It’s been a while since we have seen cornering speeds at Silverstone like the ones we saw today. The F1 drivers had been looking forward to running these 2017 high downforce cars on this track, with its unique combination of medium and high speed corners and they were not disappointed.
And nor was anyone else who saw them; the cars look scintillating through the high speed corners like Copse, Maggots, Becketts and Stowe, with plenty of movement and very fast change of direction.
“I’m impressed by the new cars on this track with its high-speed corners – they’re so much quicker than before,” said the pace setter Valtteri Bottas. “I’m definitely enjoying it and had a lot of fun, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow. You feel more G in the corners and there’s a greater effect on your body, quite a big step up from last year.”
Standing out on track at Becketts the Mercedes was certainly carrying a lot of speed, “The track is absolutely incredible with these new cars,” said Lewis Hamilton. “It was already one of the very best circuits in the world, but with this car and the speed we are able to carry through the corners, it’s just phenomenal.
“It’s like the greatest rollercoaster ride ever.”
Bottas will take a gearbox penalty that will move him back five places on the grid from where he qualifies, as Hamilton had to do in Austria. If Ferrari steps up in qualifying and is racing at the front with Hamilton, as expected, this leaves the three time champion in a tricky position if he doesn’t manage to find a pace advantage on Sunday. The Ferraris can do a pincer move on him strategy wise, with one trying the undercut and the other the overcut, as we have seen several times this season, for example with Red Bull in Monaco. Bottas will have to make another of his lightning fast starts and get ahead as quickly as possible to help out.
Red Bull was half a second off again today, but Daniel Ricciardo’s analysis is that Ferrari is catchable. Ricciardo was one of several drivers who had a moment with the gusty winds, but he believes Red Bull can get close to Ferrari this weekend.
“Mercedes are very fast but I think if we get everything right we can be challenging Ferrari tomorrow,” he said. In Austria it looked like Mercedes had an edge on Friday but on Saturday and Sunday Vettel was close.”
In practice the leading cars formed up in performance order with the two Mercedes ahead of the two Ferraris and the two Red Bulls, with Nico Hulkenberg doing a stunning lap to go 7th ahead of the Williams of Felipe Massa. Renault has a new floor this weekend, the start of a new development concept, according to team boss Cyril Abiteboul.
He may repeat that in qualifying, especially if it is damp as forecast, but still seems to struggle in the races with the tyres to repeat his grid slot at the end of the race. Renault’s race pace was a little behind the other midfield teams again today.
In the nine races so far Hulkenberg has moved backwards three times, finished where he started twice and moved forward only twice. He has retired from two. That contrasts with his form with Force India, where he moved forwards in roughly 50% of the races and backwards in around 30%.
The Mercedes has the edge on race pace on the supersoft tyres, ahead of the Ferrari and the Red Bull. Degradation is quite high by recent standards, especially for Ricciardo, while Raikkonen’s is less, as usual. Verstappen has the edge on Ricciardo on both the soft and supersoft pace.
Ferrari did good supersoft and soft comparison inverting tyres across drivers on their long runs. The soft looks very good – strong performance and is likely to be the main race tyre.
Off track there was some interesting discussion in the team bosses’ press conference with Jonathan Neale of McLaren being quite open about the process ahead with Honda and how difficult the conversations are around that.
There is a lot of talk about the possible breakdown of the Sauber-Honda relationship before it has even started. The change of management there from Monisha Kaltenborn has triggered some movement, with sources suggesting that it is from Sauber’s side that the desire to change terms is coming, rather than from Honda’s side.
New team boss Fred Vasseur has got straight into the Honda contract and one wonders whether he might be looking instead at a deal with Mercedes which would achieve two objectives. For Sauber it would give them a world championship level engine, for Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, it would give him a buffer as he’s trying to resist supplying McLaren with engines if they split with Honda.
There is widespread belief that the senior figures at Mercedes’ parent company Daimler have a strong feeling with McLaren shareholder Mansour Ojjeh and would like to help them out, but only once Honda is out of the picture. If a deal is struck with Sauber before that then FIA regulations would make it hard for them to supply another team and McLaren would have to turn to Ferrari or Renault.
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