GRAND PRIX : Britain : Rain Helps Seb to a Podium

Posted on July 17, 2015.

The Williams' just leapt forwards at the start from row 2
Hamilton scored a clever and deserved win
The late-race rain helped Vettel get onto the podium

Report by Alan Brown

Since I last penned a Grand Prix Report for ‘Ferrari Happenings’ back in May covering the Spanish GP, the F1 Championship looks increasingly like another Mercedes lock out. That said the only Ferrari win so far in 2015 was in Malaysia at Sepang, a circuit with many similarities to Silverstone. Lap distance is 3.66 miles (Sepang 3.44 miles), both circuits are virtually flat and fastest lap times are comparable.

Silverstone has played host to the British Grand Prix exclusively since 1986, with only Aintree and Brands Hatch the other British Circuits to hold this honour since the inception of the World Championship in 1950. In the US for example, I calculate the newish Austin Circuit in Texas brings the total number of North American venues staging the US Grand Prix to at least ten.

Ahead of our home Grand Prix the debate over the future direction of F1 rumbled on, in the wake of falling TV audiences, and in case of the last race, disappointing tickets sales. One might well question whether grid positions should be determined in a sprint race with junior drivers participating? Should a cap on spend be introduced with those teams in adherence being rewarded with more technical freedom. Should ‘pit to car’ interventions be scaled right back? All praiseworthy ideas with the latter I understand being introduced as soon as the Belgian Grand Prix next month.

In the meantime, unlike in Austria, there were no problems selling tickets for the Silverstone Grand Prix with the event being a 140,000 sell out. However a late 44% ticket discount introduced over the weekend of the Austrian Grand Prix doubtless helped, but left many fans who had booked early feeling rightly ripped off. Oh and 44 is Lewis’s race number, so that’s alright then.

Friday practice sessions got underway in sunny but gusty conditions which were catching drivers at Luffield and Copse. Alonso Grosjean and Mehri all had wind buffeting excursions into the gravel at Luffield. Drivers also regularly exceeded track limits at Copse, with sideways gusts pushing them over the white lines as they passed the shielding effect of the old pit complex. Kimi was outpacing his team mate at this point, being very happy on the option tyre (less so on the prime). Nico dominated both Friday sessions with Kimi second quickest in FP2. The big surprise on Friday was the slower times of both Williams cars, who were circulating some two seconds adrift of the quicker Mercedes. Lewis too was not entirely happy with his car’s handling and finished FP 2 on Friday in 4th place behind Nico and the two Ferraris.

Conditions were similar on Saturday for FP3 and qualifying. It was soon apparent that Lewis had sorted out his Friday issues in FP3 by topping the time sheets ahead of Nico and the Ferraris next up. Both Williams were still not showing comparable pace. That position would soon reverse though as qualifying commenced. Massa in particular was hooking together some great laps throughout qualifying and seemingly was unaffected by the continuing wind gusts. Kimi only just made it into Q3 after losing a critical lap time at Copse, again falling foul of track limits rules. Up front the two Mercedes were having it very much their own way, with Lewis now reclaiming the top dog position. Pole for the Brit was a great crowd pleaser. Kimi and Seb were just left to ponder how they managed to end up back on Row 3, staring ahead at the two Williams cars, in stark contrast to the relative pace of the two teams witnessed during the practice sessions. Pat Symmonds did seem very confident to my mind when interviewed on Friday that his FW37 cars, with major aero upgrades introduced here, would be the measure of the Ferraris (who also came with revised aero packages).

If anyone thought the ascendency of the Williams cars in qualifying was a fluke then race day would quickly dispel that myth. Massa and Bottas both catapulted past the front row Mercedes by the time they all rounded the first corner at Abbey and soon established themselves at the head of the field. Seb lost places to Kvyat and Perez and was down in 9th place by Lap 5. A brief safety car period had already come and gone, with several drivers in trouble, including Jensen, whose miserable season shows no sign of abating.

The Williams and Mercedes cars continued to dominate the race after the safety car period with the Ferraris falling further back. This snaking foursome was finally broken at the first pit stops with Lewis emerging in the lead after a stunning out lap. From there it was down to the British weather to really jumble up the order. Light rain started with around a third of the race to go. Kimi gambled on grooved rubber far too early and would have to pit again. Lewis and Seb held on for several more laps until the track had really moistened up before diving in for their tyre switches. Emerging with just 10 laps remaining Vettel found himself in 3rd place which he held until the end. Both Williams cars were unable to perform to their earlier pace in the wet conditions, leaving the two Mercedes to reclaim their customary one/two positions. Kimi’s early gamble on inters and the need for a second set left the Finn down in 8th. Sadly he had only himself to blame as it was his call to pit early for inters.

A thrilling British Grand prix indeed and one that everyone involved should be rightly proud of. From a Ferrari perspective there must be concerns over the latest improvements on Sir Frank’s FW37’s. Without the intervention of rain, Seb would not have been up there on the podium and would more likely have been grappling with Red Bulls and Force Indias for a 5th or 6th place. We are often reminded by Messrs Arrivabene et al, that the SF15-T cars will continue to be steadily developed over the season. That said it would be nice to see them perform more consistently across the differing circuit characteristics they must face, particularly over the next three races (Budapest, Spa and Monza).

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