The first three hours of free practice for the FORMULA 1 ROLEX BRITISH GRAND PRIX 2019 may have ended with Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport topping the timesheet ahead of Scuderia Ferrari, but there were several subtle changes to the order we have grown used to seeing over the previous nine rounds of the championship.
Valtteri Bottas was fastest in the afternoon (1.26.732,) 69 hundredths of a second ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton, with Charles Leclerc third (1.26.929) in front of Sebastian Vettel (1.27.180.)
In fifth place on the timesheet was Pierre Gasly (1.27.249,) whose Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team has stated it is determined to support its French driver, who has had a difficult start to the season. That display of confidence seems to have paid off, as Gasly was fastest in the morning session with a better lap time than his afternoon session (1.27.173), outpacing team-mate and winner of the last race in Austria Max Verstappen. The Dutch driver was third in FP1 (1.28.009) but only seventh fastest in FP2. (1.27.562.)
McLaren appears to be consolidating its claim to be the fourth power this season, with its two drivers sandwiching the Dutch Red Bull driver: Lando Norris was sixth (1.27.456) and Carlos Sainz eighth (1.27.987) at the end of the day.
Behind the Spaniard in ninth place in FP2 was Alex Albon for Scuderia Toro Rosso. This seemingly unimportant result in a free practice does have some historic significance however, as today is the first time a Thai driver’s name appears on the British Grand Prix timesheet, since the Fifties when Prince Bira of Siam (now Thailand) raced in the World Championship, including the very first race here in 1950 at the wheel of a Maserati. With Albon’s team-mate Daniil Kvyat eleventh in the afternoon, there are signs of a return to mid-field form for the Honda-powered Italian squad.
The other team fighting McLaren for the title of “best of the rest” is Renault, who had a rather complicated first day at Silverstone, as can be seen from the fact that in FP2 Daniel Ricciardo was fourteenth in 1.28.128 and Hulkenberg was one place behind in 1.28.217. Furthermore, the Australian’s second session came to a premature halt because of a power unit problem that left him stranded at the side of the track. On top of that, the team spotted a slight crease in Ricciardo’s chassis after he hit a kerb. It will now be changed for the rest of the weekend, meaning the mechanics have a long night ahead of them.
Silverstone as usual proved why the weather is always a topic in the UK, with conditions veering from hot and sunny, to cool, windy and even wet, as it rained briefly during the morning session, which also had a brief red flag interruption. The wind and a wet track for a short time in the morning would not have helped the teams who also had to deal with assessing a brand new surface around the entire track, which has never been driven on prior to today. The new surface was a reaction to drainage problems that led to the cancellation of last year’s MotoGP meeting at this track. There were several off-track excursions but the situation gradually improved as the F1 cars and those from the support categories led to the track cleaning up and getting more rubber down. Several drivers commented that the new surface is far less bumpy than its predecessor.