As the pressure builds in a their tense battle and with Lewis Hamilton having to make up lost ground on his team-mate, the Briton today headed his Mercedes partner, Nico Rosberg, in Free Practice for the British Grand Prix with lap times that signified that the Brackley-based squad has a comfortable margin over its competitors.
Returning to the scene where he took pole and led in 2013 before becoming one of many victims of a Pirelli delamination, Hamilton admits that this time around his home Grand Prix is a must-win as he trails Rosberg by twenty-nine points in the Championship.
As with most Friday afternoons the headlines will set up another dominant victory for the Silver Arrows but as we have seen in recent races such dominance is seemingly more difficult to come by. On pure pace and using both tyres they once again look untouchable, over a single lap at least. However minor errors can have drastic repercussions and reliability remains a question mark.
And that looked to be the case early in the weekend, as Rosberg came under investigation for passing a car under a red flag. The red flag was out early in FP1 after Austrian GP pole-sitter Felipe Massa crashed heavily on the exit of Stowe.
Replays showed that Rosberg passed Danii Kvyat, who was crawling at 38kph, and maintained his position, which is worthy of a penalty normally. But the FIA deemed the move safe due to Kvyat’s speed. Rosberg is safe for now.
Now it was Hamilton’s turn to be pegged back. The pace setter left the pits to continue his race simulation on the medium tyre as the session moved in to the closing thirty minutes but quickly found himself at a standstill after four corners and his day was over. It will not be too much of a set back for Hamilton as he still gathered both data and experience of a 2014 F1 car around Silverstone as well as having Nico Rosberg continue collecting information.
“The car felt pretty good here today but unfortunately I lost my most important run of the day this afternoon when I stopped out on track with an engine problem,” said Hamilton. “We haven’t identified what the issue was yet but it shouldn’t impact the rest of my weekend. We will change my programme around tomorrow morning to try and recover the time that I lost
The two Mercedes cars were split by 0.2s by the close of the day, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso a further half a second adrift. The Spaniard, who has six podium finishes at Silverstone – including two wins – clearly enjoys the Northamptonshire circuit and will be looking to add to his sole podium of 2014 this weekend.
To Alonso’s dislike the Red Bull car is more suited here than it was in Austria and the Milton Keynes team are set for a more satisfying weekend. Their race pace, in particular, looks on a par with Mercedes and will hopefully set up an exciting Grand Prix on Sunday.
Daniel Ricciardo, in fourth place, also came under scrutiny from the FIA for overtaking under the red flag but he too was given the benefit of the doubt and will suffer no consequences. He was very fast on the hard compound tyre but didn’t get a performance gain from the medium due to a scrappy lap, so there is more to come from the Red Bull, which looks like it will be best of the rest behind Mercedes here.
Valtteri Bottas put his Williams in sixth place on a bad day for another local team. This morning’s session saw a female driver, in the form of Susie Wolff, take part in a competitive Formula One session for the first time in twenty-two years, however for only four laps.
The Scot completed one flying lap before an oil pressure issue caused her to stop on the outside of the circuit and be a spectator for the remainder.
Williams’ poor luck was then compounded by the heavy crash for Massa on the exit of Stowe, which saw him drop a wheel over the outside kerb and be thrown in to a spin towards the inside barrier. The mechanics were able to rebuild the Martini sponsored car prior to FP2 and Massa eventually took eleventh place.
* Pirelli has announced that it will test an 18 inch tyre concept at next week’s Silverstone test. The Lotus will run it during Wednesday’s running. Although this is an evaluation study for 2017, Pirelli says that the tyre is to F1 specifications and that the company is ready to go in that direction if the sport and the teams wish to do so.
British Grand Prix, Silverstone, Free Practice
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m34.508s 14
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m34.736s +0.228s 35
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m35.244s +0.736s 32
4. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m35.511s +1.003s 11
5. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m35.627s +1.119s 27
6. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m36.016s +1.508s 33
7. Jenson Button McLaren 1m36.228s +1.720s 34
8. Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1m36.299s +1.791s 35
9. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m36.554s +2.046s 29
10. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m36.583s +2.075s 26
11. Felipe Massa Williams 1m36.671s +2.163s 29
12. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m36.778s +2.270s 31
13. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m36.951s +2.443s 35
14. Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1m37.064s +2.556s 35
15. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m37.097s +2.589s 33
16. Sergio Perez Force India 1m37.236s +2.728s 37
17. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m37.449s +2.941s 27
18. Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m37.520s +3.012s 25
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m38.658s +4.150s 11
20. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1m39.068s +4.560s 31
21. Max Chilton Marussia 1m39.224s +4.716s 28
22. Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1m39.762s +5.254s 21