Image: Wikimedia Commons / Michał Obrochta
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Michał Obrochta

F1 70: Tyre strategy pays dividends for Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen ended Mercedes’ dominance of the 2020 F1 season with a win at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. The racers returned to Silverstone for the second time, and it was widely expected that we’d see a repeat of last week’s result – a Lewis Hamilton victory.

In a less fortunate repeat of last week, tyre issues reared their head again, damaging the Mercedes drivers’ run. Although Hamilton and his teammate Valtteri Bottas managed a second- and third-place finish respectively, it was Red Bull who claimed the day.

The race began as usual, with Hamilton and Bottas sparring at the top of the field. Unusually, however, Verstappen was able to move up a place from fourth and keep pace with the Mercedes – the conditions simply suited the Red Bull car better. But, 10 laps into the race, the two drivers started to report the tyre issues that would damage their lead.

Verstappen and Red Bull had a better tyre strategy going into the race

Bottas and Hamilton had to pit on laps 13 and 14 to move onto harder tyres. It wasn’t even ten laps when these tyres began to blister – Bottas eventually pitted again on lap 32, ending his hopes of victory. Hamilton changed tyres on lap 41 and was able to secure the fastest lap point.

Verstappen and Red Bull had a better tyre strategy going into the race. They started on the hardest tyres and Verstappen was able to remain out until lap 26, building up a solid lead. He came to pit once again on lap 32, reverting to hard tyres after a brief spell on medium, and the decision proved an effective one – he was more than 11 seconds ahead of Hamilton when he claimed victory.

After the race, the drivers at the front of the pack shared their view on what happened. Verstappen said: “I didn’t see it coming, but after the first stint we seemed really good on tyres and we didn’t have many tyres issues at all. It is a great result to win here and I am incredibly happy. We have not had an opportunity to push them so far this season. We need to use soft tyres – that seems to suit our car.”

I was managing the tyres like you couldn’t believe

– Lewis Hamilton

Meanwhile, the Mercedes drivers talked about how tyre worries impacted on their race. Hamilton said: “It was a massive challenge today but congrats to Red Bull and Max, they didn’t have the problems we had. Unexpected to have blistering as hardcore as we experienced. I was managing the tyres like you couldn’t believe. In the middle stint, one half was bald and the other half was OK. I was afraid it was going to explode.”

Bottas said: “It was very frustrating – starting on pole and finishing third. As a team we were sleeping at some points, Red Bull’s strategy was far better and we have to look at this. There was a chance to keep up with Max, but as soon as I pushed the tyres fall apart. When you have those blisters, you lose cornering grip.”

Charles Leclerc and Alexander Albon rounded out the top five, the former succeeding by pushing his car with a one-stop strategy. Leclerc struggled in qualifying, only managing the eighth place, but he had a superb drive. The Monégasque driver ran low downforce to offset his car’s straight-line speed disadvantage, and he showed his natural talent on the track.

The race sees Hamilton extend his championship lead to 107 points

Albon was also impressive, rising from ninth with a series of bold overtaking moves that paid off. Nico Hulkenberg also made it to the track this week at last, and although he failed in his quest for a podium, he came seventh and delivered the points Racing Point were hoping for.

It wasn’t a great day for everyone, however. Daniel Ricciardo had qualified strongly in fifth place, but he failed to recover after a spin, and he eventually crossed the line in 14th. Kevin Magnussen had car issues, and he eventually retired on lap 46. And it was another bad run for Sebastian Vettel, suffering an unforced spin on the first lap after hitting the curb. Although he reclaimed some places, he finished in 12th, outside of the points in another bad run for his Ferrari swansong.

The race sees Hamilton extend his championship lead to 107 points, but Verstappen has now eclipsed Bottas, pushing the Finn into third place (they’ve got 77 and 73 respectively). We’ll head to Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix next time and, with a hot day forecast, Mercedes will be working hard to figure out a strong tyre strategy that will put them on top again. But will Verstappen’s victory in this race give him the momentum to take the next one? We’ll have to wait and see.

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