Verstappen’s first win of 2020 was a story of risk and reward for the Red Bull racer.
The 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone was a welcome breath of fresh air for the Formula 1 world, after four consecutive and dominant Mercedes victories.
It was not a story of outright performance because it is very clear that Mercedes is the best car in F1 at the moment, but this was all about tires and being on the right tire for the specific car, at the right moment.
Formula 1 asked tire manufacturer Pirelli to change the tire specifications between the two Grands Prix at Silverstone, and so Pirelli provided softer tires across the board for the 70th Anniversary GP on Sunday. Given the tire dramas at the end of the British GP one week ago, this suggested that teams would need to come up with different strategies. The foundation for Max Verstappen’s ninth career victory was laid in the Q2 qualifying session on Saturday when the Dutchman ran the hard C2 tires, while his rivals used the medium C3s.
“We can’t use the hard we had last week, which I think was a pretty decent tire,” Verstappen said. “I wanted to go for the hardest option we had this weekend, because basically, this week’s soft is just falling apart. So that that was not an option. The medium, which was last week’s soft, was also not an amazing tire so why would I qualify on it when the track is warmer? So it was just a matter of making it through Q2.”
Verstappen knew that the big risk for him was going to be the start and early part of the race when the harder tires might be eclipsed by the softer tires, but he reasoned that he had managed to do that in the British GP when there were other stuck behind him. It was worth the risk.
In the end of the Q3 session, having established his race tires in Q2, he tried both the medium and the soft, unsure which was better. This meant that he was settling for fourth on the qualifying grid, behind both Mercedes and the impressive Nico Hulkenberg in Sergio Perez’s Racing Point. Verstappen argued that if the team had managed the tires better he might have gone quicker and could have been within seven-tenths of the Mercedes. That is the current scale of the domination.
Verstappen made a good start and dealt with Hulkenberg on the first lap but then watched as the Mercedes started to drive away, as the team has in all the races this year. After a few laps, he was three seconds behind the leader and pole sitter Valtteri Bottas. But then as the Mercedes tires began to fade, Verstappen was able to gain back time and closed up on Lewis Hamilton. The team warned him to take it easy on the tires, but Verstappen was no mood to mess about.
« This the only chance of being close to the Mercedes,” he radioed in. “I’m not just sitting behind like a grandma.”
“Their tires were completely gone,” he said after the race. “I could see the tires opening up. It was expected with these tires, especially on high fuel when the car is very heavy. I didn’t want to just sit behind like I have been doing in previous races so once I had the opportunity to put a bit of pressure on.
« I wanted to do that so I tried. I had a big moment once when I was close to Lewis because it is really hard to follow even when I had the grip advantage, but then it got to the point where it was impossible for them to continue, so they boxed and that is where my race started. »
Verstappen went into the lead when Hamilton pitted on lap 14 and he kept the hammer down until his own pit stop on lap 26, but which point he had a lead over Bottas of 18 seconds. He managed to stay ahead and took on medium tires, but he knew they would not last. He did just six laps on them before returning to the pits for more hard C2s.
That had put him behind Hamilton, who was trying to stay out until the finish. However, it became increasingly clear that it wasn’t going to work, and Hamilton gave up on lap 41 and went in for another set. By then, Bottas was no longer a threat as his tires were shot and although Hamilton caught and passed his teammate near the end of the race, there was no way he could then catch Verstappen.
It was a triumph of clever strategic thinking. However, Verstappen, who leaves Silverstone second in the championship and 30 points behind Hamilton, was clear that we should not expect as strong a performance from Red Bull as the F1 circus heads to Spain for next weekend’s Spanish GP.
If nothing else Hamilton’s bid for a record seventh F1 title just got a little more interesting.
Formula 1 Silverstone,valtteri bottas,Max Verstappen
Actu monde – FI – How Red Bull’s Max Verstappen Put a Crack in Mercedes F1 Armor at Silverstone