Abbey, Copse, Maggotts-Beckets, Club, these corner names can only mean one thing. Formula 1 has once again returned to the very home of motor racing, Silverstone, for the British Grand Prix. And with the championship getting serious as we approach the halfway point of the season, it could prove to be a critical weekend too.
Free Practice One saw current driver on form Valtteri Bottas edged out his Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton to set the fastest time of the session, with a gap of nearly half a second to the Red Bull of Max Verstappen in third place. The W08 looked to be impressive, immediately lapping at outright lap record pace around the famous old Northamptonshire circuit. Bottas’ time, a 1:29.106 was over seven hundredths of a second quicker than Hamilton on soft tyres, in yet another dominating display from the Mercedes team around a track they’ve gone well at in the past.
Verstappen was in third place for Red Bull with his team mate Daniel Ricciardo in fourth in a revised RB13. The team have brought several significant updates to Silverstone this weekend in the hope of carrying on their championship fight with Ferrari and Mercedes. While Verstappen will be desperate for a race finish this weekend after five DNFs in the last seven races. However, the updates don’t look to have closed the gap that significantly at this stage to the Mercedes out in front.
“We can improve but we’re not a million miles off,” Daniel Ricciardo said after the first session. “Mercedes look really strong but we look to be in the fight with Ferrari. At the moment we’re battling Ferrari and not Mercedes.”
Ferrari did not have the best FP1 session, having to settle for fifth for Kimi Raikkonen and sixth for Sebastian Vettel. Like Mercedes the team are running a new engine this race, with some people suggesting the lack of pace from Ferrari may be down to the team being conservative with their engine, seeing as they only have one more engine available before they have to take grid penalties. All eyes were on the Ferrari however as Vettel was trailing the new “Shield” head protection device. Though the test did not go well, with Vettel only completing the one instillation lap. When asked about why he only did the one lap before reverting back to the car’s normal specifications he admitted it was because the device made him dizzy.
“I tried it this morning, I got a bit dizzy,” said Vettel. “Forward vision is not very good. I think it’s because of the curvature, you get quite a bit of distortion. Plus you get quite a bit of downwash down the straight pushing the helmet forward.”
Even when he did get back out on circuit Vettel did not have the easiest time, with a spin in the Maggotts-Beckets complex and an off at turn three. He was not the only driver to push to find the limits of the track as several other drivers went off the track too as they sought to get to grips with this generation of car round the circuit.
Daniil Kvyat put his calamitous first lap in Austria behind him to set the seventh fastest time of the first practice session. One of his first corner victims, Fernando Alonso, was an encouraging eighth behind him in his McLaren. While team mate Stoffel Vandoorne rounded out the top ten, with only the Williams of Felipe Massa in between them. However it was not all plain sailing for McLaren, who revealed that once again Alonso has a thirty-place grid penalty for changing components of his engine once again.
Elsewhere in the session Antonio Giovinazzi replaced Kevin Magnussen in the Haas for the first of his FP1 debuts. The young driver previously got a chance to race in Australia and China for Sauber this season when he replaced injured driver Pascal Wehrlein. Though today marked his first appearance in the Haas. He managed to clock the 16th fastest time of the session, and was under half a second slower than the other Haas of Grosjean in 14th.
Free Practice Two carried on in much the same fashion for Valtteri Bottas, who once again topped the timesheets with his team mate Lewis Hamilton behind him. Once again Bottas was able to smash the lap record in his W08, setting blisteringly quick time of 1:28.496, four hundredths of a second fast than the fastest time Hamilton set for the session. However, it is definitely worth noting that Hamilton’s fastest time of the session was set of the soft compound tyres, while Bottas set his on the spoersofts. As well as this the British driver looked to be quicker on his supersoft run as well, till a mistake through Village corner cost him the fast time.
Rather ominously for the rest of the grid, especially for their championship rivals Ferrari, Mercedes seem to be on top of Silverstone with two one-two finishes in both practice sessions. But the teams will have some breathing room this weekend, as Bottas will have a five-place grid penalty due to a gearbox change.
