As other European tracks struggle to fill the grandstands when F1 is in town, Silverstone is a beautiful contrast to that: thousands of enthusiastic fans make a former airfield one of F1’s season highlights. Find out here who’s on Pole.
A chassis update from Ferrari was expected this weekend. The development of the SF16-H has stalled despite constant claims of still believing in a championship chance this year. The only major update was the news that Kimi Räikkönen, more or less disappointing since 2014, received another contract extension for next year.
Both Ferrari drivers were more or less on par with the Red Bulls on Friday. It looked like a repeat from Austria: the Mercedes is untouchable on a single quick lap, behind them Red Bull and Ferrari are having a fight for however many podium spots are up for grabs.
How far ahead were Mercedes? Well, the gap to Vettel was at eight tenths. And Vettel ran the softer tire while Hamilton and Rosberg were on Medium tires. It’ll take wild circumstances to end utter Silver Arrow dominance on home turf. As if things weren’t difficult enough already, Vettel ran into an issue with his gearbox – the fears of having to replace it materialized on Sunday morning, resulting in a five gird penalty. Verstappen was stopped in his tracks by a faulty Renault engine but managed to come seventh.
The midfield is a tight place to be: Force India is a solid point contender, McLaren-Honda is on the rise thanks to another combustion engine update that cost two tokens, Toro Rosso can make up part of their power deficit with excellent aerodynamics. Williams and Haas are also up there. Speaking of Haas, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari’s most promising young driver, turned his first laps ever in F1 as a stand-in for Gutierrez. His outright speed wasn’t impressive, but his job was to gain a bit of experience and bring the car back in one piece.
Hamilton first, Rosberg last – the dominance of the reigning champion continued in the second practice session where the race setup and longruns take priority. Rosberg was not able to compete at all actually. A tiny water leak was enough for Mercedes to retire the car for the day and prepare it for Saturday, when a different engine is set to be installed anyways.
The Mercedes still was on unbelievable pace. Red Bull came relatively in the long runs but admitted that Mercedes has something in the back hand for Sunday. Hamilton and Rosberg can only beat themselves at this point.
Ferrari split strategies: Vettel ran the medium, Räikkönen the hard tire for a while. The difference in pace was marginal. Halo 2, a slightly tweaked and modified version, was tested by Vettel for one lap without any spectacular results or comments.
Fernando Alonso surprised by putting the McLaren-Honda in sixth. It looked tremendous through the fast S-corners. The front end bites into the tarmac on corner entry, the rear doesn’t get upset on entry. Being the fourth best team would be half a sensation for McLaren at this point in time.
Manor on the other hand is not expecting a miracle. That has already happened last weekend with a P10 finish from Wehrlein. No, for them tire management and fighting Sauber and Renault is priority. Wehrlein set a great lap and had solid longrun, only Felipe Nasr could compete with him. Looking good for the smallest team of the paddock.
Only 21 drivers started in Q1: Marcus Ericsson of Sauber was undergoing a medical check in an Oxford hospital after a highspeed crash coming out of the quick Stowe Corner in FP3. The mechanics also were not able to rebuild the car in time, but he’ll be able to start the race from last place.
Felipe Nasr is only one spot ahead and completes the last row lockout for Sauber. The gap to Manor was at four tenths. A few years ago, Sauber was regularly competing for podiums, and now they are dead last. Renault got at least one car into Q2: Magnussen narrowly beat Jenson Button, whose McLaren was struggling with a yet undisclosed mechanical issue, and teammate Jolyon Palmer.
Magnussen’s journey ended in Q2 though. While that wasn’t surprising at all, the performance of Dani Kvyat was. The Russian lost over half a second to Carlos Sainz and later blamed it on Magnussen. According to him, he was guilty of blocking him on his fastest lap. If that’s true remains to be seen. The two Haas also didn’t make it through – looks like development shifted completely to the 2017 car as the team isn’t moving up anymore.
Both Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa lost their respective team duels: Instead of Q3 participation, they were out as the checkered flag come out. Hülkenberg and Bottas did better and joined Alonso, Sainz and the usual suspects from Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes in the final shootout.
Of course, the attention shifted to Hamilton and Rosberg. On the first set of tires, Lewis outpaced Nico by quite some margin, but suddenly Nico was listed as the quickest driver so far: Hamilton ran wide in Copse Corner and crossed the white line and therefore the track limit, resulting in the laptime being annulled. The same happened to Hülkenberg in his fastest run and to Verstappen a session earlier. It’s the biggest issue with modern tracks: a pit of gravel dealt with running wide itself by ruining the lap or, on tough days, the car. Now the FIA’s watchmen have to watch video replays and decide if that one wheel was still on track.
Not all was lost for Hamilton fans just yet. He went out on a new set of rubber with over three minutes on the clock. Another mistake would not cost him Qualifying as he had enough time for a second lap. The precaution was not necessary in the end: despite a few sketchy, nervous corner exits Lewis went as quick as before and kept it between the lines this time. Rosberg was unable to counter with a quick lap and actually went slower than on his first try. The decision was made; Hamilton is in the best position for a fourth British GP win.
And behind them? Well, the second row went to Red Bull. Verstappen lost over a second to Hamilton but gained three tenths on Ricciardo. The pace difference between a Red Bull and a Mercedes on a non-perfect lap is still staggering. At least it’s not as bad as what Ferrari delivered: Kimi was the quicker one in fifth, Vettel right behind him. The gap? 1.6 for Kimi, a colossal 2.2 for Vettel. Accounting for the gearbox change penalty, Vettel is starting the race in P11. That means that Bottas, Hülkenberg, Alonso and Perez move up on position each.