Silverstone… What can we say about the World War 2 airbase turned iconic British racing institution that hasn't been said before? Last year we had the controversial coming together of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton that got everyone talking, contributing to a series of twists in the heated championship battle. This year, it surpassed that spectacle; and if you missed it, you better have had a good reason.
Another wet qualifying which, not for the first time, threw everything into the mix with the field spread out of the usual spots. Aston Martin just can't cut it in qualifying. Neither Stroll nor birthday boy, Vettel made it past Q1. If ever there was a turn of events, it was Nicholas Latifi who made it into Q3 for the first time.
Max Verstappen had a big moment after spinning, much to the crowd's amusement. The Dutchman didn't win any popularity contests that day. The booing during the post-qualifying interview was, however, in poor taste. He proved the professional that he is by coming out, making himself right before jumping straight back to the top. If ever, it was a sign that everyone was pushing hard trying to take advantage. Charles Leclerc proved that spinning out in the tricky conditions with the threat of rain looming. But then, lady luck, she smiled. The man of the moment, Carlos Sainz, leapfrogged both aces and grabbed pole position in the process – much to the surprise of just about everyone, including him. What a way to cap your 150th Grand Prix start!
If you thought the drama was over, think again. The race start was outrageous with so many slow starts and faster drivers taking chances. "Buy a ticket, win a prize." Or not.
Latifi squeezed his Williams into the mix. When Pierre Gasly tried the same, he got pinched and clipped Russell, causing the Mercedes to connect with the Alfa Romeo, tangling wheels and flipping the Alfa of Zhou before sliding down the straight, digging into the kitty litter before flipping and bouncing off the catch fence. It can best be described as the crash of the season. The Halo proved its worth once more.
It was nauseating to watch until the good news arrived that Zhou was OK. One thing that needs stressing is the gap between the catch fence and the Tecpro barriers which trapped Zhou. Fair enough, but if there was a fire, I shudder to think what could have come from the incident. I do feel that, just like F1 learnt from Grosjean's crash, which paved the way for so many changes in this new era of cars, this will usher in more changes. Alex Albon was another victim who slowed down after being a first respondent. For his efforts he got rear-ended by Vettel, causing him to crash into the pit wall before he was collected by Yuki Tsunoda and Estaban Ocon in a pretty expensive game of ping-pong. George Russell deserves an honourable mention here after jumping out of his Mercedes to rush over to Zhou to see if he was OK in a selfless display of sportsmanship, setting the example for everyone to follow.
Let's dial it back though… The race started with different tyre compounds, causing slow starts and allowing erratic position change-ups leading up to the crash. The hard compound tyre just doesn't have the grip to get a car off the line quick, causing the fiasco it did. Pirelli will need to apply their minds to this, but in the interim, it's simply not working. Yes, for a closed-wheel series like touring cars, and GT racing it could work, but for an open-wheel series where the approach speeds are as high as F1, they're playing with people's lives. And to think the rule-makers want to rid cars of tyre blankets entirely at some point. Can you imagine the carnage then?
While I firmly believe that Motorsport should have a degree of risk, some things need better management. We have, however, come a long way since Tazio Nuvolari's days of no safety belts, a leather cap as head 'protection' and a cigarette smoked during pit stops right next to flammable liquids. They don't make them like they used to.
A lengthy stop, following the red flag and then a clean restart, set the tone for some of the finest displays of racing we've seen in a long time. It was mega exciting from the start as Sainz got a "get out of jail free card" after the Spaniard got shanked on the initial start by Verstappen. Sainz, determined not to have a repeat, conjured up every bull-fighting bit of spirit he could muster to fend off the charging Red Bull.
Perez got into the scuffle with Leclerc after defending Verstappen (knight in Carbon fibre stuff… How noble?) That, however, caused too much of a hindrance for the Mexican, who needed to pit for a new nose, dropping him to the back of the pack. The restart had it all, including an all-Brit dice between Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton. The seven-time champion making easy pickings into Brooklyn's thanks to DRS.
I've been one to criticise Sainz before for not having that big match temperament and was hoping to be wrong but then, on lap 10 at the start of Hanger straight, he ran wide, allowing Verstappen to overtake. But then another get-out-of-jail-free card: Verstappen slowed, initially thinking it was a puncture. A kink in the armour of these new cars proved that Verstappen was vulnerable after picking up some damage to the underside of the Red Bull after collecting debris from an earlier incident. A sign that these new cars aren't as strong as initially thought.
Hamilton was closing in on both Ferraris, causing a bit of discomfort (rightfully so) from Charles Leclerc, who believed he was faster than Sainz, asking for a change-up. Then a safety car followed Ocon who parked on the track. Leclerc got the raw deal of a botched Ferrari strategy after Sainz was allowed to pit, fitting a new set of soft compound tyres that'd see him to the end of the race. Leclerc, still on the hard compound, went wide on lap 43 which allowed Sainz to retake the lead. That's not where the heartache ended for Charles, though. Even though he fought valiantly, it was Perez who rocked up, passing him before passing Hamilton. Say whatever you want but a five-car train chopping and changing positions between Perez, Leclerc, Hamilton, Alonso and Norris is a healthy sign that the new rules are working (even if it was thanks to a safety car). Mick Schumacher, in eighth place, got his first points in F1, causing that feel-good buzz we can all appreciate.
In the end, it was Sainz who managed to hold on to the lead, bagging his first-ever Grand Prix win, followed by Perez who came back from last place, and then Hamilton. It's disheartening for Charles Leclerc, who, unfortunately, lost out to a below-average strategy. Here's to hoping that Maranello sort it out before the circus heads back over the English Channel to Austria and the Red Bull Ring on the 10th of July, a home-ground advantage that Max Verstappen will be keen to take advantage of.
Words: Brent vd Schyff