We return to the scene of one of the biggest controversies in F1 history this weekend. Wind the clock back 12 months and we witnessed about 30 seconds worth of glorious wheel-to-wheel action between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, before it all came to a head at Copse corner where only one would emerge. It was Hamilton, with Verstappen in the wall and social media has been screaming about it ever since.
How things have changed. Verstappen is now well ahead of the pack in the driver’s championship with Hamilton reduced to battling a bucking bronco in the bouncy Mercedes. Granted, it’s refreshing to see a new name emerge as a championship contender in Charles Leclerc - particularly for those who switched off during Hamilton’s dominant years - but the show suffers a bit when one of the top teams has a bit of a wobble, no?
Well, word on the street is the championship could get a little spicier at this weekend’s British Grand Prix. The last few races haven’t been kind to Mercedes, as its car seems to be averse to bumpy street circuits with lots of acute corners. But in Spain, the reigning champions were far closer to the pace set by Ferrari and Red Bull, with Hamilton actually showing race-leading speed at some stages. Silverstone is far closer to Barcelona in character, where its vast sweeping corners and smoother surface could play into Merc’s strengths.
Is it enough for Hamilton and George Russell to take the fight to the top two teams? It’s a long shot, for sure, but Mercedes has bought a chunky update package with it to Silverstone that should provide some additional downforce. It may even dial out some of that dreadful bouncing, which has made for uncomfortable watching. (Just imagine driving the thing.) Plus, both Mercs showed strong pace at the previous round in Montreal, so perhaps we’ll see a closer fight at the top come Sunday afternoon.
That’s if Ferrari can hold out an entire race distance, mind. After showing ominous pace at the start of the year, the Italians have made several costly mistakes and have suffered some major reliability issues. Leclerc has retired twice in the past four races due to engine issues, while a strategic blunder at the Monaco GP cost him a likely victory. Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, appears to be showing a bit more promise following a rough start to 2022, although he’s yet to prove whether he’s capable of fighting for a win if Leclerc’s engine goes pop. Again.
Naturally, we can’t predict the future and therefore have no idea whether either Ferrari will make it to the finish line on Sunday. However, with engine fragility becoming a more prevalent issue, the Scuderia appears to be following a route used by Mercedes last year. It's a trick where you swap the engine out more frequently than permitted under the rules, taking costly grid drops in the process, but delivering the extra punch of a fresh engine. No, it didn’t work all that well in Montreal, yet it puts Ferrari in a strong position for the next few races and it might be its best - or only - shot at toppling the dominant Red Bulls.
Finally, a number of other teams are bringing major update packages with them to Silverstone. Williams’ latest package adopts a similar sidepod design to Red Bull’s – and paddock rumours suggest it could be worth up to a second per lap. Nowhere near enough to bring it in line with the front runners, sure, but a busy midfield keeps the race alive when things level off at the front. All of which means Sunday is shaping up to be a race that might be the closest we’ve seen this year. Bring it on.
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