Analysis of the British Grand Prix brought to you by Bahrain International Circuit
Change does not always sit comfortably with fans, not least in a sport steeped in so much history, where statistics, records and achievements are held so proudly by its participants. It was inevitable, therefore, that the trial of a new race format for the weekend was always going to have a mixed response. The thinking behind the revised race weekend is to create more excitement for fans across the whole weekend, making each day both relevant and engaging. Friday comprised one practice session followed by what you would describe as the so-called ‘traditional’ qualifying format, which would set the grid order for Saturday. Following a second practice on Saturday morning, the evening was taken up with a sprint race; a third-distance race which set the grid for Sunday but also offered points to the top three.
One change which no one was going to disagree with was the sight of full capacity stands. 140,000 fans flocked to Silverstone for race day and their return brought back a level of excitement that has been missed by everyone in the sport. It was even more special as Silverstone acts as the home race for the majority of the teams. Whilst there is still some way to go before every race venue around the world will be able to host packed stands, it was a wonderful reminder of the unmistakable buzz and excitement of watching live sport and the positive impact this has on the participants.
On the racing side, it was expected to be business as usual at Silverstone, with Red Bull coming in on the back of a dominant European summer run. Mercedes did bring a few aerodynamic upgrades in the hope of closing the gap, but the Verstappen dominance was surely too much for Mercedes to make up. In Friday qualifying, Hamilton pulled out a blinding lap to set pole, just 0.075 seconds ahead of Verstappen, with Bottas in third and Leclerc fourth. Elsewhere, the home racers of Norris and Russell shone, in sixth and eighth.
Lining up on the grid for the sprint race, Hamilton struggled off the line, opening the door for Verstappen who duly obliged and never really looked under threat for the rest of the race. His win bagged three points and pole position for the race, with Hamilton a comfortable second, Bottas was third, followed by Leclerc, Norris and Ricciardo. Perhaps the outstanding performance came from Alonso, who went from 11th to 5th on lap one, ultimately finishing seventh. George Russell also held his own, finishing ninth.
There was a dramatic start to the Sunday race. Verstappen and Hamilton were tyre to tyre through the first few corners. The cars touched and Verstappen went flying off and was out. The significance of that cannot be underestimated, as a potential 25-point swing, with Verstappen 33 points ahead at the start of the race, could take several races to pull back. With an immediate red flag, there was plenty of debate on fault. Consensus suggested a racing incident, with some suggesting Hamilton made an error. The Stewards went with Red Bull giving Hamilton a ten second penalty.
Leclerc made the most and took the lead for the restart after the red flag and led behind Bottas, Norris and Hamilton, after taking into account Hamilton’s penalty. Hamilton then passed Norris on lap 31 and, after he was let through by his teammate, he had 12 laps to catch Leclerc. He managed that with three laps to go to the delight of the British crowd, giving Hamilton his eighth victory at his home Grand Prix. A disappointed Leclerc held on for second, with Bottas third, after Norris had a botched pit stop.
Throughout the weekend, this was a race for the fans. A combination of a full house, a win for a home driver in unexpected circumstances brought a massive buzz to Silverstone. Overall, given the inevitable resistance to change, the trial weekend format seems to have been a success. There are obvious benefits for fans, and in turn for broadcasters, of having a three-day event with meaningful track action on each day. It makes sense for a race promoter too, as it should support higher attendance throughout each day of the race weekend. F1 acknowledged that there may need to be a few small alterations to the format, but that is inevitable after just one trial event. Overall, you would think that F1 will stick with this for a certain number of races over the year and fan support will continue to grow as it becomes more familiar.