Issue 61: 2015 British Grand Prix Post-Race Analysis


22 July 2015

Race Summary: Lewis Hamilton won a chaotic British Grand Prix from team-mate Nico Rosberg. Sebastian Vettel grabbed third place ahead of the faster Williams of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas in fourth and fifth places. The Russian charger Daniil Kvyat took sixth place and Fernando Alonso claimed his first point of the season.

Silverstone served up a rip-roaring race providing a much-needed antidote to the bad press F1 had attracted after two pedestrian Grands Prix in Austria and Canada. The British Grand Prix had plenty of drama and suspense: an unexpected early fight for the lead, a safety car period, rain and a British winner!

Jules Bianchi – RIP 

However, the warm glow around F1 following the British Grand Prix was punctured two weeks after the race by the tragic news of former Marussia driver Jules Bianchi’s untimely death from injuries sustained in his crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. The extinguishing of a great up-and-coming talent is a significant loss for F1. He will be truly missed. Bianchi’s unfortunate death is shocking in itself, but the emotion is rawer given the length of time between Bianchi’s death and the last fatality in F1: Ayrton Senna in 1994. Indeed some F1 fans have never witnessed death as a direct result of motor racing.

Following Senna’s death, a raft of safety measures designed to reduce the risk to drivers, marshals and the viewing public were introduced. These laudable efforts, overseen by Prof Sid Watkins and others, were so effective that no fatalities occurred for 21 years and serious accidents became rare. Some in the sport were lulled into a false sense of security: death as an occupational hazard of racing in F1 had seemingly been banished to history. However, Bianchi’s sad demise must surely alter any latent perception that racing in F1 is without risk. F1 is still dangerous. True, the statistics show that the risk of death or serious injury following an accident have been reduced considerably in the last two decades, but as last season’s Japanese Grand Prix showed, freak or unusual accidents have not been fully eliminated and probably never will be. Extreme and unexpected scenarios are in the nature of a sport that involves imperfect human beings travelling at over 200mph and engaging in sharp acceleration and deceleration in close proximity to other cars, sometimes in poor atmospheric conditions. Sadly, things are going to go awry on occasion.

Silverstone’s a winner…despite the ticket prices

The post-race commentary after the British Grand Prix focused largely on ‘what might have been’ for Williams and to a lesser extent Nico Rosberg in his challenge to Lewis Hamilton. Did Williams’ strategy really lose them the race win or at least a podium?

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My view is that Williams’ strategy team have been unfairly pummeled by some pundits and fans for their strategic choices during the British Grand Prix. After Massa had seized the lead at the start of the race and the new Flying Finn had followed his team-mate by Hamilton after the early safety car period, Williams could either run line astern as they did or back their faster driver to build a gap at the front. Bottas lying second claimed he could go faster than Massa. But, studying the lap charts, it certainly isn’t a nailed on certainty that Bottas could have gone much quicker than Massa. Sure, the Finn looked faster, but the most relevant strategic question here is whether Bottas really had the pace to build a sufficient gap to Hamilton to protect the lead of the race for Williams. I’m not convinced that he had the speed in his FW37 to build the required lead and presumably neither did the strategists otherwise they would have given the order to Massa to move over. A look at the lap data shows that rather than Bottas being consistently faster than Massa, the Williams drivers exchanged quick times lap after lap. And on the laps when Bottas was quicker than Massa it was generally by approximately only 0.2 seconds. In the 12-14 laps available before the first round of stops, Bottas pulling away from Massa (with Hamilton right behind) at that rate each lap would probably not have been sufficient to guarantee that Williams retained the lead after the tyre stops.

As it turned out, Mercedes seized the initiative on Lap 19 and pitted Hamilton, which forced the Grove squad to react rather than lead.

In any case, I think more fans should be commending Williams for electrifying that first phase of the race. Massa and Bottas gave us what sporting contests need: unpredictability. I’m sure that almost every fan watching in the stands (including me) had expected Mercedes to run and hide at Silverstone, but Williams had other ideas.

The most well-timed pitstop in F1 history?

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The rain had been coming. In fact, it had arrived on Lap 35 in the Luffield/Woodcote area of the track. However, large parts of the track remained dry. At this stage of the race, Rosberg was still chasing the two Williams having failed to undercut them in the first pitstops. However, the Williams drivers had lost tyre temperature quicker than Rosberg and within a few laps the German had dispatched both Bottas and Massa. Rosberg then set about the leader closing on Hamilton at a vast rate of knots. This was nail biting stuff. Hamilton had this race locked down only a few laps ago. But now, who knows? It was surely only a matter of time before Hamilton lost the lead.

However, the championship leader couldn’t have timed his second pitstop better. He pit on Lap 43. The rain arrived in force seconds later. Hamilton on Intermediates cut through the standing water. His team-mate slithered round for another lap on slick tyres. The argument for victory had been settled.

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Did Williams’ decision not to pit their cars on Lap 43 cause them to lose third place to Ferrari? The post-race commentary suggested it did. However, another look at the comparative lap times between the Williams and the Ferrari of Vettel showed that the German was simply a lot quicker in wet conditions. For example, in a five-lap stint between Laps 39-43, Vettel set laps that were seconds faster than the Williams. Slow out-laps for the Williams didn’t help them either. However, even if Williams had stopped on Lap 43, Bottas and Massa would probably have been in closer contention for the podium, but Vettel would still have snatched the glory.