Formula 1 celebrated its 70th anniversary on Sunday with a Grand Prix at Silverstone, scene of the first ever World Championship race in 1950. The race was won by Max Verstappen, with Lewis Hamilton second and Valtteri Bottas third.
The race was notable in many respects, a few of which I’ll cover here.
Max Verstappen and Red Bull shine
Until Sunday’s race, it seemed perfectly plausible that Mercedes could win every race in 2020. With 4 wins from the opening 4 rounds of the season, Mercedes had been challenged only by by their own reliability issues in Austria and Pirelli’s fragile tyres at the British Grand Prix.
That all changed on Sunday when Max Verstappen and Red Bull beat Mercedes fair and square. They were helped by warm conditions and softer compound tyres than had been used at the previous week’s race, But the win was in no way fortunate. The combination of Red Bull and Verstappen was simply faster than Mercedes and the win was richly deserved.
Mercedes are still the team to beat, but Red Bull have now firmly established themselves as challengers. Verstappen is 30 points behind Hamilton in the Driver’s Championship – while that’s a sizeable gap, it’s by no means insurmountable. If Red Bull can continue to make progress, Verstappen might even have a shot at the title.
Hamilton matches Schumacher’s podium record
Not long ago, it was thought that most of Michael Schumacher’s records would stand for many years to come, possibly even forever. Lewis Hamilton has had other ideas, and has been steadily rewriting the record books, in the process firmly establishing himself as one of the great racing drivers of all time.
On Sunday, Hamilton scored his 155th podium, matching Schumacher’s tally. Hamilton achieved the feat in his 255th F1 race, meaning he has stood on the podium in just over 60% of the races has entered. That’s an astonishing rate of success, even considering that Hamilton has always driven competitive cars in his F1 career.
It’s hard to imagine that Hamilton will not claim the podium record outright in the very near future, probably at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.
The next record in Hamilton’s sights will be Schumacher’s mammoth total of 91 Grand Prix victories. To understand just how massive that tally is, consider that it is just one short of the total wins of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost combined.
Hamilton currently sits second in the all-time win list on 87. With at least 7 races left in 2020, and probably more still to be scheduled, it is possible that Hamilton will become Formula One’s most successful driver by race victories this season.
Hulkenberg deserves a place in F1
On the Thursday before the British Grand Prix, Sergio Perez tested positive for Covid-19, which ruled him out of competing. That meant Racing Point were in a sudden mad dash to find a driver. Nico Hulkenberg came to the rescue, rushed to Silverstone and made it through all of the mandatory checks just in time to participate in FP1 on Friday. Despite having not driven an F1 car all season and not having driven the current Racing Point RP20 at all, Hulkenberg spent the weekend getting closer and closer to team-mate Lance Stroll’s lap times.
A failure on the car meant he was unable to take part in the race, a massive disappointment for him and the team.
But Hulkenberg’s work was rewarded the following weekend at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix when he qualified 3rd on the grid, faster than everybody except the two Mercedes drivers, and comprehensively beating team-mate Stroll. Some issues with tyre wear in the race meant Hulkenberg had to make an extra pit stop and he ended up finishing seventh, just 13 seconds behind Stroll.
It was a demonstration of Hulkenberg’s value to any Formula 1 team. After so smoothly slotting into Perez’s seat and delivering points for Racing Point, it seems likely that any team in need of a driver for 2021 will be knocking on Hulkenberg’s door.
Albon desperately needs a good result
Alexander Albon is in a pretty tough situation. He’s a young, quick, exciting driver in a good car, and while that sounds like a perfect combination, there’s one problem: his team-mate is Max Verstappen. Verstappen is arguably the quickest driver in the field, with the possible exception of Lewis Hamilton, and he is using every ounce of his speed to try to challenge Mercedes for race wins. In the process, Albon is being comprehensively overshadowed by Verstappen at just about every turn.
It’s a situation reminiscent of a young Michael Schumacher leaving his team-mates in his dust. Verstappen is world champion material and it will be difficult for anyone to match him in the same car. At last weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, Verstappen won the race while Albon finished 39 seconds back in fifth place. That gap is largely a positive reflection on Vertappen rather than a negative one on Albon, but Albon might struggle to see it that way. He will not be happy until he at least matches his team-mate.
Albon so desperately needs a strong result. Can he finally stand on the podium at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix? It would provide him with a much-needed confidence boost.