Watching the best drivers in the world tackle the challenge of a low-fuel, top speed run around the legendary high-speed Silverstone circuit is one of the highpoints of the Formula 1 season. Today’s qualifying session lived up to expectations in terms of excitement, while producing a somewhat unexpected top ten order on the grid for tomorrow’s FORMULA 1 ROLEX BRITISH GRAND PRIX 2019.
Yes, Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport locked out the front row for the seventh time this season (the 64th in its history,) but it was Valtteri Bottas who disappointed the British crowd, relegating their favourite Lewis Hamilton to second place. It’s the first time the Finn has been on pole since the Spanish Grand Prix in early May. Just six-thousandths of a second, a veritable whisker, or put it another way, 41 centimetres, separated the team-mates: 1.25.093 for Bottas, 1.25.099 for the local hero. And in third place, Charles Leclerc was only 79 thousandths slower than pole.
“When I got the radio call that I qualified on pole, I was just really happy – I’ve been missing this feeling. It’s very difficult to beat Lewis here, he’s always very strong in Silverstone. My lap wasn’t perfect, there was still some margin left to improve, but no one got a perfect lap together, so it was enough in the end. I now have to make good use of the pole; Lewis’ race pace has been really strong this year, so I’m sure it’ll be a good fight tomorrow. Charles will also be a threat, especially in the beginning of the race because he’s starting on the softer tyres. We are starting on the Mediums, which will make the start tricky, but should be the better choice in the long run. I’m looking forward to the race, it should be good fun,” said Bottas.
These figures alone are enough to demonstrate just what an amazing qualifying session it was and what a great show it was for the fantastic Silverstone crowd and the many celebrities visiting the track today – the musicians Mabel and Mumford & Sons, the actor Tom Holland, the model Daily Lowe and cycling champion Chris Hoy, to name but a few.
Mercedes must therefore be considered strong favourites for the race win, partly because they start on the Medium tyres, having used them, as indeed did the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing duo, to make the cut into Q3. Their race pace on Friday, would seem to rule out any surprises, but it’s also true that Scuderia Ferrari today seemed to have closed significantly on the championship leaders. Managing to qualify ahead of Leclerc is a good break for the two Mercedes men.
Leclerc, having set a very good time on his first Q2 run on the yellow-banded tyres, then improved on his second one, when he used the Softs. The Monegasque driver will start from the top three for the fourth consecutive time and for a while seemed to be heading for his third pole, but he lost out in the very last corners on the lap. Leclerc can nevertheless be pleased with third place, given how close he is to the Mercedes duo, but the same cannot be said for his team-mate. Sebastian Vettel had to settle for sixth place with a lap in 1.25.787. This is the third time in a row that he has qualified out of the top five. Given the tyre strategy the team adopted in Q2, it’s possible Ferrari are hoping for an early lap advantage on the Softs, but it does suggest the Italian team would have to pit its cars more than once to make that work.
Splitting the two Prancing Horse cars, we have the Red Bull duo; Max Verstappen fourth (1.25.276) and a resurgent Pierre Gasly fifth (1.25.590). The Renault team can also be satisfied with having both its drivers in the top half of the grid, with Daniel Ricciardo seventh fastest (1.26.182) and Nico Hulkenberg at the bottom of the top ten with a best time of 1.26.386.
The McLaren team enjoyed mixed fortunes this afternoon, as the consistent Lando Norris was eighth fastest (1.26.224) for his first home F1 race, while his team mate Carlos Sainz was knocked out at the end of Q2 and will start the race in 13th position. Another of this year’s impressive rookies, Alex Albon snatched ninth spot (1.26.345) in the final moments for Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda. This is the Thai driver’s second Q3 appearance after making the cut in Monaco.
Nevertheless, tomorrow’s race result is not a foregone conclusion, partly because there are various possible strategies. According to information supplied by Pirelli, the quickest way to the chequered flag is a two-stop strategy, running the first two stints on the Soft tyres before fitting the Hards to run to the end. However, even the option of using all three available compounds looks to be an option. Whatever turns out to be the winning plan and, bearing in mind the possibility of rain, which is always a possibility in this part of the world even if it does not currently feature in the forecast, a thrilling afternoon of racing is definitely on the cards.