What a smashing, positively dashing spectacle: The British Grand Prix
Well, the past two weeks have seen a lot of activity where Formula One is concerned. Instead of a two week hiatus between races, the British Grand Prix came on the heels of the Austrian Grand Prix, the former following only a week after the latter.
Compared to the tumult of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the Austrian Grand Prix was placid to the point of dull. Thank God for the last several laps of the race when Daniel Ricciardo of Redbull defended his third place position from Lewis Hamilton. That, ladies and gents, was a good bit of driving there. It also lended an element of excitement to the whole affair, which was largely lackluster as far as I was concerned.
Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes placed first, followed by Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari (who F.Y.I. received no further retribution for his actions at Baku), and Daniel Ricciardo of Redbull. And, in case you were wondering, yes, he did do a shoey.
And that brings us to the British Grand Prix. This is arguably one of my favorite non-street tracks. I love the fanbase in Great Britain. Not to mention that the Silverstone track is fast. I love a fast track. (In case you haven’t noticed, I also love fast cars…)
This year, the new owners of Formula One staged an unique event. The Wednesday before the start of the weekend at Silverstone, there was F1 Live in London, an event where the drivers drove their racers through the streets of London in order to generate more interest in the sport. The drivers met with fans and answered a bevy of questions. All the drivers were there. All except one notable: Lewis Hamilton, driver for Mercedes. Perhaps this was so surprising because Hamilton heralds from the United Kingdom. Moreover, Hamilton is always so aware and appreciative of his fanbase, especially when he’s in England. So, why didn’t he go to F1 Live in London?
To quote the man himself, “Everyone had the right to make the decision for themselves (whether to attend the event or not). I felt it’s been a pretty intense season so far and I felt it’s the best way to prepare. The season is the most important thing for me. That’s it.”
So, rather than grand stand on the streets of London, Hamilton took the time he believed he needed in order to prepare mentally for the Grand Prix. This season has been rife with upheaval. Tire (tyre, as F1 spells it) issues, gear box issues, grid penalties, oversights; you name it, and I’m sure we can find a race since March where it happened. Furthermore, after the friction in Baku and his placement of fourth in Austria, which widened the World Championship gap to a 20 point difference between Vettel and him, it is conceivable that Hamilton thought he needed to soak up as much of his short hiatus before going once more unto the breach, as it were. (It seemed appropriate to quote the Bard, as we are talking about England…)
This was a big Grand Prix for Hamilton. Prior to last Sunday, Hamilton had won on his home turf a grand total of four time, with three of those times being consecutive the last three seasons. Hamilton wanted to win this British Grand Prix. End of subject. And, it seems, he believed the best way to honor his fans and pay homage to them, was to do just that.
Which, dear readers, was precisely what he did. He poled first on the grid and remained there largely unchallenged for the whole of the race. And now, he bears the distinction of having four consecutive wins on his home turf at Silverstone.
But, unlike Austria, the 2017 British Grand Prix brimmed with excitement. As My Fair Lady composers Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe wrote in their song The Ascot Gavotte: Pulses rushing! Faces flushing! Heartbeats speed up! I have never been so keyed up! I’ll just highlight the particulars that got my blood racing.
First off: Max Verstappen. The nineteen year old Belgian has had a time of it this year, finishing only five of the ten races this season. Perhaps so many upsets proved the perfect catalyst. Who knows? But on Sunday, Verstappen drove like a man possessed. He took on four time World Champion Sebastian Vettel and held his ground. I really love the boldness of this kid. He’s not afraid to drive on the cusp. He’s edgy. Sometimes it gets him in trouble. But on Sunday, all his brazen maneuvers added up to some unexpected shake-ups on track. Within the first lap, he overtook from fourth on the grid to third, challenged Raikkonen for second place, got overtaken by Sebastian Vettel to place fourth, and then passed Vettel to be third. All by the end of the first lap.
That first lap should have been enough foreshadowing for things to come from the Redbulls. Flash forward a dozen laps or so, and Vettel overtook Verstappen, but, wait, next chicane, Verstappen overtook Vettel, their rear tires bumping (unlike in Baku, this contact was accidental). Verstappen joked over the team radio that Vettel wanted to play “bumper cars or something.” No doubt, the former World Champ took umbrage at such a swipe, but given his behavior this season, ahem, Azerbaijan, I think he should just lump it. Of course, Vettel did end up overtaking to hold fourth and then third for a portion of the race until the ill-winds of fate blew him no good.
Which brings us to the second thing of note: Ferrari’s Blow-Outs. This is almost tough to write. Kimi Raikkonen drove superbly the whole of the race. On the 49th lap of the 51 total laps, his left front tire blew out forcing him to pit. This gave Vettel the advantage and he moved from fourth into third. However, fate was not so kind. Just as Vettel moved into third, he too suffered a blow out of his left front tire. Unlike his teammate, Vettel’s position on track forced him to limp his racer around the length of the track until he could make it back to the pit lane. Unfortunately, this cost the German dearly. From third, Vettel fell to seventh, which is where he finished. Redbull, seeing Ferrari’s blow-out problems and knowing that Verstappen had been on his tires for a similar length of time, called Max into the pits to change his tires and avoid a similar fate. Valtteri Bottas capitalized on all this upheaval and raced himself into second place. Raikkonen fought back hard and secured third before the checkered flag flapped, bringing the podium to Hamilton first, Bottas second, and Raikkonen third. (Raikkonen has had a tough time of it where podiums are concerned. Remember Monaco?) The Silver Arrows took another 1-2 and the gap for the World Championship narrowed to one point.
Now, you may be asking yourself, what happened to Daniel Ricciardo? He’s been on podium quite a lot this season and he hasn’t even been mentioned once this race. Well, due to several unfortunate incidents during qualifying, Daniel Ricciardo ended up starting this race in nineteenth place. (Just for the tally books: there are only twenty places on the grid.) However, by the end of the race, Ricciardo fought his way to finish fifth. Fifth. Honestly, I don’t think I even need to get into particulars here. From nineteenth to fifth pretty much says it all. And, given the Aussie’s exuberance in post-race interviews, I’m surprised he didn’t just take his boot off and do a shoey regardless of being on podium or not. (Don't know what I'm talking about: check out this post, particularly the video with Sir Patrick Stewart.)
So, there it is. The British Grand Prix. The World Championship is up for grabs. After Austria, it looked like Vettel was just going to keep his momentum and race his way to his fifth championship. But after Sunday’s performance, Hamilton clearly proved that he has every intention of taking this Championship. In fact, when Owen Wilson- yes, the actor who voiced race car Lightening McQueen in Disney’s Cars franchise- asked Hamilton, “What’s next? Are you going to win the championship?” Hamilton replied, “That’s the plan. That’s the plan.”
So, what do you think? Will things go according to Hamilton’s plan? Will he take the championship? Or will Vettel fight him hook, line, and sinker?
All I know is that this season is shaping up to be quite exhilarating. There are too many irons in the fire to make an accurate projection (although, that doesn’t seem to stop the commentators, but any-hoo…).
What will the Hungary Grand Prix hold in two weeks time? If Hamilton could pull off such a display with only a few days respite, what will he accomplish with two weeks? Not to mention, how will Vettel regroup? And, should we be neglecting the pressure that Valterri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen bring? (I don’t think so.) And, we cannot forget the charge of the Redbulls. Those guys aren’t to be overlooked. Really, I’m on tenterhooks waiting for July 30th!