, Albon was able to take advantage of the chaos among the lead cars, and he finished in an impressive 8th place. This is quite an achievement for someone who had been stone-cold last earlier on in the race. Christian Horner and the team continue to reiterate that they are pleased with the youngster's performances, calming the concerns of Albon fans who hope he can keep hold of his seat. Let's hope that next weekend is a little smoother for the British-Thai driver.