The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX: Great Britain: Ferrari Meltdown

26-07-2017

By Jack Target

After a stormy week off the track, matters were calmer on the track at Silverstone as Lewis Hamilton equalled the record for most British Grand Prix wins.

The Mercedes driver had a pretty straight forward weekend, despite getting off to a rocky start with the fans. Hamilton was the only driver absent from the F1 Live event in London but he redeemed himself with the fastest ever lap in qualifying followed by his fifth Silverstone win. The victory was his fourth straight win at his home race and left him just one point behind Championship leader Sebastian Vettel.

The Ferrari’s had a weekend that could be described as a bit of a shocker. Although Hamilton winning would not have been the best result, Kimi Raikkonen was having a fine weekend and looked good for 2nd, with Vettel further back trying to at least finish 4th, but inexplicably both drivers saw their tyres get a puncture in the last few laps to hand Mercedes a one-two.

It was a strange start to proceedings as the British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC), who own Silverstone exercised their decision to end their contract with Formula 1 after 2019. The future of the British GP was immediately speculated with many worrying Great Britain might not be on the race calendar in 2020. It seemed to take everyone by surprise as the questions started to be asked about the future. Will a new deal be done? Will we have a race in Britain after 2020? Will it be at Silverstone? Whose fault was this?

We didn’t really get many answers till the weekend when Derek Warwick, BRDC President, appeared on Channel 4’s coverage of the race weekend to give his explanation of what was going on. The former Toleman and Renault driver stated that F1 owners Liberty Media knew about this decision months ago and that it was released to the press because they knew they would find out anyway. He also stated that there was a deadline for exercising this decision and that it needed to be done otherwise they would be been bankrupt.

Although the deal did seem to be a poor one for Silverstone, many questioned why they signed it in the first place? We all know the issues that have been before with Bernie Eccelstone and there is a hope that a new, fairer deal can be made with the new owners. But I feel we should, as fans, be skeptical that it was all Bernie’s fault. As well as the question of why they signed a bad deal in the first place, I feel we should be looking at the management of such an event from the BRDC. The whole weekend has now grown to be more than just about the race on Sunday with many fan events taking stage beforehand. It leads me to question if they are managing their finances properly to not being able to take full advantage of a race weekend to recoup some of the money they have had to spend out. I know full well that F1 races aren’t cheap to host, but if Silverstone stays on the race calendar, we need to know it is in responsible hands going forward.

However there was some good news as a hugely successful event in London took place on Wednesday for fans to see the drivers and cars close up. It was very much like the fan events seen when the NFL comes to the UK in the autumn. I am sure Liberty Media took inspiration from that and will continue to host that in the future.

Back to the track and Ferrari tested their new windscreen shield design. It was met with some positive reaction, compared to the halo method that had been tested earlier in the year, but the drivers were less impressed, complaining that it was skewing their vision somewhat. It was announced this week however that the ‘halo’ will be introduced in 2018. A correct decision for safety? Probably, yes. But it does seem like the FIA are being a bit hasty in trying to get anything that will work rather than the correct and logical answer. The debate will roll on.

Now for matters on the track (finally). Saturday’s qualifying started with very wet conditions making it quite tricky for the drivers early on. Daniel Ricciardo was already starting with a five place grid penalty due to a gear box change but would start on the back row due to a problem with the turbo in his Red Bull. Valtteri Bottas was another to start with the same penalty and only qualified 5th.

However, arguably the best moment of the entire weekend happened at the end of Q1 when Fernando Alonso finished the session in P1. With the track drying and knowing that a 30 place grid penalty would leave his McLaren starting at the back regardless, the Spaniard decided to go in to the pits for a tyre change to dries, leaving himself just seconds to get a timed lap in before the end of the session. He managed to just cross the line in time and went quickest on the slick tyres, sending a huge roar around the Silverstone grandstands. It was a great moment in what has been a tough season for driver and team.

Alonso would not get in to Q3 but his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne out-qualified him for the first time this season clinching 8th place on the grid. There was also a good performance from Nico Hulkenburg, who got his Renault into P5 after once again impressing on a wet track. 

At the top end Hamilton was dominant. He set the fastest qualifying lap to be recorded in a British GP at Silverstone and was five tenths quicker than Raikkonen in 2nd. It was the Brit’s fifth pole at Silverstone, equaling Jim Clark’s record for British GPs and now only one pole position behind the great Michael Schumacher. 

Then came the race on Sunday, which was, to use a horse racing term, middling to good compared to other races this year. Not the best, but certainly not the worst we have witnessed.

It started disastrously for Jolyon Palmer as his Renault lost power on the formation lap. It the last thing he would have wanted at his home GP and with rumours of his future at the team with a possible driver swap now going into overdrive.

Max Verstappen finally had a race that was not marred by collisions or engine problems and got off to a great start by getting in front of Vettel and into 3rd, as Hamilton drove away into the distance hoping for more of the same for his nearest rival. 

His teammate had also done very well from the start. After his grid penalty forced him back to 9th on the grid, Bottas was up to 5th in no time. 

There was room for some of the middle pack teams to get some valuable points as both Toro Rosso’s crashed, with Sainz going out early and Kyvat facing an uphill battle to get in the points. One of those was Hulkenburg who followed up his impressive qualifying performance with a 6th placed finish. He had some good battles with the Force India of Esteban Ocon and managed to finish in front of both of the cars clad in pink.

Vettel was having a great scrap with Verstappen around lap 14 after the Dutchman had taken that place off him. You could hear that the crowd loved it and cheered the Red Bull driver on as he defended well but the German would have his way when he went for the undercut pit stop shortly after. 

The other Red Bull driven by Ricciardo was flying up the grid after starting on the back row. He did brilliantly to finish in 5th and impressed once again, especially when he caught up to the two Force India’s about halfway through the race. It almost seemed effortless when he got past one and then another in the space of one lap. 

It was looking like it would be a decent weekend for Ferrari with both cars getting on the podium, but Vettel’s early pit stop had come back to bite him as Bottas, on fresher tyres, was able to pass him with about ten laps to go. They must have thought that at least they could keep the pressure on Mercedes and Vettel would have a healthy lead if it stayed the way it was. But it did not.

Firstly Kimi’s tyre got a puncture with two laps to go and had to settle for 3rd. However there was real disappointment to see Vettel have exactly the same issue with just a single lap to go. The cars were much more bunched up behind him and when he came out for the last lap he would be in 7th. Ferrari had capitulated. 

We were left with Hamilton closing to gap to one point as he celebrated with the brilliant fans on the track. This really is his track now.