Lewis Hamilton will seek to arrest Max Verstappen’s growing title lead at his home British Grand Prix, but he’ll need perfect execution from Mercedes at the challenging Silverstone Circuit, home to seven nearby teams as well, if he’s to get his campaign back on track.
Distance: 5.891 kilometres
Part of Silverstone’s magic is its extreme demands on the car. Aerodynamics is everything — Silverstone is all about corner speed and spectacular changes of direction, and the more efficient downforce on your car, the quicker you’ll get around the lap.
It’s also a tyre killer. All that lateral load grinds the tyres against the abrasive surface, putting a premium on driver tyre management.
Last year’s winners: Race 1, Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes); Race 2, Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing)
Silverstone hosted two grand prix in 2020, and though Mercedes dominated qualifying in both and Hamilton comfortably won the first race, the second race was more challenging. Softer tyres were introduced to create strategic variation, and Verstappen excelled at keeping the more delicate rubber alive to beat Hamilton easily to the flag.
The 2021 British Grand Prix will be dramatically different to last year’s events. Mercedes no longer has the outright fastest car, and Red Bull Racing arrives with a 44-point title lead.
Max Verstappen dominated the previous two races in Austria to now lead Hamilton by a healthy 32 points, and the Dutchman is buoyed by his team going all out on car upgrades. Mercedes, on the other hand, is almost fully focused on next year’s big rules changes and has just one last update left, arriving this weekend.
But the form guide is muddy. The Mercedes chassis has never loved the Red Bull Ring, and the 700-metre altitude has also typically affected the Mercedes power unit more adversely than the Honda motor.
Combined they make the impact of RBR’s upgrades less clear. A more conventional challenge this weekend will better illuminate the true championship picture.
On paper Silverstone is a more extreme but broadly similar challenge to the French Grand Prix’s Paul Ricard, where Red Bull Racing had an edge in qualifying but Mercedes was faster in race trim — though sharp strategy secured Verstappen a thrilling win, passing Hamilton for the lead with a lap to spare.
But this weekend will see the introduction of an experimental grand prix format, with qualifying taking place on Friday, a 30-minute ‘sprint qualifying’ race on Saturday and the race proper on Sunday, the grid formed by the results of the previous day.
Theoretically this will benefit Hamilton, giving him an extra 100 kilometres to overcome his projected single-lap weakness.
But the broader effects of the format are unknown. There will be temptation to race defensively to not compromise Sunday through a crash, but F1 is hopeful minor points for the top three, the opportunity to start higher on the grid and no requirement for pit stops will have drivers take on the race.
What’s certain is Hamilton must win on Sunday. If he can’t muster victory at his Mercedes-friendly home circuit, it’ll be hard for him forge a route to an eighth world championship.