Driver Insight with Karun Chandhok: British Grand Prix

by Karun Chandhok on 18th July 2017

Hamilton stars, Kimi impresses and Bottas recovers – Karun Chandhok offers his take on the British Grand Prix

It was a great weekend of on-track action, with plenty of drama late in the race and a very hectic last three or four laps. The British Grand Prix is always a great weekend, with a fantastic atmosphere. The crowd is so knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and they were completely behind Lewis all weekend. They’re also pretty fair, there were cheers for Sebastian Vettel, which is always nice to see and Daniel and Max had lots of great support as well – they're two great characters of the sport.

Vettel made a key point: it was a weekend that underlined the Mercedes performance in qualifying. Mercedes has made a huge step in turning the engines up in qualifying, we saw it in Austria, Baku and to some extent in Canada. They’re finding a good half a second or so, which is a massive jump in performance. It’s quite clear that at the end of the straight in sixth, seventh or eighth gear, for whatever reason the Mercedes is pulling a huge amount of lap time compared to Ferrari. Maybe it’s a bit of drag for Ferrari. But once you qualify in front, then you control the race. You dictate the strategy, when you’re pitting and therefore when others are pitting, you’re in clear air and doing less damage to your tyres. It's something Ferrari will be concerned about – in Austria Vettel was within half a tenth of pole, but this is the fourth weekend in a row that Mercedes has made a clear gain in straight-line performance. Ferrari will be very concerned.

Lewis and Kimi impress

Lewis was undoubtedly the star of the weekend. He arrived under big pressure having missed the F1 Live event, which I still think was a mistake. He should have gone and I think privately he perhaps realises it was a mistake. Maybe he underestimated how big an event it would be, but bygones be bygones. It was a cloud hanging over Thursday, he took lots of questions over why he doesn’t engage with the public, but once it got to the on-track stuff he was tremendous. I think he’s a bit like Mansell, the home crowd lifts him up and he gets this massive boost. Once he’s on track and he’s feeling good and the car’s working well he’s unstoppable. This was one of those weekends; he was immense. 

That Kimi got in front of Seb in qualifying surprised a lot of people – but I wasn’t. Kimi’s always been good at Silverstone, it’s fast and flowing, a bit like Spa. It’s not actually been one of Seb’s favourite circuits, although he won in 2009, Mark Webber was often faster than him. For whatever reason Seb’s never been particularly happy or comfortable around Silverstone. In the race Kimi was eight seconds up the road when all those punctures unfolded towards the end. It was a very convincing weekend, and in the first stint he and Lewis were a full 12 seconds clear. Kimi went with Lewis, though Hamilton was three of seconds further up the road. I think it was a really strong and convincing weekend for Kimi, there’s life in the old dog yet.

Red Bull and Renault improve

It was nice for Red Bull to finally get two cars to the finish, they’ve had so many potential results that haven’t worked out due to various reliability issues. Worryingly, though, there was a huge gap to everyone in front in terms of both qualifying and race pace compared to Ferrari and Mercedes. It’s a big question mark for Red Bull, on a track that could have shown its chassis performance in a better light. Budapest and Singapore will be interesting, and the Red Bull has been strong in the mid sector at Spa. Despite it having a really long straight, Spa has been a reasonable track for the team, I’ll be interested to see how they get on in the next three races.

For Renault, Hülkenberg was one of the stars of the weekend. After qualifying he said: “Yeah, we’ve had good qualifying before and then just go backwards”, but in the race he was almost half minute ahead of the Force Indias. I think that was the best performance we’ve seen from Renault on genuine dry pace in a long time. It is a clear statement that it has improved the car and made clear steps forward. Force India got a double points finish, Williams had a really messy qualifying and ended up down in 15th and 16th. Once again on lap one they both dragged themselves up and Massa got into the points.

Bottas recovers

Valtteri Bottas made a great recovery from that gearbox penalty. By his own admission he didn’t do a great job in qualifying, he just didn’t get the lap together and got hammered by Lewis in terms of outright speed. Even compared to the Ferraris he just wasn’t there. In the race he showed great tenacity, great pace, and pushed all the way through. Ultimately those punctures benefitted him at the end but he still had strong pace. He’s still loosely in touch, and is an outside bet for the championship. Lewis has to be favourite with the Mercedes package, but a couple of DNFs for Lewis or Seb and Valtteri's right in contention. It could have been a tough weekend for him.

Pirelli problems

The punctures were worrying for Pirelli, who has said it needs to investigate. Vettel had his lock-up, but Max suffered and Hülkenberg stopped soon after the line. I saw Hulk's tyres in parc fermé and they didn't look good. There are some big questions that need to be answered; from a safety stand point having that many punctures isn’t good.

Budapest is a Lewis Hamilton track. There are a few around the world where he is just supreme: Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Budapest, Silverstone. If Ferrari can strike back at Budapest it will set everything up for the rest of the championship. It’s a really important race for Vettel and Ferrari to get back into it. Let’s see how it unfolds.


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