2019 British Grand Prix preview: Heat is off for Mercedes


The Austrian round showed Mercedes is beatable, but Silverstone may be a different matter. Here’s a team-by-team preview of the 2019 Formula 1 British Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton waves at the crowd in the 2018 British Grand Prix at Silverstone

Lewis Hamilton waves at the crowd in the 2018 British Grand Prix at Silverstone Photo: Motorsport Images

Just when you thought all was lost, Formula 1 reminds you again that it can be a brilliant sport. Max Verstappen’s win in Austria was badly needed, not just for Red Bull Racing and the legions of Dutch/Belgian/Austrian fans clad in orange, but for F1 itself.

Mercedes’ domination has ended, for at least a short while, and there’s signs that we could be in for a double dose of good, competitive grand prix racing at Silverstone this weekend.

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The good news is Mercedes is officially fallible. The veneer of invincibility was comprehensively dented by a humbling performance in Austria in which both Red Bull and Ferrari put the Silver Arrows to the sword.

Mercedes’ Achilles’ heel was overheating, which sapped the power from its W10s and affected its tyre performance and aerodynamic usage as the team had to strip back the bodywork to aid cooling.

The bad news is it’s unlikely to be 30-plus degrees in Northamptonshire this weekend (well, it is Britain in summer after all; any race weekend where the full wets don’t get used is a bonus!).

That means Silverstone could play back into the hands of Mercedes. The W10 has shown itself to be the class of the field in terms of downforce, and that will only help at Silverstone.

However, downforce isn’t the only factor. With so many of Silverstone’s turns being either high- or medium-speed, downforce is great, until you get onto a straight and it becomes drag.

Cooling shouldn’t be much of an issue this weekend – unless Silverstone’s bosses made an unlikely decision to install under-track heating during the second resurfacing recently, and have dotted a few fan heaters about for good measure – but finding an effective downforce-drag balance could be tricky.

Mercedes also hasn’t been unbeatable at home, with Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari spoiling the party by coming out on top in a strategic battle last year.



Sebastian Vettel celebrates 2018 British Grand Prix victory with the Ferrari team

Sebastian Vettel celebrates 2018 British Grand Prix victory with the Ferrari team Photo: Motorsport Images

Ferrari has officially changed tack. Perhaps because it’s headed into the lion’s den in many ways – with both Mercedes and Red Bull essentially racing in their own back yard – or perhaps it’s just deflecting attention. Wouldn’t be like Ferrari to do that now, would it?

Ask team boss Mattia Binotto about Silverstone’s fast sweeps and you get: “It’s one of the toughest tracks of the season, providing a real test for a car’s set-up and balance. The tyres come under a lot of strain here and the wear rate plays a big role in how your race goes.

“We don’t expect Silverstone to suit our car particularly well. But at every race we have seen the balance of power can change, often unexpectedly.”

And in that last sentence lies the clue. It may sound like a Ferrari write-off already, but I’d be surprised if that was the case.

The SF90’s biggest weakness is slow-speed corners, which Silverstone doesn’t really have much of. And its biggest strength is efficiency and raw power on the straights, which Silverstone has a lot of. On paper, Ferrari should be quick.

Britain’s world championship round also opens the door for upgrades, and Binotto confirmed some new aero parts will be landing in time for the weekend.

Both Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel head into the weekend on a high after either enjoyed their own Mercedes-beating outings during the last three races.

Vettel says: “There’s one of the most epic corner combinations in F1 at Silverstone – Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel. I think every driver enjoys that. I certainly do.

“We won there last year, and it is also the place that Ferrari took its first race win in F1 a long way back, so there’s plenty of history for Ferrari at Silverstone.”


Red Bull

Max Verstappen's Red Bull passes Charles Leclerc's Ferrari late in the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen’s Red Bull passes Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari late in the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix Photo: Motorsport Images

It’s a busy time of year for Red Bull, which heads into its second successive ‘home’ race this weekend. After winning in front of the locals in the fizzy drinks firm’s Austrian homeland, Max Verstappen will undoubtedly be one to watch this weekend.

The actual team – rather than its sugary owner/sponsor – is based just 15 miles from Silverstone in Milton Keynes. So, could we have back-to-back home successes?

Possibly, but perhaps unlikely. Silverstone is a power circuit, first and foremost, and Mercedes and Ferrari still have the edge on plucky Honda in that area.

However, there are also factors like tyre wear and chassis balance, and both of those play to Red Bull’s strengths, and particularly Verstappen’s.

His win in Austria was built on his ability to make the thinner-gauge Pirelli tyres both work and last. That enabled him to unlock a lot more grip than Leclerc could in Austria, as the Monegasque’s tyres wilted toward the end. Power won’t help you if you can’t put it down.

With that in mind, Verstappen should be at home around Silverstone, but whether or not Honda has enough grunt to push his RB15 into the fight at the front remains to be seen.

But the team remains positive regardless with its pre-race statement saying: “While we’ve scored decent points in the last few years it’s been a bit of a dry spell.

“Silverstone requires a car with excellent handling and downforce. We’ve struggled a bit with the horsepower deficit. But with that particular problem diminishing, we’re hopeful of good times ahead.”

