After the excitement of Azerbaijan, Formula 1 fans were brought back down to earth last week when Mercedes driver Valterri Bottas led from start to finish in Austria . Excitement levels had peaked during Friday’s qualifying when Lewis Hamilton was hit with a five-place grid penalty for an unauthorised gearbox change. Hamilton had dominated up to that point and was in a great position to close the gap on championship leader Sebastian Vettel.
Five-place grid penalty
Hamilton never looked the same after the gearbox story broke and eventually qualified third fastest, starting in eighth place on the grid. He had worked his way up to fourth place by the chequered flag, only just failing to catch third-placed Daniel Ricciardo. However, he now finds himself 20 points behind Vettel, who finished just behind Bottas, in second.
Team boss Toto Wolff says that Mercedes are heading to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone “with a feeling of unfinished business” having “left points on the table that were there for the taking because of car problems that had nothing to do with our drivers”. If Wolff is trying to take the pressure away from his drivers then Hamilton is having none of it, as he’s already described Silverstone as a “must-win” this week.
Silverstone has been all about Hamilton
The Mercedes man has won three of this season’s nine Grand Prix – the same number as Vettel – but two consecutive non-podium finishes are beginning to look very costly. Driven on by his home crowd, Silverstone has been all about Hamilton in recent years and he’s bidding for a fourth straight win. He also won the race in 2008 and victory on Sunday would see him match the five British Grand Prix victories achieved by Jim Clark and Alain Prost. However, he might not get many more opportunities to match this record, as Silverstone’s owners have revealed that hosting the British Grand Prix is no longer financially viable. They are considering exercising a break clause in their contract which would come into effect at the end of the 2019 season.
Vettel’s consistency has been the key to him leading the championship this year. He has the joint-best (with Bottas) average qualifying position and has recorded race finishes of 121221442. He was only ninth at Silverstone last year, but 12 months on, the Ferrari team is a completely different beast. It should be a close battle once again between the Italian team and Mercedes this weekend.
Bottas creeping into contention
Bottas gained a deserved second win of the season at the Red Bull Ring last week and, if we only consider the last four Grand Prix, he actually has the most points – 73 to Vettel’s 67 and Hamilton’s 53. Surprisingly, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo is in second place with 70 points. Bottas got off to an absolute flyer from pole position in Austria, so much so that he was accused of jumping the start and was still being questioned about it in Thursday’s press conference. He sits third in the driver standings, just 15 points behind teammate Hamilton, and is quietly creeping into contention. The pressure is off him after last week’s win and he could be the value bet at Silverstone.
Red Bull have recovered from a slow start to the season and are now much more competitive. Ricciardo, successful in Azerbaijan, was on the podium again in Austria and the team were strong at Silverstone last year when Max Verstappen finished just eight seconds behind Hamilton in second place. Verstappen crashed out early in Austria through no fault of his own and is desperately due a change of fortune. Both have decent prospects of a top-three finish on Sunday.