Clouds over Silverstone are nothing new but hanging over the 2017 British Grand Prix was perhaps the largest and darkest in the circuit’s recent history. It took the shape of a break clause in Silverstone’s contract with Formula 1, triggered in the week leading up to the race.
Every cloud has a silver lining though, and this case that lining was an intriguing Grand Prix to the very end, one that left us with a considerably tighter championship fight.
As it stands we just witnessed the first of the final three Grand Prix to be held at Silverstone. With late race drama coupled with the ever-spectacular sight of Formula 1 machinery tackling some of the finest real estate in racing, you have to wonder if the sport can afford to lose Silverstone from its calendar.
One man in particular who will want a rescue deal for the venue is Lewis Hamilton. Was a fourth consecutive – and fifth overall – home victory ever in doubt for the three-time world champion? Based on his astonishing pole-position lap in qualifying you’d have to say no, especially as his team-mate, Valtteri Bottas, somewhat of a Silverstone specialist, had been curtailed by a grid penalty.
But as the race on Sunday reminded us in the closing stages, there are plenty of variables that can throw a spanner in the works, not least, tyres.
As it was, nothing could stop Hamilton from romping to victory, perhaps silencing those that criticised his absence from Wednesday’s F1 Live event. And making his victory all the sweeter, was the late-race tyre trouble that hit Scuderia Ferrari.
With just two-and-a-half laps to run, the left front tyre of Kimi Raikkonen‘s Ferrari delaminated and came apart, flapping against his front wing as he limped back to the pits. Remarkably, he would recover to finish third, thanks to the same misfortune striking his team-mate Sebastian Vettel just one lap later.
Were those two seemingly identical tyre failures symbolic of a championship charge that’s beginning to unravel? It’s perhaps too soon to tell but Vettel, who dropped to a season’s worst seventh after his front left tyre succumbed to a puncture in sight of the finish, hasn’t won a race since the Monaco Grand Prix in May and has scored just one podium from the last four races.
It comes at a time when the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team appear to be getting into their stride, turning up the wick and finding the sort of form they’ve become accustomed to in recent years. Not only was Hamilton’s cruise to victory at Silverstone faultless but Bottas posted arguably his best drive of the year to claim second place from ninth on the grid.
For Ferrari then, the British Grand Prix was one to forget, whilst Mercedes can celebrate a 1-2 all the way to next event in Hungary. For the fans though, not only did Silverstone provide some awesome wheel-to-wheel racing between Vettel and Max Verstappen and a much-celebrated home victory but also a final result that sees the championship battle close to the smallest of margins.
Vettel heads Hamilton by just a single point, while Bottas is now only twenty-two points further back as we head into the season’s second half, a series of races that includes circuits to rival Silverstone’s thrilling challenge, think Monza, Spa, Suzuka… excited? You should be.
Elsewhere at Silverstone, it was Red Bull Racing‘s Daniel Ricciardo‘s turn to stake a claim for Driver of the Day and he did so with a sublime fight back from nineteenth on the grid to finish fifth. But perhaps greater news for Red Bull was that Verstappen posted his first race finish in four races, coming home fourth.
Silverstone though, showed once again that Red Bull currently exist in a performance limbo, too far from the front to fight for podiums on genuine pace in a straightforward race but clear of the mid-field. At this stage of the season that’s unlikely to change, all we can hope is that both Ricciardo and Verstappen see out full race distances and continue to show that they are great value when it comes to racing entertainment.
Beyond the gulf that encompasses Red Bull, Silverstone once again showcased a feisty mid-field not, for once, headed by the Sahara Force India pairing of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, instead, by Renault Sport F1 Team‘s Nico Hulkenberg who claimed a season-best sixth.
But an enthusiastic British crowd were considerably more concerned with Hulkenberg’s luckless team-mate, Jolyon Palmer, who didn’t even make the start of the race, a loss of all hydraulics on the first of two formation laps ending his home race before it had even begun.
Are Palmer’s days in F1 numbered? With every race retirement – although rarely his fault – and every pointless race that passes, the rumours gather pace and perhaps no more so than during the British Grand Prix weekend. As Britain prepares to potentially lose its iconic Grand Prix, should it also prepare to see the back of one of its young stars? Only time will tell.
The 2017 British Grand Prix was the latest episode in a story that started on the sweeping curves of Silverstone sixty-seven years ago. In that time it has seen a multitude of victories for British heroes, many a thrilling dice between the sport’s finest drivers and its fair share of controversies.
It’s perhaps fitting then that in the wake of the break clause announcement, this year’s British Grand Prix had a little bit of all of that, a timely reminder of what will be missed when – if – Silverstone really does drop off the calendar after 2019.