It was a slightly more positive session for Ferrari, who were at least able to narrow their gap to the Silver Arrows, as well as leapfrog the Red Bulls. But the Maranello team are still at least three tenths of a second off the pace of the Mercedes with Kimi Raikkonen in third, and four tenths with Sebastian Vettel in fourth.
Red Bull, who had a positive first practice session had to settle for fifth and sixth place respectively, with Max Verstappen once again edging out Daniel Ricciardo. Worryingly for Ricciardo with was half a second behind his own team mate, meaning his chances for a sixth successive podium on the bounce are looking more unlikely.
One of the standout performances of the session was Nico Hulkenberg in seventh place for Renault, especially considering his team mate Jolyon Palmer was 18th in the session. It is worth nothing however in the second practice session Hulkenberg was running a revised floor the team brought with them this weekend. Palmer had the opportunity to run with it in FP1 before the team switched it to Hulkenberg’s car for FP2. Since the team only have the one new floor it will be up to them to decide which driver gets it for the weekend. It is likely to go to Hulkenberg despite the fact this is Palmer’s home Grand Prix, since Hulkenberg is ahead in the championship.
Felipe Massa once again impressed for Williams with a solid eighth place finish, suggesting the team have recovered some of their missing performance from the Austrian Grand Prix last weekend. The team have always found Silverstone to be a happy hunting ground in the past, and they will be hoping for a serious score of points this weekend. Fernando Alonso finished in ninth in yet another positive sign that the McLaren may be moving in the right directing, regardless of the thirty place grid penalty he as for qualifying. While the Force India of Esteban Ocon rounded out the top ten in what has been a difficult weekend so far for the Pink Panthers.
Some drivers were not so lucky in FP2 as they were caught out by the rather gusty conditions Silverstone is famed for. Hamilton, Massa, Raikkonen, Palmer, and Carlos Sainz all fell victim to spins in FP2 and were lucky to avoid contact with the barriers in some cases.
With qualifying tomorrow wide open thanks to a penalty for Bottas, the likelihood of high wind causing drivers to fight with their car, as well as the rather unpredictable English summertime likely to play a part in proceedings, we could be going into one of the best qualifying sessions of the season.
British Grand Prix Free Practice One Results
1. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes: 1:29.106
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes: +0.078
3. Max Verstappen, Red Bull: +0.498
4. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull: +0.836
5. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: +1.031
6. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari: +1.411
7. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso: +1.789
8. Fernando Alonso, McLaren: +1.887
9. Felipe Massa, Williams: +1.893
10. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren: +1.935
11. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso: +2.094
12. Esteban Ocon, Force India: +2.104
13. Sergio Perez , Force India: +2.191
14. Romain Grosjean, Haas: +2.504
15. Lance Stroll, Williams: +2.578
16. Antonio Giovinazzi, Haas: +2.925
17. Nico Hulkenberg, Renault: +3.065
18. Jolyon Palmer, Renault: +3.344
19. Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber: +3.923
20. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber: +4.293
British Grand Prix Free Practice Two Results
1. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes: 1:28.496
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes: +0.047
3. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: +0.332
4. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari: +0.460
5. Max Verstappen, Red Bull: +0.602
6. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull: +1.090
7. Nico Hulkenberg, Renault: +1.440
8. Felipe Massa, Williams: +1.510
9. Fernando Alonso, McLaren: +1.742
10. Esteban Ocon, Force India: +1.887
11. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso: +2.059
12. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso: +2.066
13. Sergio Perez , Force India: +2.128
14. Romain Grosjean, Haas: +2.165
15. Lance Stroll, Williams: +2.199
16. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren: +2.286
17. Kevin Magnussen, Haas: +2.339
18. Jolyon Palmer, Renault: +2.383
19. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber: +3.120
20. Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber: +3.433
Feature Image Credit: Scuderia Toro Rosso Press Release