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Hamilton seeks some home comfort at Silverstone
F1 returns to Silverstone, undoubtedly one of the jewels in the sport's crown, with some form of normality restored after Mercedes' one-two finish in Austria. But while Renault crumbled spectacularly in the Austrian countryside, prompting a scathing response from Red Bull, Williams threw a spanner in the works out in front. The presence of a new team challenging the Silver Arrows triggered what Niki Lauda would later call "alarm bells" at Mercedes. The performance of Williams in Austria, plus its status as a Mercedes customer, suggests it could be in a position to challenge the factory team once again in Silverstone. But all eyes this weekend will be on Lewis Hamilton, who was the last Brit to win on home soil in 2008, something he will need to change with Nico Rosberg enjoying something of a commanding lead out in front.
In a season which has seen the pendulum swing back and forth between the Mercedes drivers, Nico Rosberg is flying high at the moment and has done well to grow a lead of 29 points over Lewis Hamilton. He may have benefitted from Hamilton's slower pit stops in Austria but it seemed Rosberg had managed his race well enough at crucial points to deal with Hamilton's challenge late on.
Williams finally came good in Austria, locking out the front row on Saturday before Valtteri Bottas claimed his maiden podium during the race. It seemed the team's chances of victory disappeared after an ultra-conservative pit stop strategy but as Rob Smedley later admitted, Williams ran the risk of losing third and fourth altogether if it had tried to challenge Mercedes outright. Sergio Perez also put his last-lap crash with Massa from Montreal behind him in Austria, turning in another superb display for Force India, after the Brazilian had questioned his temperament behind the wheel. The Mexican now needs to find consistency to match team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.
Out of form
Renault came out of Spielberg in a bit of a mess, a situation compounded by the comments made by Christian Horner, after a race where Mercedes power dominated. As a power track Silverstone hardly suits Renault any better than the Red Bull Ring in terms of straight-line speed, with 60% of the circuit taken at full throttle. Another frustrating time watching Mercedes-powered cars storm away at the straights could be in store for the Renault customers.
Kimi Raikkonen is still waiting for his first big result since his return to Ferrari. The Finn is clearly still not completely comfortable at the team and is currently being blown out of the water by Fernando Alonso. Of the drivers still yet to score a point this season, Pastor Maldonado's name is the most notable. The Lotus driver recorded a season-high finish of 12th in Austria but has struggled to match Romain Grosjean in 2014, outqualifying the Frenchman just once.
Ones to watch
Lewis Hamilton is neither in form or out of form, following a costly spin in qualifying which he made up for with a superb charge through the field in Austria. But plenty has changed since Hamilton's last victory in Spain. While Rosberg has looked on top of his game, there have been noticeable chinks in Hamilton's armour of late. Silverstone represents the perfect opportunity for Hamilton to revitalise his title challenge.
Whether McLaren has made the gains it hoped to will be one of the more intriguing angles to this weekend's action. There have been rumours circulating about the team's driver line-up for 2015 and, if McLaren does find itself higher up the pecking order, Jenson Button could be in a good position to put his season back on track with a strong result.
A new dawn
The big news coming into the weekend was the sale of Caterham to a Swiss and Middle Eastern consortim, arguably one of the worst kept secrets of recent times. From the outside not much will change - the team will keep its name and base in Leafield - but will now be headed up by ex-F1 driver Christijan Albers. In the announcement press release Albers said his first ambition is to beat Marussia into the coveted tenth spot this season, a tall order considering Caterham's long-time rival scored points in Monaco. The ownership may have changed but the challenge facing Caterham looks as big as ever. Whether there are further changes to come, with rumours of a driver shake-up later this season, also remains to be seen.
The Bernie Ecclestone quotes about Monza which circulated on Tuesday understandably upset many who love the sport of Formula One. Hopefully his threat to drop Monza from the calendar was the beginning of contract negotiations and a way to tell organisers to bring the circuit in line with modern F1 tracks. Ecclestone could surely never truly consider dropping Monza, but this all highlights something concerning for F1's most historic tracks. When a venue with big crowds that is the home race for Ferrari cannot afford to put on a race then something is severely wrong with the sport's business model.
You can drop some expensive Tilkedrome's (such as Turkey and India) off the calendar without many fans batting an eyelid, but the loss of the circuits which are synonymous with F1 could have a disastrous impact on the future of the sport. After races in front of packed grandstands in Canada and Austria, and with another to follow at Silverstone, it is time Ecclestone woke up to the reality of what his Monza comments really say about the current state of F1.
A wake up call
The biggest news to come out of Spielberg concerned Renault, as Red Bull finally broke ranks and voiced its dissatisfaction with the manufacturer's performance this season. It was unsurprising; coming after a woeful home grand prix in Austria which saw Sebastian Vettel suffer problems on the second lap as the team found itself woefully off the pace all weekend. Helmut Marko has made it very clear Red Bull will have no problems looking elsewhere for 2016 if things do not improve with Renault.
With the 2014 engines homologated Renault is in a bit of a bind in terms of realistic gains it can make to Mercedes but next season must now be of critical importance if it wants to keep Red Bull on side. Red Bull has certainly not thrown in the towel just yet but the recent rhetoric coming out of Milton Keynes should confirm the team will settle for nothing less than the best. Christian Horner's recent comments that Renault has tried to give all its customers equal treatment this year, rather than prioritising Red Bull, is also a message that will no doubt have been heard loud and clear in Viry-Chatillon.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it
Since Austria there have been a number of new rule changes approved for 2015, the most notable of which has been standing restarts after a safety car periods. As F1 did not consult fans, or even listen to the opinion of its own drivers, it is unsurprising to see the mooted change be so unpopular. In truth there is not a forum for fans to voice their opinions on rule changes but it was hardly as if viewers were screaming out in opposition to rolling restarts. Even Pirelli has admitted it is not yet sure how it is going to make the new format safe, with the prospect of drivers restarting on worn tyres already causing a safety headache or two. F1 abandoned the tried and tested 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' approach when it adopted double points for the season finale and has done so again in this instance. The 2015 rules will be in sharp focus in Silverstone and we expect to hear one or two emotive responses over the course of the weekend.
Facts and stats
- Built on the site of a Second World War airfield, Silverstone hosted the first round of the inaugural Formula One world championship in 1950, a race won by eventual champion Giuseppe Farina. This year will mark the 50th British Grand Prix.
- With five wins apiece, Jim Clark and Alain Prost hold the record for the most victories at the British Grand Prix. Of the current grid, only Fernando Alonso has won the race more than once.
- Along with Monaco, Spa and Monza, Silverstone remains one of four tracks used from the first year of the Formula One world championship.
- The last time the winner of this race went on to win the world championship was in 2008, when Lewis Hamilton recorded a popular victory in front of his home crowd. It remains his only British Grand Prix win.
- There has not been a back-to-back winner of the British Grand Prix since David Coulthard in 1999 and 2000.
Lewis Hamilton remains the bookies favourite for a home victory despite three races without a win, with odds of 4/6. Those impressed by the pace of Williams can get 20/1 apiece for Felipe Massa or Valtteri Bottas to win, while Fernando Alonso is 9/4 to claim his second podium finish of the season.
Even though Williams took the fight to Mercedes in Austria, the team struggled in wet conditions earlier this season and may well be concerned by the prospect of a few drops on Saturday and Sunday. Rain may way spice things up over the course of the weekend, and give the Renault-powered teams a reason to be optimistic, but Mercedes is still a tough team to beat in any condition.
Nico Rosberg is riding high at the moment and we think he might just upset the home fans and deny his team-mate Lewis Hamilton on route to a second successive British victory.