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.



Issue 60: 2015 British Grand Prix Forecast


2 July 2015

The battle of Britain

Silverstone beckons. This inauspicious Northamptonshire airfield has been the Home of British motor racing since 1950. What a home! Brave the rain, wind and the mud and you’re likely to be rewarded with high-drama at this high-speed circuit. The new Silverstone, first used for the 2010 British Grand Prix, retained many of the best features of the old venue (with the exception of the wonderful flat-out right-hander, Bridge Corner), probably because Hermann Tilke had no input into the circuit redesign. After the fast right-left sweep that follows the start/finish straight, the drivers brake hard for a tight 75mph right-hand turn, which is immediately followed by a 55mph left-hand hairpin and then swiftly on to the Wellington Straight. This is the first real overtaking opportunity: look out for DRS-assisted passes on the 200mph straight or under braking for Turn 6.

The cars are then channeled into the old slow-speed Luffield complex at the beginning of the middle sector. Then they race away through the super-fast Woodcote and Copse corners. I stood at Copse in 2008 and watched Lewis Hamilton blitz the rest of the field in the rain. That was a Senna-esque performance by the Briton! The loud pedal stays to the metal on the approach to the high-speed left-right-left-right of Maggots and Becketts. Good high-speed balance to counteract understeer and cope with the fast directional change is critical to a quick time through here and for Sector 2 overall. It’s a brilliant piece of track to watch the cars at full pelt, but overtaking opportunities are slim pickings.

After Becketts, the cars blast down the Hanger Straight. Get a good exit out of Becketts to stay close to the car ahead for a DRS-assisted overtake on the straight or failing that dive down the inside under braking for Stowe Corner. I’ve sat at Stowe many times over the years and seen some cracking moves! And there’s a half-chance of an overtake for anyone bold on the brakes down the inside of the left-hander after the Vale.

The weather is set to be in the low- to mid-20 degree centigrade range. Happily, there’s almost no chance of rain! However, light winds are forecast for Saturday in particular. This will affect car balance, especially through the high-speed stuff. Any runners whose cars lack a stable aerodynamic platform or good balance are more likely to struggle for grip.

Pirelli has brought its Medium and Hard compounds to Silverstone. The fast, sweeping corners of Copse, Maggots and Becketts in particular put the highest lateral loads through the tyres of the season. Moreover, the combination of the abrasive surface on the older parts of the circuit and the grippier asphalt on the new sections of track, especially in Sector 1, will increase tyre temperature and thermal degradation. Added to this is the effect of high wing levels pushing the tyres into the track for maximum aerodynamic grip. These combined forces put serious stress on the tyres, which requires more durable compounds. This punishment means that a two-stop strategy is likely to be chosen by most runners. However, given how well Pirelli’s Supersoft and Soft compounds held up in Montreal and Spielberg, a few daring drivers might go for a one-stop strategy. That would leave them quite exposed in the closing laps, however, and at Silverstone, passing is possible.

The other technical factor of note is the high rate of fuel consumption at Silverstone. This is a direct result of two-thirds of the lap being spent on full throttle, not to mention the approximately 40 seconds spent on full beans from the exit of Luffield to the end of the Hanger Straight. No doubt we’ll hear some more tedious lift and coast orders from the pit wall to the drivers as the need to manage fuel during the race kicks in.

Three races in one…

Mercedes surely has this race covered. The W06 Hybrid offers the best combination of power and downforce to take on Silverstone. And the last time this tyre combination was used – at the Spanish Grand Prix – race winner Rosberg beat the highest-placed non-Mercedes finisher (Sebastian Vettel) by 45 seconds. The only question is whether it will be Hamilton or Rosberg on the top step, reliability permitting of course. I recognise the case for either driver in fact. Hamilton has been the faster of the two on balance this season. He will be racing in front of his home crowd. And Mercedes has reportedly fixed the power unit/clutch problem that ruined his start in Austria. Rosberg on the other hand won in Spain the last time the Medium and Hard compounds were used and he enjoys some momentum from his most recent results. It’s a tough call, but I’ll hang my hat on Hamilton for the win.

The battle for third will be fought between Ferrari and Williams once again, as it was in Canada and Austria. Vettel would certainly have grabbed third place in Austria had he not been delayed in the pits. However, I think Williams will have the edge round Silverstone. The FW37 is excellent in the high-speed corners due to its good balance and it can blast down the straights with the best of them aided by its Mercedes powertrain and low-drag chassis. Williams’ performance trajectory is upwards so expect another good result for Bottas and Massa, but they’ll still have to fight Ferrari hard.

The third race to watch in the British Grand Prix will probably involve some combination of Force India, Toro Rosso, Lotus, Red Bull and Sauber (I fear McLaren will endure another difficult weekend due to a lack of horsepower and a high rate of fuel consumption). Force India and Lotus have the right motor for Silverstone while the former are set to introduce an aerodynamic upgrade to their car featuring a new nose. This season’s Force India suffers from a lack of downforce, which doesn’t bode well for Silverstone, but if their upgrade can deliver more downforce then Perez and Hulkenberg may just have a chance of fighting off Lotus and Toro Rosso. The Lotus is also lacking in downforce but the Toro Rosso is a tidy car that is making the best of a bad powertrain. Watch out for Sainz and Verstappen again. I expect them to give the midfielders, including Red Bull, a run for their money. Whoever triumphs in this duel in the race will have won a closely-fought battle, that’s for sure.

I will be in the stands this weekend. If you have tickets, have a great time!