British Grand Prix: Vettel wins a classic as a drained Hamilton shows the strain

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Golden moment: Sebastian Vettel with his winner’s trophy after the 2018 British Grand Prix
Golden moment: Sebastian Vettel with his winner’s trophy after the 2018 British Grand Prix

Two Ferraris, two Mercedes, separated by two seconds as the race drew to a close … and two massive hissy fits from team Hamilton.

Add two Safety Cars to the mix and you’ve got the recipe for a memorable 2018 British Grand Prix, particularly if you are a Ferrari fan.

So, what were the takeaways from the race – apart from sunburn – at a scorching Silverstone?

Ooh, the drama, the F1 fingerpointing

I’m outta here: Hamilton walks away from parc ferme, dodging an on-track interview in the process
I’m outta here: Hamilton walks away from parc ferme, dodging an on-track interview in the process

Given how exciting the latter part of this race was, it’s telling that the big talking point was what happened after the chequered flag.

Instead of waiting to be interviewed in front of his fans after a solid recovery drive, Lewis Hamilton stalked off to ‘compose himself’.

Having been spun into last place by Kimi Raikkonen on the opening lap, Hamilton scythed through the field and, with the help of a couple of Safety Car periods, ended in second place. It was a good drive, with some bold moves, though far from being his best – the Mercedes was simply so much faster than almost everything it came up against and Hamilton had only himself and Mercedes to blame for spinning up the wheels as he messed up his start.

Yes, his four-year Silverstone winning streak had come to an end but, still, last to second is a pretty good day at the F1 office. But…

In the drivers’ room before the podium ceremony, an awkward silence, as Hamilton paced around like a caged bear. Then, on the podium, when he finally answered some questions (and he was the only one interviewed on the podium, despite coming second) Hamilton made the cryptic observation that there had been some ‘interesting tactics there’ in an apparent reference to being hit by Raikkonen at the start.

Elsewhere, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was pouring fuel on the fire, saying the Raikkonen incident was either ‘Deliberate or incompetence, which leaves us to make a judgment’.

Now, Raikkonen received a ten-second penalty, a couple of points on his superlicence and he held his hands up, saying ‘My bad … it was my mistake, I deserved the penalty’.

But, whether you subscribe to the idea that his actions were deliberate or that it was nothing more than an opening lap shunt, it shone a spotlight on a growing issue at Mercedes…

Are Merc actually crumbling under the pressure?

It’s all in the mind: Lewis Hamilton reacts after his storming qualifying lap at Silverstone on Saturday
It’s all in the mind: Lewis Hamilton reacts after his storming qualifying lap at Silverstone on Saturday

Seems like a ridiculous idea, doesn’t it?

But a series of questionable strategy calls, coupled with delays in introducing engine upgrades, have eclipsed the ongoing success story which is the Mercedes AMG F1 team.

They don’t look as mentally strong; in fact, by Mercedes’ own standards, they look vulnerable.

Hamilton’s Silverstone pole lap on Saturday took so much out of him he was dewy-eyed afterwards.

Then came the finger-pointing at Ferrari, by both Hamilton and Wolff, and Hamilton’s non-interview.

When he finally spoke, Hamilton was in his old-fashioned PR mode, being ‘grateful’ to his fans, his team, but in that mid-Atlantic drawl he adopts at times, and saying very little.

In the post-race press conference, he responded to questions about his apparent frustration thus: ‘It’s easy for you to sit and watch the race. I sweat my arse off in that race. I pushed absolutely 100, 1000 per cent.

‘Every bit of energy I had. I didn’t have anything left when I came in. People expect you to get out of the car and wave and smile and all that. I gave everything I could, I was struggling to stand.’

And on the Raikkonen incident? ‘I don’t have any problems with Kimi.’

And, despite his comments on the podium, he insisted repeatedly that he does not think there were ‘interesting tactics’ being deployed against him.

So, nothing to see here, move on. Which is, of course, fair enough … unless it happens again. The pressure is, very definitely, taking a toll at Merc.

