Can Lewis Hamilton bounce back to win the British Grand Prix?


Will Silverstone be the springboard for a Lewis Hamilton fightback? Damien Smith looks forward to the 2021 British Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton with the Silverstone crowd at thge 2019 British Grand Prix

Hamilton at Silverstone in 2019: can the crowd cheer him to victory again?


Can Lewis Hamilton bounce back from his double defeat in Austria at the hands of Max Verstappen and win a record-extending eighth British Grand Prix the Sunday after next? Of course he can. He’s Lewis Hamilton, and this is Mercedes-AMG we are talking about, the finest, best organised and most efficient Formula 1 team there has ever been. But on the back of events at the Red Bull Ring, we wouldn’t put the mortgage on it.

As Hamilton said after the race on Sunday, there’s not much he can do right now to stop Verstappen and Red Bull “walking away” with the season. Gamesmanship? He has been known to dabble. The gap of 32 points that has stretched between them is more than a win and DNF, but we’re only nine races in to what might be a 23-round season (Covid-depending). There’s a long way to go before it’s time to call it.

So was Verstappen’s impressive Austrian performance edge – or perhaps that should be wedge given its size – partly circuit-related? Silverstone tends to suit Mercedes (then again, most places have over the past seven years…) and the black cars do have some upgrades due – although not enough to claw back the gap, reckons Lewis. Those three wins in the first four races must seem an age away for the seven-time champion, who hasn’t won since Spain, on May 9. Six races ago. Times change, eh? Still, Hamilton is hardly one to run from a fight. His newly minted two-year deal that will keep him in F1 until he is 39, and guarantees this fabulous duel with Verstappen won’t be a one-year flash in the pan, is proof enough of that.

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What’s fascinating is the differing approaches from the two top teams to what is supposedly an interim season before the new technical regs kick in for 2022 – although those clever winter aero tweaks cutting away a chunk of floor have surely served their purpose… Mercedes, one eye on the new era next year and the other seemingly on their newly capped coffers, appear to be in a tight spot. But is Red Bull aggressively chasing performance this year to grab its first titles since 2013 at the expense of development for the new car? Christian Horner, Adrian Newey and their vastly experienced team are surely too long in the tooth to compromise what will be Red Bull’s vital first season as a proper ‘all under one roof’ indie team, in the wake of Honda’s withdrawal. Good timing on that, by the way, Honda – just as you could be about to win your first F1 titles in 30 years… Any regrets or second thoughts?

F1 sporting boss Ross Brawn summed up the Mercedes dilemma in his regular post-race reflections this week. “This year is unusual in that the teams can’t respond in a normal way for several reasons,” he said. “One is that we have the cost cap now, so they can’t just throw resources at the problem. Secondly, we have the new car coming in next year, which they will be pretty committed to, so it’s a bit of a dilemma for the team as they probably can’t afford to deliver a very strong response as they normally would.

“Before the cost cap, you would throw resource at it. These are the elements of the rule changes that have been made, which are significant and slightly unseen and I think will lead to stronger championships in the future.”

Lewis Hamilton shakes Max Verstappen's hand at the 2021 French Grand Prix

Hamilton’s not conceding yet and Ross Brawn believes he still has a chance

Antonin Vincent/DPPI

But the original architect of this Mercedes super-team knows how fortunes can swerve in a season. “The title is still reachable for Hamilton and Mercedes,” says Brawn. “These races have been pretty much dominated by Red Bull, but I will be amazed if that continues at every track. I think the British GP at Silverstone is going to be fascinating, especially with the new Sprint format on the Saturday.”

Ah, the big joker at Hamilton’s home race. Just how much will the world championship’s first Saturday sprint race shape what happens in the grand prix proper on Sunday? Teams will need to hit the ground running at Silverstone, with a 60-minute practice session scheduled for 2.30pm on Friday (so no morning session) before a usual three-part qualifying at 6pm decides the grid for the Saturday sprint. An hour’s practice between 12pm and 1pm precedes the ‘Sprint Qualifying’ as it’s officially labelled, which amounts to a straight race over 100km, about a third of a grand prix distance, with pitstops absolutely not mandatory. Only the top three score points – three for a win, two for second, one for third – and the order decides the grid for Sunday.

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A gimmick, a betrayal of tradition or a cool experiment showing a new willingness within F1 to evolve? You’ll have your own view. (For what it’s worth, I’m pulled three ways between those points). But there’s no reason to think it’ll make Hamilton’s chances against Verstappen easier or more difficult – unless he bins it or suffers a car failure. That’s the same for everyone – so let’s keep an open mind. It is an experiment after all.

It should certainly be a crowd pleaser, on a weekend when Silverstone welcomes back a capacity crowd of up to 140,000 as Britain, for better or worse, loosens its Covid shackles. Scheduled a matter of hours before so-called ‘freedom day’ on July 19 when most pandemic restrictions are due to be lifted, the British GP will amount to an immediate preview of our return to some form of normality. It’s happening because Silverstone’s centrepiece has been accepted as a final test within the UK government’s Events Research Programme that also includes Euro 2020 football matches at Wembley and the tennis at Wimbledon. A so-called ‘disapplication’ of pandemic rules has been applied within the red line of Silverstone’s boundaries, so no face masks will be required. All ticket holders must prove they have either had both vaccine jabs no less than 14 days before they arrive – or have registered a negative lateral flow test within 48 hours of turning up at the gate, with children 11 and over also expected to show a test result, just as they have been doing at school. These will be checked before fans show their tickets – so if you’re going, expect some delays… Sounds ominous, eh? Let’s see how it works.

But once they’re in, the fans will have plenty to get excited about – and it will be intriguing to see just how many Lando Norris and George Russell flags fly amidst the Hamilton banners. As Norris pointed out during our recent exclusive interview for the magazine, he’s raced F1 cars three times at Silverstone so far, but only once in front of the public and that was in his first season. Now riding a remarkable wave of rising form that makes him still the only driver to have scored in every race this year, we should expect Norris-mania to properly kick in at Silverstone – especially with confirmation that the kids he so naturally connects with are most definitely welcome.

England’s three lions, Russell, Norris and Hamilton, will hope to blaze away in the Silverstone sun (fingers crossed on that!): one will aim for that long-awaited first point for Williams, another for a fourth podium of 2021 and the other for a fresh new chapter in his increasingly stodgy season to begin. Will Hamilton be crowd-surfing once more along the straight that’s now named after him? As we said at the top, don’t put your house on it. But Lewis victory or not, F1 and its great British fanbase look set to be the real winners once more at the circuit so many of us call home.