As per usual, it was a Mercedes 1-2 in the British Grand Prix. The difference was how we got to that result made the race much more exciting than the standard Mercedes 1-2. Lewis Hamilton won but he sure looked unlikely to pull that off for a good portion of the race.
Meanwhile, for all the action on-track, there was even more action happening off track as the teams start gearing up for the 2016 season.
The race certainly got off to an interesting start. Both Mercedes had trouble off the line so it was Felipe Massa who vaulted from 3rd to the point. Valtteri Bottas could have gotten 2nd but was held off by Hamilton. The order onto the straight was Massa, Hamilton, Bottas, Rosberg.
Behind that, chaos broke out. Romain Grosjean got squeezed between a Red Bull (likely Ricciardo) and the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson which knocked him into a Manor which propelled him into teammate Pastor Maldonado. In evasive action, Fernando Alonso spun into his teammate Jenson Button. The result was the two Lotuses and Button all retiring.
There was a safety car as a result of the collision. Immediately once the race restarted, Hamilton made a dive at Massa but ran off-track which allowed Bottas by. The Williams led the Mercedes until the first round of pit stops when Hamilton got the undercut and was able to vault from third to first. Perhaps if Williams released Bottas from behind Massa or they were more on the draw with pit stops, the race would have had a different result.
It looked like the race would finish that way until the rain came. With half the track wet, drivers tried running on slicks. Bottas struggled more than most on slicks which allowed Rosberg by for third. To make matters worse for Williams, they botched the strategy on the switch from slicks to inters. That allowed Sebastian Vettel, the biggest beneficiary of the rain, to vault to second. So Williams managed to convert a 1-2 into a 4-5. That takes some skill.
Anyway, Hamilton’s win was his 5th of the season and extends his championship lead to 17 points over teammate Rosberg who finished the race in 2nd. Sebastian Vettel rounded out the podium in 3rd which makes it the sixth time in nine races that these three have occupied all steps of the podium.
The Williams boys finished in 4th and 5th with Massa leading Bottas home. Daniil Kvyat was the only car in the Red Bull family to finish (Verstappen crashed early while Ricciardo and Sainz had electrical failures) and crossed the line in 6th. Nico Hulkenberg took the revised VJM08 to 7th place. Kimi Raikkonen was the first driver onto inters which was absolutely the wrong call. That resulted in an 8th place finish. Checo Perez made it double points for Force India in 9th. And Alonso came back from his first lap collision to score his first point of the season.
When I started writing this post, I thought that the proposed rules changes for the 2016 season would be the biggest story happening off-track. Boy was I wrong.
While Red Bull has been looking to the Volkswagen group (likely under the Audi banner) to buy out Red Bull’s ownership interest in the team, it looks like Aston Martin might be very close to signing a new partnership with Red Bull Racing. This would be a branding deal, similar to the current deal with Infiniti. The difference is that Aston Martin is brokering a customer engine deal between RBR and Mercedes which would see the team powered by the top engine in Formula One.
There’s a funny little coincidence with this potential deal. Aston Martin’s current boss and director of marketing were part of the deal that saw Infiniti become title sponsors of Red Bull which coincidentally is part of the Renault family as a Nissan brand. Mercedes owns 5% of Aston Martin so the branding deal would work from Mercedes side as well. Mercedes would also be quite happy to bring more money in to cover the cost of its expensive F1 engine and team programs.
The souring relationship between Red Bull and Renault has been well documented over the last year-and-a-half. Red Bull has threatened to pull out of the sport now that its fortunes have turned and is blaming Renault for their problems. Whether Red Bull is serious about pulling out and this is the first step towards a buy out by Aston Martin or if this part of a long-term renewal of interest in a competitive F1 effort remains to be seen.
It might be worth mentioning that Niki Lauda says this deal isn’t happening. Of course, I doubt he has the final say in the matter. And AM’s Andy Palmer was spotted in Force India hospitality which has caused speculation that Aston Martin is looking for a branding deal and don’t have their heart set on Red Bull.
As we come up to the halfway point of the season the Formula One Strategy Group is hard at work writing the rules for upcoming seasons. While not much is set in stone, there are still some good proposals. There are also a couple of dreadful ideas too.
The first rules change that might come to fruition is a change to grid penalties for engine and gearbox changes. The current rules has a number of additional time penalties if a driver hasn’t taken his full allotment of grid spot penalties in a race. The new proposal sees the maximum penalty becoming drivers being relegated to the last place on the grid. Teams are hoping to get this change made official be the FIA in time for the next race.
Engine rules are getting looked at to help Honda and Renault. While engine homologation is set for February 28, 2016, Honda and Renault are looking to continue the improvement token system for another year. Presumably, the tokens would be done in a way to benefit Honda and Renault the most in order to close the gap between the four engine manufacturers.
It was also suggested that a horsepower cap was put on the engines so as to keep the two trailing engine manufacturers from getting farther behind but Mercedes and Ferrari balked at that suggestion. One engine change they are allowing is an extra engine for a new team in their first season.
On the tyre front, teams are pushing forward on choosing their own tyre compounds for the weekend. Germany’s AMuS reports that teams will be allowed to replace one of the Pirelli selected tyre compounds in four races of their choice. That’s different from other reports that suggest that teams will have carte blanche to select their tyre compounds.
One change that has been proposed but I would guess is unlikely to go through is changes to the weekend format. There are two proposals that are being floated around as possibilities in the press.
The first will see Free Practice 3 on Saturday morning replaced by qualifying. That would set the grid for a qualifying sprint race on Saturday afternoon in the current qualifying time slot. The results of that race would set the grid for the Sunday’s Grand Prix.
The alternative proposal would see a sprint race on Saturday among the teams’ test and reserve drivers. No further details have been revealed so there’s no word as to whether it would contribute to the Constructors’ Championship or if the teams would be allowed to bring extra equipment or if the teams would get any more money to do these reserve driver races.
Renault’s plans to return to Formula One with a factory team looks to becoming closer to a reality. For a little while, it looked like Renault would buy Manor as its new factory effort. However, it looks like the original plan is back in action with Renault nearing a purchase of Lotus.
As you will remember, Lotus was previously owned by Renault from 2000 through 2009 when the team was purchased by Genii Capital ahead of the 2010 season. From the 2011 season, the team was rebranded to Lotus after Renault sold the remainder of its ownership from the team. It looks like Renault’s absence as a team owner might only last only five seasons.
One thing that leading French sports radio station RMC reported was that Alain Prost will be put into a leadership position with the team. Renault also fully intends to lock up Romain Grosjean as the lead driver because of the importance of having a French driver for marketing purposes. Pastor Maldonado could be the odd man out as Renault wants a second driver from a country where they are looking for sales growth.
The next round of the Formula One World Championship is going to take place in three weeks’ time. With nobody able to afford hosting this year’s German Grand Prix, there’s an extra week off between the British Grand Prix and the next round, the Hungarian Grand Prix from the Hungaroring.
Last year, rain and safety cars completely mixed the field up and the end result was Daniel Ricciardo winning his second of three races that season. While anything can happen in Formula One, this season has shown that it’s very unlikely for anything unusual to happen that might give us a surprise winner.
So it’s down to the two Mercedes drivers. History would favour Hamilton who has won four of the eight Hungarian Grands Prix that he has run while Rosberg’s best finish at the Hungaroring is 4th. Of those eight races they’ve run head-to-head Hamilton has placed ahead in each race. If Lewis is going to stretch the gap in the WDC, this would be the time to do it.