Silverstone shows its class with a little help from sensible stewarding
Silverstone delivers the goods
With the signing of a new contract to host F1 for a further five years there was a celebratory air at Silverstone. That F1 had done the right thing was confirmed in spades on Sunday, when the old airfield delivered a marvellous race. The drivers revelled in it and the opportunity for genuine racing it affords. F1’s problems in following closely have not gone away but they are negated on good tracks. Silverstone’s layout encourages a fight and several of the corner sequences give drivers the chance to come back during an attempted pass which makes for compelling action. The previous race at Austria similarly facilitated proper racing. It is no coincidence these tracks repeatedly host a great spectacle. The three men on the podium – Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc – were all in agreement: it was the circuits making the difference. Bottas was unusually and pleasingly blunt in identifying F1’s real problem. “It’s all about selection of the tracks,” he said. “I’m sure many of the track selections for the calendar are just pure political reasons and money, rather than focusing on whether it’s good for racing or not.”
Stewards shift positions
Amid much great racing the best was highlighted by Leclerc’s battle with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The pair went wheel to wheel in a no-holds-barred scrap that was glorious. Almost from the off they went at it with fervour. It peaked as Leclerc attacked through the final corners just after halfway through the race, he went up the inside at Club and Verstappen went wide on to the run-off but ultimately held the place. Leclerc described it as his most enjoyable F1 race and Verstappen acknowledged the Monegasque had defended hard but said he was “all up for that”. The stewards thankfully did not intervene, as they had chosen to take no action when the pair clashed in Austria. It suggests there has been a genuine reconsideration of the parameters of interpreting the rules, with a gratifying swing towards letting hard but fair racing stand. This sets precedents both drivers have embraced wholeheartedly. The prospect of them going at one another for another decade is mouth watering.
Verstappen finishes with flair
For Verstappen unfortunately there was no great reward for his verve. He looked on to beat Bottas into second when he was putting Sebastian Vettel to the sword at Stowe. The Dutchman swept past him round the outside and the move was done when Vettel made an egregious error, failed to brake in time and punted into the back of the Red Bull. Verstappen’s car went over the kerbs, was catapulted into the air and came down hard. Both Red Bull and Honda expected it to be game over. But he returned to the track and, remarkably brought it home for fifth. He revealed afterwards the power steering more or less failed, the seat was moving around, the floor was damaged, the diffuser broken and parts were falling off. Earlier in the weekend his former teammate Daniel Ricciardo had said that, without power steering, driving the cars would be “impossible”. Verstappen managed it and more and emerged smiling at the end. The team principal, Christian Horner, described it as “incredible” and it was yet more evidence that when Verstappen is in a title fight he will be a formidable opponent.
Vettel’s form deserts him
For Vettel the incident had absolutely no positives. Rather it was a spectacular misjudgment, his worst since he went off in the rain at Germany last year and appears indicative that he is foundering with a loss of form. Since his anger at being denied a victory he believed he deserved in Canada by a stewards decision, he has looked decidedly uninspired. He was sixth in qualifying at Silverstone and has not made the top five since Montreal. His error here was that he believed Verstappen was going to move to his right, opening space for him to attempt to comeback though Vale. But basing his braking on an assumption was a major mistake and not the decision of a driver performing at his peak. He admitted it was wholly his fault and apologised to Verstappen having taken a penalty and finished in 16th. A hundred points behind Hamilton, his title hopes are gone and it seems that, for the moment, so is his mojo. Rumours of early retirement already abound.
As if the tawdry row between Rich Energy and Haas was not farcical enough, the team managed to compound it by shooting themselves in the foot as their drivers hit one another on the opening lap. With the energy drink title sponsor that signed up at the start of this season attempting to pull its sponsorship amid a series of tweets, claims and counter claims that ape the smoke and mirrors that cloak the company, Haas are now apparently attempting to recover £35m from them for breach of contract. Rich Energy recently lost a copyright case over their use of the Whyte Bikes stag logo. Ordered to pay £35,416 in costs, they have failed to do so and Whyte bikes are considering submitting applications to wind up Rich Energy and for the bankruptcy of its CEO, William Storey. In 2017 their financial registration at Companies House stated Rich Energy had £581 in the bank. Haas are not speaking publicly about the row, doubtless pending some legal intervention but the most overwhelming question they must address is just why they entered this disastrous partnership with a company that has faced endless questions about its legitimacy and whether they have in fact been paid a bean.