Vettel puts his neck on the line

Pain in the neck: Sebastian Vettel spent much of the weekend with a large plaster on his neck
Pain in the neck: Sebastian Vettel spent much of the weekend with a large plaster on his neck

The big points went to Sebastian Vettel, despite a neck injury that had worried him and the team since Saturday.

There was extra padding in the cockpit, a lot of Sunday morning treatment and his head appeared to be attached to his shoulders by a big ol’ plaster.

The German took advantage of Hamilton’s tardy start and, apart from a phase when Mercedes gambled with Bottas and left him out on old tyres, was the man to beat.

Outqualified, with that dodgy neck (at a circuit where you pull 5g regularly) and with Mercedes having won the last five F1 races here, Vettel nailed it.

Ferrari brought an updated floor to Silverstone, which appears to have delivered – at a circuit that Hamilton has dominated at, on the thin-gauge tyres that have favoured Mercedes previously.

Two Safety Cars late in the race brought the pack together, and set the scene for a glorious closing phase.

The Merc-Ferrari battle we’ve waited for

Head-to-head: Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel battle it out at Silverstone
Head-to-head: Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel battle it out at Silverstone

As the race re-started on lap 42, Raikkonen and Ricciardo were dicing with each other, Alonso was passing Magnussen, Vettel was putting the squeeze on Bottas big time.

Vettel pulled out to pass, Bottas defended, they almost touched. Hamilton took advantage and bore down on them through Maggots, Becketts, at 200mph through Chappel.

Verstappen was keeping his Red Bull close to the leading pack too then, on the next lap, Raikkonen made a brave pass on the aggressive Dutch driver.

Lap 44, and it was Bottas, Vettel, Hamilton, Raikkonen … Merc-Ferrari-Merc-Ferrari, barley two seconds covering the lot of them.

Vettel tried it around the outside of Brooklands, Bottas defended again. A second attempt by the German, same result, then a third bite at the cherry.

Meanwhile, Hamilton was having to go defensive against Raikkonen into Stowe – there was action everywhere.

Bottas was starting to struggle on his old tyres and, unlike the other three drivers, didn’t have the benefit of the three DRS zones, as the leader.

But he hung on gamely, as the action continued, defending from Vettel at Stowe, on the Hangar straight, taking the defensive line and looking like he might just pull this off.

But his tyres were shot.

On lap 47, Bottas failed to cover his inside line after a tiny twitch left him vulnerable, and Vettel needed no further invite, diving past the Finn and into the lead.

Bottas went backwards and ended in fourth, which seemed like scant reward for his efforts.

Vettel, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Bottas all get top marks for some of the most gripping action we’ve seen at the front of F1 in ages, a reminder of how good these drivers are when they get a chance to race properly.

Thanks to those Safety Cars, we also got to see just how evenly matched Mercedes and Ferrari now are … and how far ahead of everyone else they are on fast circuits in particular.

Red Bull keep a low profile for once

Glow-faster strikes: Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull kicks up some sparks at Silverstone
Glow-faster strikes: Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull kicks up some sparks at Silverstone

The Red Bulls were never going to keep up with Merc and Ferrari at Silverstone. With DRS deployed, they were about as fast as the leaders were in normal trim, such was the engine power deficit.

Verstappen did what he could, defending hard but ultimately retiring with intermittent brake problems on lap 48.

Ricciardo had another disappointing F1 weekend, and looks off-form not just on-track but also when he’s being interviewed.

He needs a couple of good results to get his cheery swagger back – even though he finished a creditable fifth, he was half-a-second off his team-mate in qualifying and second-best in the race too.

Behind him, Charles Leclerc was putting in another stunning drive until his Sauber retired after a pit-stop Snafu involving a loose wheel. With such new talent arriving on the scene, Ricciardo is at risk of going from ‘Champion of the future’ status to ‘What if’ status without ever getting a genuine shot at glory.

F1 now has a weekend off, before more back-to-back races in Germany and Hungary bring July to a close.

There is still, as they say, everything to play for. And the pressure is building.

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