Originally published in the August, 2015 issue of DRIVENWORLD
By Jim Hunter
July 16, 2015
Silverstone, a former RAF WWII Bomber base, is one of the last true power circuits where two thirds the lap are attacked at full throttle. A typical English summer welcomed the FIA F1 World Championship to the historic venue situated just south of Northampton for the 49th time.
Forecasts leading into the weekend looked iffy at best. Rain was expected, but Wednesday proved one of the hottest days on record for the region, leaving many to rethink complaints about normally frigid “Old Blighty.”
Weather wasn’t the only “if” under discussion. The tipping point had finally been reached regarding questions of F1’s immediate future, converting talk into action. Increased restriction on driver coaching, particularly on race starts, will be implemented as early as this year’s Belgian Grand Prix. Press releases and conferences confirmed that, yet again, technical change across the entire formula was on the way. F1 will be a very different, and hopefully improved, animal in 2017.
Another question was Kimi Räikkönen’s F1 future following his bizarre first lap accident on Austria’s Spielberg circuit. There’s been a lot of chatter on Räikkönen’s fate since his podium in Bahrain.
“Obviously, they (Ferrari) will make the decision.” Kimi casually responded in Thursday’s FIA press conference. Ferrari principal Maurizio Arrivabene, as reported in Autosport, later offered some defense of his beleaguered driver; “Everybody has talked about this since Bahrain, then you have to jump in a the car to drive at more than 300 kmh–are you in a good mood? No.” Identified by the GPDA poll as F1’s most popular driver, Räikkönen is a true character at a time when F1 has become corporate and devoid of personality. It’s no wonder he dominates the rumor mill.
Regarding current events, intrigue centered on suggestion that the title momentum had shifted. With victory in Austria, Rosberg had now taken the top step in three of the four prior grands prix, bringing him within 10 points of home favorite Hamilton. It would be interesting to see if Hamilton’s “home field” advantage would stem this tide.
Silverstone calls for high downforce setups to accommodate Copse, Maggots, Becketts, Stowe, all legendary corners, all high speed on entry. Downforce would prove a key strategic factor in the rather surprising race that was to unfold, perhaps the best grand prix we’ve seen this season.
FP1 kicked off the pursuit of setup under welcomed cooler temperatures. Williams Development Driver Susie Wolff took the wheel of Valtteri Bottas’ car for her second and final test run of the season. She did quite well, managing to come within 8/10ths of Felipe Massa’s best time in the session. To no one’s surprise, Rosberg and Hamilton topped the time sheets, but Max Verstappen just edged Räikkönen for the session’s third quickest time.
Showing no intention of going away quietly, Kimi later challenged Rosberg for the top of the afternoon’s FP2 timetable, just 3/1000’s shy of the Mercedes. He also again proved to be the fastest non-Mercedes in Saturday’s FP3 and set the fastest time in Q1. The Finn looked set to fight for the front. However, Ferrari wound up behind Mercedes, and surprisingly, on the third row behind both Williams.
Williams’ performance in quali was stunning based upon their prior midfield pace. Struggling to break the pack in practice, both cars wound up on the 2nd row ahead of Ferrari. Was it merely a shift in the wind as Bottas suggested? Did Williams instead take a gamble stripping downforce from the car?
England is F1’s home. The spirit of Grand Prix racing flows fiercely through the teams based within a stone’s throw of Silverstone, a fact not lost on the 140,000+ who turned out for Round Nine of the 2015 Championship. It was inspiring to see the enormous support and pride England displayed for their own, and most notably for Lewis Hamilton who once again demonstrated his ability to work a crowd with a pre-race jog before his countrymen on the run down Vale to Club.
Unfortunately, Hamilton’s warm-up trot paid little benefit at the start, and Felipe Massa shot past splitting both Mercedes as if they were standing still. Massa’s brilliant start had given him the lead but teammate Bottas was displaying incredible pace. Hamilton initially fought for 2nd but could not hold the position. His Mercedes would close under braking, but the Martini liveried cars simply drew away on the straights. Williams made an arguable strategic error discouraging Bottas from taking the fight to his teammate. With Bottas relegated behind Massa, both Mercedes were able to keep in close touch.
Ultimately, Williams’ decision to hold station opened the door for Mercedes and Hamilton in the first round of pit stops, and when the latter stopping Bottas emerged from pit lane, Hamilton was already through into the lead.
The fight among the top four remained close, but rain was clearly visible on the horizon. How soon and how much? The first answer came on lap 35, when drops arrived from the SW. Bottas first radioed for intermediates, but it was Räikkönen who took to the pits completing lap 38, a call that proved to be much too early.
Conversely, Williams arguably pitted both drivers too late, ultimately costing the team a podium. But was it merely timing? Strikingly, neither Williams could maintain pace in the damp conditions. Bottas was left griping to the team that his tires weren’t working in the wet conditions. Was it really just the tires? Perhaps this shed light on the technique Williams found to pay enormous dividends in Q3 and dry race pace? Was it a lack of downforce that proved to haunt them once the rain came?
Exiting parc ferme, Massa looked befuddled. “It is a frustrating result because the race was amazing. I had a fantastic start and we were fighting with Mercedes the whole time, it could even have been possible to win the race if it had stayed dry.”
Kimi’s “hero or zero” call tempted the weather gods with no favor in return and he floundered. It was nice to see Vettel back on the podium, but the weekend prior suggested Kimi might be there instead.
Räikkönen took responsibility for the risky call, “it changed quite a lot from lap to lap. I guess for me it got quite slippery and looked like it was raining more and more and ultimately I decided to come in and I thought it was to keep raining but it turned the call was much too early. I understand it wasn’t a good choice but we gave it a try.”
By contrast, Vettel fared much better, “we did a great call to pit just in the perfect lap. The rain helped us today!”
Despite the exciting race, Mercedes took another 1-2 finish. Hamilton patiently pitted at the perfect moment, and was rewarded with his third British Grand Prix victory to great acclaim. The podium ceremony overlooked a circuit awash in a sea of Union Jacks, a scene similar to that one would expect of a Ferrari victory at Monza.
Hamilton later tried to put his emotions into words “I thought I’d seen it all last year but the fans have just been unbelievable. I could never have imagined this level of support – this one is for them. I have to admit, as I came round that last lap I was welling up seeing all those people on their feet.”
Indeed, this chapter in the 2015 campaign was for the fans. The British Grand Prix at Silverstone recalled better days and demonstrated that F1’s potential to captivate the imagination remains strong. Those who love the sport took home a little taste of victory, one which Lewis will be sharing for a long time to come.