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You’ll notice this bit’s all very Verstappen-y, and with good reason. So far Pierre Gasly’s performances have been disappointing, and the Frenchman really needs to pull something out of the bag soon if he is to save his seat at Red Bull’s top table, or even in F1 altogether.

Having been lapped by Verstappen in Austria, Red Bull investigated Gasly’s chassis to see if anything was amiss. Nothing awry was found with the solid mechanicals, so the pressure is now all on the one driving it.

Helmut Marko said: “He [Gasly] now has to deliver. He was always looking for issues with the car, in the chassis. We have looked. There was nothing. The plan now is to support him as much as possible. He gets Max’s set-up from the start.”

Christian Horner added: “We know he’s a capable driver and as a team he has our full support. He shouldn’t focus on the data too much, just drive the car and ignore his team-mate, that’s my advice to him. Turn your phone off, don’t look at any social media and just drive the car.”


The rest

Lando Norris's McLaren dices with some big names in the Austrian Grand Prix

Lando Norris’s McLaren dices with some big names in the Austrian Grand Prix Photo: Motorsport Images

The ‘class B’ battle will also include some neighbourly rivalry, with McLaren, Renault, Force-Racing-Point-Stroll-India, Haas (it may be American, but the workshop is in Banbury) and Williams all nestled either within or close to ‘Motorsport Valley’.

McLaren heads to the British Grand Prix with a genuinely competitive car for the first time in years, and will still be on a high after its terrific performance in Austria.

Lando Norris started fifth and even went wheel-to-wheel with Lewis Hamilton at the start before finishing sixth. Carlos Sainz was eighth, backing up that McLaren’s recent work is really starting to pay off.

Speaking of his first home grand prix, Norris says: “I’ve raced there in junior formulae but having a home race in F1 is totally different. I can’t wait to see the fans, experience the atmosphere and enjoy it.”

Andreas Seidl is already making his mark as team head, both drivers are confirmed already for next year and there’s been confirmation that McLaren will build a brand-new wind tunnel as it continues its fight back to the front.

Renault has some more pressing issues on its hands. After a disappointing outing in Austria with its now-upgraded car – in which both Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hülkenberg finished outside of the points.

Following that race Ricciardo voiced concern that the team may have something “fundamental” to solve with its car.

“I feel like there is something more fundamental with the car that we have not got on top of yet because we have changed a lot and always ended up with the same outcome.

“We have to be constructive and the most important thing is to try and understand why, as opposed to just throwing it away and saying ‘well, this track just didn’t suit us’.”

Haas also has an issue that it needs to understand, mainly why its cars are super-quick on Saturdays and largely hopeless on Sundays. Often the class of the midfield in quali, both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean regularly go backwards in the race.

The team’s biggest concern is getting the tyres to work properly without killing them instantly, but Gunther Steiner says the team is “in search of that [qualifying vs race pace] issue. At the moment we are a little bit on the back foot, but I’m sure we’ll get back to where we want to be.”

Also, it could be the final time we see Rich Energy’s stag logo on the cars — if it even appears at all. On Wednesday, the company posted a Tweet saying that it had terminated its sponsorship of Haas after “poor performance”.

In any case, the company recently lost its court case over copyright infringement to Whyte Bikes and was ordered by the court to retire its logo before July 18.

The 'class B' runners tackle Stowe in last year's British Grand Prix

The ‘class B’ runners tackle Stowe in last year’s British Grand Prix Photo: Motorsport Images

Racing Point’s factory is literally metres away from Silverstone’s gate, and this team, perhaps more than any other, really needs to make a step forward soon.

This year so far has been a real let down from the sport’s resident giant-killer, with both Sergio Pérez and Lance Stroll struggling with the car’s balance.

The good news is there are changes underway for Silverstone, as Pérez explains: “There are things we can improve. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re planning upgrades for Silverstone and after it, which will hopefully make us more competitive.

“We usually have a big team BBQ at the factory next door, and it’s nice to see all the staff and families. I want to make them happy with some points on Sunday!”

Frank Williams celebrates his 50th year as team principal by joining his eponymous team at Silverstone this weekend. It’ll be a special weekend for the squad – although sadly probably not in terms of results.

George Russell is also gearing up for his first home grand prix, while Robert Kubica adds: “We hope for a better race and some improvements, but we’ll do what we can.”

Alfa Romeo has an upgrade plan in place for the next few grands prix, and should have some new-fangled bits for Silverstone after enjoying its first double-points finish of the season – and under its new Alfa title – in Austria.

Team head Frédéric Vasseur said he wanted to be on the coat-tails of McLaren sooner rather than later. “We have to improve the pace a little bit to fight with McLaren, which is our next target.”

The final word goes to Toro Rosso and its British-Thai driver, Alexander Albon. After some tough times in both France and Austria, the team is hopeful of fighting back at Silverstone.

Albon says: “After analysing the data from the last few races, we hope we’ll be in the tight midfield fight at Silverstone.

“It’s actually one of the tracks I’ve driven the least – although I did win there in F2 and GP3. Every driver loves Silverstone, but I haven’t driven it in an F1 car yet, but I bet it’ll be like a rollercoaster. I’m sure it’s the type of circuit that makes these great cars come to life.”




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