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“F1: Sublime Verstappen Conquers Mercedes”

August 10, 2020

Max Verstappen’s victory at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix yesterday was a masterclass of skill and pace over the normally dominant Mercedes.

It was a result that required skill, maturity, tyre preservation and no small dose of heat.

A key overtake for the lead, followed by six blistering laps of pace. On the surface, that’s all it took, but there was so much more to it. And yet, one cannot ignore the small portion at the midway point of the race, during which the nature of the race was turned on its head.

The temperature yesterday was hot and if two races at Silverstone on consecutive weekends has told us anything, it’s that the Mercedes W11 does not appreciate excess heat. It almost cost Mercedes a Grand Prix win last week – this week it finally did.

Max Verstappen had initially taken the lead of the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix on the 14th lap as the Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton switched from the medium Pirelli tyres to the hard compounds, but whereas Verstappen made his Red Bull RB16 sing on his Hards-Medium-Hards strategy, both Hamilton and Bottas struggled.

This is not to say that the Mercedes pairing were in danger of falling further behind – they were not – but this was the first time their frailties cost them so significantly.

Verstappen was one of only five drivers to start on the hard Pirelli tyres, with the Mercedes’ both getting away on the mediums. Bottas initially led from pole, and while that was briefly threatened by Hamilton on the opening lap, the Finn looked the most comfortable in the opening stint. Edging away from Hamilton, this looked like the race that would kickstart Bottas’ championship challenge, and yet – Verstappen…

In the early laps, the mediums held the key pace, but fell away quickly. In terms of raw pace, the hard tyres were supposed to be approximately 0.6s slower, but would last much longer, as the chasing Red Bull driver would prove. As the lap-count slipped into double digits, the leading pair fell back toward a cool Verstappen, who was maintaining both solid pace and tyre life.

Bottas stopped on lap 13, with Hamilton doing the same one tour later. At that stage, the Finn held a 1.1s gap to Hamilton, with the Briton just 1.0s ahead of Verstappen – the Dutch racer, however, did not need to stop at all and stayed out until the end of lap 26. Throughout this, Verstappen pushed, but not so much as to destroy his Pirelli’s – this was aggression, albeit the softly, softly way. Meanwhile, both of the Mercedes machines began to tear through the harder Pirelli tyres.

These were, of course, the medium tyres from last weekend’s race. In an effort to differentiate between two Grand Prix at Silverstone, Pirelli designated softer rubber for this additional race, while also mandating the use of higher tyre pressures to held counter the excess wear and delaminations from seven days earlier. With track temperatures close to 50°c, the problems suffered by Mercedes at the British Grand Prix began to develop once again.

Verstappen, meanwhile, kept life in his hard tyres and then kept the mediums on for just six tours. Emerging from the pits after his first stop just behind Bottas, Verstappen drew in behind the Finn quickly and made a move around the outside of Luffield for the lead.

Pushing hard, Verstappen assumed a solid gap to Bottas and stopped again at the end of lap 32. Bottas joined him, with both switching to hards for the final stint, but Mercedes’ tyre problems remained, gifting Verstappen the advantage.

Hamilton stayed out and, for a time, looked as if he may be considering a one-stop strategy, but even that was beyond the great champion. Feeling the grip ebb away, Mercedes pulled Hamilton in for his final stop on lap 42, just as Red Bull gave Verstappen the order to push.

With Hamilton out of the way, Verstappen led with ease from Bottas, while the 2nd place man began to struggle on aging rubber. In the distance, Hamilton emerged in 4th behind the impressive Charles Leclerc, who had spent the afternoon battling the less impressive Ferrari.

From here, the race was an easy finish for Verstappen, who was calm enough to exchange quips with the pitwall in the final tours. In what was probably the finest drive of his career, Verstappen made strategy and the conditions work in a car that, in standard conditions, is no real challenge for the Mercedes. Indeed, not only was this Red Bull’s first win of the season, it was the first time anyone else looked even remotely close to them.

It is tempting to think that this may kick start a championship challenge for Verstappen, but as summer turns to autumn, it may be ambitious to think that these conditions will be replicated at many other races in this already crazy season.

Behind the winner, Bottas could only lose. On hard tyres nine laps older than Hamilton’s, the Finn’s pace was falling away. Hamilton made sluggish work of Leclerc, eventually taking the Monegasque racer on lap 44 and then drawing six seconds from Bottas only to pass his teammate on lap 50.

It was a strategy call from Mercedes that was an attempt to beat Verstappen but failed and ultimately cost Bottas a shot at beating Hamilton. Considering the form so far this season, it is hard to see Hamilton not taking the title and this race will surely represent a step in that direction.

Leclerc came home 4th, ahead of the second Red Bull of Alexander Albon (5th), while Lance Stroll headed his Racing Point teammate Nico Hulkenberg to 6th place – a downgrading considering Hulkenberg was running 5th until a late third stop dropped him behind his teammate.

Esteban Ocon headed the Renault charge coming home 8th, a long way ahead of the lapped Daniel Ricciardo (14th) – the latter of whom endured an embarrassing mid-race spin. Lando Norris (9th) was the first of the McLaren’s to finish, while his teammate Carlos Sainz (13th) lost out mid-race following a slow first stop. Daniil Kvyat (10th) closed out the points, beating AlphaTauri teammate Pierre Gasly (11th) to the finish line by less than a second.

Sebastian Vettel secured an anonymous 12th in his Ferrari. The four-time champion qualified poorly and hurt his day more by spinning by himself on the opening lap. Kimi Raikkonen (15th) was the first of the Alfa Romeo’s ahead of Romain Grosjean (16th, Haas), Antonio Giovinazzi (17th, Haas), while George Russell led the Williams duo in 18th, less than one second ahead of Nicholas Latifi.

Kevin Magnussen was the only retirement with the Haas driver pulling in nine laps from the end.

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