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Formula 1

Mark Hughes: Decoding British GP’s practice pace surprises

by Mark Hughes
5 min read

An unusual tyre situation just might have made for some upsets in the Formula 1 formbook around Silverstone. Pirelli’s introduction of the new stiffer construction combined with an unusually high minimum pressure stipulation (26.5psi front/23psi rear) has brought with it some unexpected impacts upon car balance.

Most significantly it seems to have resulted in a more oversteery balance in the medium- and high-speed corners. Any cars with pre-existing oversteer balances (the Mercedes, for example) look to be struggling more than usual. Any with pre-existing understeer are suddenly looking very good, none more so than the Williams. But also to a lesser extent the Ferrari.

Max Verstappen was still fastest, but his margin over Carlos Sainz and – remarkably – Alex Albon was scant.

Alex Albon Williams F1 British GP

When Albon’s Williams went third-fastest in the first session (0.42s off Verstappen) it was attributed to him doing a late soft tyre run in a session when several frontrunners didn’t even try the soft – and perhaps a lighter fuel load.

Perhaps. But maybe not all that much lighter – because in the long runs where there isn’t as much scope to be running a wildly different fuel load, he was still quick.

This time his headline Q-lap simulation was within 0.2s of Verstappen and just 0.1s off the second-fastest Ferrari of Sainz (the sister car of Charles Leclerc stayed in the garage throughout FP2 with electrical problems). What’s more, Albon’s rookie team-mate Logan Sargeant this time got his lap together – and although it was 0.5s adrift of Albon that was still good for fifth-fastest.

Logan Sargeant Williams F1 British GP

“We are keeping our feet on the ground,” emphasised Williams team principal James Vowles, but even the most pessimistic reading of the Williams’ form around here still has it as a potential Q3 car. Which is more than can be said of the Mercedes on the form of Friday.

Mercedes is notoriously good at homing in on a sweet spot overnight and coming up with a much more competitive Saturday car than Friday.

The weather forecast is for much cooler conditions and possible rain on Saturday and in addition to the new tyres and pressures, it’s quite possible that Friday’s hot track exacerbated the oversteer-inducing conditions that apparently so suited Williams and hurt Mercedes.

In any case, Friday showed a Mercedes in trouble, the W14 regularly giving Lewis Hamilton and George Russell time-consuming slides through the faster corners. The usual shortage of traction out of slow corners was still present, too.

“Not our finest Friday,” said Russell. “But the conditions will be different tomorrow.

George Russell Mercedes F1 British GP

“We need to try and get to the bottom of it because the pace in FP1 was looking reasonably good on the medium tyre, we thought we’d be right up there if we took the softs but in FP2 we were nowhere. Need to try and understand that.

“We’re seeing a small trend that when the temperatures are hotter we seem to take a bit of step backwards, we’ve got some ideas why that is.”

Single-lap pace is never the best measure of the Red Bull RB19’s true superiority, and here Sainz was every bit as close a match as Leclerc had been in qualifying in Austria. But on the long runs the picture usually reverts to the normality of Red Bull superiority. Here’s how that looked:

Soft Medium Hard
Perez 1m33.016s (4 laps)
Verstappen 1m33.363s (5 laps)
Verstappen 1m33.804s (7 laps)
Sainz 1m33.976s (5 laps)
Perez 1m34.242s (11 laps)
Stroll 1m34.412s (7 laps)
Albon 1m34.461s (10 laps)
Alonso 1m34.497s (7 laps)
Hamilton 1m34.502s (9 laps)
Sainz 1m34.506s (9 laps)
Russell 1m34.619s (3 laps)
Piastri 1m34.729s (7 laps)

The Ferrari dropped away a little on long run pace and the Aston Martin became a stronger force than it had appeared in the single-lap running. But Albon’s run on the same hard tyre as Lance Stroll – three laps longer and just hundredths slower – was probably even more impressive. That Williams single-lap pace was being mirrored in the long runs.

Interestingly, Hamilton’s Mercedes did not look as bad in the long runs as over a single lap. Around a track which punishes the left-front tyre, perhaps the car’s oversteer became progressively more tamed as that process unfolded. “The last part of my run did seem to be more consistent,” pondered Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes F1 British GP

 

Asked about the wind everyone was complaining about, Hamilton had a different take. “It was very windy but I think the wind is what helps it be the best track in the world – tailwind, headwind, crosswind. I don’t mind it.

“Car-wise we’re battling same thing [as usual]. It’s a tough car to drive. No matter what we did with set-up. I didn’t feel any improvement between tyres [on the single-lap runs] which suggests we’re missing something. But then on the long run it didn’t seem to be too bad.

“You’re trying to weigh the scales the whole way round, such a fine edge with the balance and the balance is changing from braking to turn-in to mid to exit – every corner.

“George has gone one way with set-up I’ve gone another. I think we’ll maybe come together a bit more tomorrow.”

Max Verstappen Red Bull F1 British GP

For all that it was an unusual competitive order, Verstappen’s placing within it was very normal. “I think it was quite a good day for us,” he said. “We were following a bit the track.

“Quite slippery in the beginning but I think that is due to the high pressures we’re running, same for everyone. Makes it a bit more difficult in the low-speed but I think overall the car has been performing really well.

“Overall the performance has been strong in both sessions. Long runs look good as well. Pretty positive.”

Practice 2 Results

Pos Name Car Best Time Gap Leader
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1m28.078s
2 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1m28.1s +0.022s
3 Alex Albon Williams-Mercedes 1m28.296s +0.218s
4 Sergio Pérez Red Bull 1m28.342s +0.264s
5 Logan Sargeant Williams-Mercedes 1m28.766s +0.688s
6 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1m28.866s +0.788s
7 Nico Hülkenberg Haas-Ferrari 1m28.88s +0.802s
8 Pierre Gasly Alpine-Renault 1m28.899s +0.821s
9 Oscar Piastri McLaren-Mercedes 1m28.926s +0.848s
10 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin-Mercedes 1m29.134s +1.056s
11 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1m29.225s +1.147s
12 George Russell Mercedes 1m29.238s +1.16s
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1m29.242s +1.164s
14 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1m29.26s +1.182s
15 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m29.283s +1.205s
16 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1m29.378s +1.3s
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m29.439s +1.361s
18 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT 1m29.483s +1.405s
19 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT 1m29.571s +1.493s
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