70th Anniversary GP: Five things to watch out for at Silverstone

Formula 1

Jolyon Palmer

Former F1 driver Jolyon Palmer, who left Renault during the 2017 season, is part of the BBC team and offers insight and analysis from the point of view of the competitors.

Just a few days after an incident-packed British Grand Prix, Formula 1 returns to Silverstone this weekend for the 70th Anniversary race.

It is the second time in this coronavirus-affected year that F1 has gone back for another race at the same track – and it may not be the last.

But, just as in Austria at the start of the season, this is unlikely to be a Groundhog Day repetition of the first run.

Last weekend’s race threw up a number of interesting talking points – so here is a rundown of what to look out for at Silverstone this weekend.

Lewis Hamilton

Will the tyres run into trouble again?

Many people’s eyes start to close when you discuss tyres, but they were ultimately the deciding factor in the race last weekend, producing an all-time great finish and a moment that could even end up deciding the championship.

The front left tyre on Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes blew with two laps to go, leaving him scoring no points, while team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s tyre failed on the final lap in time for him to crawl to victory and take a large 30-point lead over the Finn in the standings.

But with Carlos Sainz suffering exactly the same failure in his McLaren and Daniil Kvyat suffering a right-rear failure in his Alpha Tauri much earlier in the race, there will be a lot of question marks over the tyres and plenty of strategy work to be done on the pit walls.

It was Kvyat’s failure at Maggotts on lap 12 that created the issues for the others later on.

Kvyat’s sudden deflation pitched him into the wall at a phenomenal speed, bringing out the safety car, and making everyone jump into the pit lane for hard tyres, which they intended to take to the end.

This was always going to be on the limit of possibility, because the left-front tyre takes a particular hammering around Silverstone’s extremely fast circuit, featuring predominantly right-hand bends.

Given a free choice, the teams would not have pitted so early, but the allure of an effectively free pit stop under the safety car was too much, and few could have foreseen what unfolded at the end, even with the marginal tyre life.

A lot of focus will be placed on practice long runs and tyre choices before this weekend’s grand prix, but any thoughts that it will be easier second time around are misguided.

Pirelli are actually supplying softer tyres this weekend in an effort to spice up the action. And that, combined with scorching temperatures forecasted, should give the teams even more headaches.

I expect more caution in terms of pit stops and running cars towards the end of the expected tyre life.

But the high loads of Silverstone are sure to still cause concern, even with Pirelli increasing the minimum tyre pressures this weekend as a reaction – which sacrifices optimal grip for increased structural integrity of the tyre.

All in all, last weekend’s race proved it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton

Bottas issues

Bottas haemorrhaged points to Hamilton in the championship and, with such a large gap so early in the season against such a formidable rival, the Finn must hit back this weekend to get the gap back below 25 points – or one race victory’s worth.

Bottas’ race pace was good, but he needs to find his qualifying form from 2019, when he out-qualified Hamilton to take pole position in front of a packed Silverstone.

Last weekend, Bottas was overly cautious in battle. Despite getting a better start than Hamilton and getting alongside on the inside, he backed out massively through Turn One and gave his rival an easy run into the first big braking zone at Turn Three.

Aside from that, Bottas failed to put Hamilton under any pressure through two safety-car restarts either and, while his pace is OK, it’s difficult to see how he will pass the Briton on track if he remains afraid to get his elbows out.

Bottas’ speed is sufficient to keep him ahead of Hamilton if he can get there – he showed that in the Austrian Grand Prix – but getting there right now is the harder bit.

Bottas needs to take more inspiration from his predecessor at Mercedes, Nico Rosberg, if he is to launch any credible title challenge to Hamilton. He must throw caution to the wind a lot more.

In 2016, Rosberg wasn’t afraid to crash with Hamilton if it meant keeping him behind – just look at the Spanish and Austrian Grands Prix that year.

If Hamilton had passed Rosberg back in Spain 2016, he’d have ended the year champion. Instead, he ended the race in the gravel and Rosberg took the crown.

It’s fair to say Rosberg had more than his fair share of luck in 2016 as well, which Bottas hasn’t been the recipient of yet this season, but if he’s to fight for the title the Finn must get his elbows out an awful lot more and bounce back this weekend.

Lewis Hamitlon's car during 2016 Spanish GP

What went wrong with Vettel?

You might have missed it, but Sebastian Vettel was in the grand prix last weekend.

The four-time champion had a horrible time, mired in the midfield, passed by Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri in the race, and just about held on to a solitary point, while his Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc sprayed the champagne on the podium.

Vettel qualified almost a full second off Leclerc and after the race hinted that something might have been wrong with his car.

Nobody likes to hear a driver blame the car after a dismal display, but I have a feeling Vettel might be onto something with this after last weekend.

His car was unreliable throughout the practice sessions and when he was running he never looked like showing any pace. He might not be the preferred option at Ferrari right now, given they are letting him go at the end of the season, but he shouldn’t be as far off his team-mate as he was last weekend.

Vettel out-qualified Leclerc in the previous two races in Styria and Hungary, and it will be interesting to see if Ferrari have managed to find anything amiss in the head-scratching debrief they’ll have had since Sunday.

Slowly but surely, Ferrari are on an upturn of form, and if Vettel can get back to normality it will give them a much better chance to secure their place as the top midfielders.

Alex Albon

Albon needs a trouble-free weekend

Red Bull’s Alexander Albon is a man under pressure right now and his crash in Friday practice last weekend seemed to happen at just the wrong moment, just when he looked to be finding some pace.

That crash, coupled with a reliability issue in Saturday’s final practice, left the London-born Thai back in the midfield.

From there he had an incident with Haas driver Kevin Magnussen on the first lap – for which I believe it was wrong for the stewards to give him a penalty – and ended up at the back.

His recovery drive thereafter was solid and earned him a few good points, but I’m hoping we can see a full Albon weekend without any extenuating circumstances this time around, and perhaps for him to start to push team-mate Max Verstappen on back-to-back weekends at a circuit he must know very well.

Nico Hulkenberg

The hectic midfield battle

As always, there was some cracking action in the midfield at Silverstone, particularly from both McLarens, Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Gasly.

This battle between the Renaults, McLarens, Racing Points and maybe even an Alpha Tauri is always a fascinating, tightly fought scrap, and I fully expect that to be the case once more.

Renault finally showed a proper turn of speed after introducing some upgrades last weekend, edging that midfield bunch, with Ricciardo narrowly missing out on a podium. So having another race at a track that seems to suit their car is good news for them.

But there will be a lot of attention on Racing Point again.

Will Sergio Perez drive after contracting Covid-19 before last weekend? It seems unlikely at this point. So Nico Hulkenberg should get an opportunity to have a full weekend after missing out on the race on Sunday because of reliability problems.

The team have a fast car, but have so far been unable to secure the points it deserves. Losing Perez is big for them, and that was evident last weekend.

Team-mate Lance Stroll has been doing well, but perhaps not as a team leader just yet.

With Hulkenberg playing catch-up last weekend following his late call, the experienced German might be able to help Stroll out a bit more this time with some normal race weekend preparation.

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