The weekend saw the second of two Grands Prix at Silverstone Circuit in Northamptionshire, this one titled ‘The 70th Anniversary Grand Prix’ to A. avoid having to call it ‘British Grand Prix II’ or ‘Silverstwo’ – and B. to commemorate the first ever Formula 1 Grand Prix, held there back in May 1950.
After a number of high profile tyre failures in the 2020 British Grand Prix a week prior, Pirelli mandated higher tyre pressures in an effort to avoid a repeat, having already announced the use of softer tyres (to try and make the two events tangibly different), and equally worryingly, higher temperatures expected for the weekend.
Neither appeared to have made too much difference when in qualifying the two Mercedes Benz cars locked out the front row once again, with the Force India of stand-in Nico Hulkenberg and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen behind – the two teams in their customary 2020 roles of closest, and yet still somewhat distant, rivals.
Williams’ George Russell continued his streak of lapping quick enough to break into Q2, eventually lining up 15th, with team mate Nicholas Latifi three places back in 18th.
But while Russell now seems to be firmly fixed in F1’s midfield on single-lap pace – a genuine sign of progress by Williams after a calamitous 2019 – any evidence of that progress appears to vanish as the cars are wheeled into parc ferme late on Saturday.
Another tardy start by the Brit saw him slip to 18th as the lights went out (a noticeably quicker red lights sequence than usual as it happens – the bods at F1 will try anything to mix up the order at the start of a race!), inheriting 17th when Ferrari’s beleaguered 4-time world champion Sebastian Vettel spun at T1.
From then, the race settled into a familiar rhythm for Williams, punctuated every now and again by recurring blistering on the rear tyres of both cars that resulted in a third stop for both George and Nicholas – two of only four cars to do so, taking an unremarkable P18 and P19 at the flag.
“It wasn’t our day” said Russell after the race, adding “Our qualifying pace is strong, so we just need to keep working on our Sunday pace” acknowledging Williams’ gap in performance between qualifying and race trim.
Latifi was more upbeat, conceding that it was the most comfortable he’s felt in the FW43. “The car was feeling great, even better than last weekend and it is the most confidence I have had behind the wheel in a race so far.”
“The positive is that the pace is there.”
Quite what’s causing this drop off between qualifying and the race – whether it be an inherant difficulty running in dirty air, strategy or setup – it’s something Williams will be working hard to overcome.
One thing that’s certainly helped Williams in 2020 is the obvious and pronounced struggles Ferrari powered cars – Haas and Alfa Romeo among them – are having since the FIA clamped down on the Scuderia’s underhand means of giving their PU more power in recent years.
This has brought both Haas and Alfa into the sights of Williams, and gives everyone at Grove a very achievable target for the remainder of the year.
Up at the front, Mercedes had tyre dramas of their own, leaving Verstappen in his tyre-friendly Red Bull free to ease his way to the first non-Mercedes win of the season.