After the disappointment of Austria, there’s no better place for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes to try and respond than Silverstone for the British Grand Prix. The annual homecoming for the five-time Formula 1 champion, Hamilton starts the weekend as the overwhelming favourite.
However, perhaps for the first time in 2019, there is genuine uncertainty as to whether the Silver Arrows will be the dominant force they have been all year.
That’s because, while Mercedes’ poor pace in Spielberg was mostly due to the heat, Ferrari and Red Bull have made significant progress in closing the gap to the Brackley-based squad.
The Scuderia also arrives in the UK looking to repeat their success from last year at Silverstone, when Sebastian Vettel broke the five-year winning streak of Mercedes at the Northamptonshire circuit.
Ahead of the race weekend, British fans are breathing a sigh of relief after it was confirmed on Wednesday that the Grand Prix will be staying on the F1 calendar until 2024.
This means the sport can look forward to adding more history at the venue where it all started back in 1950, when Giuseppe Farina won the inaugural world championship race
The new contract also means five more years of watching F1 cars take on one of the greatest tracks in the world at Silverstone, with its fast, flowing layout making it a real drivers favourite.
Today, the design is a little more technical than the near-flat-out blast on the boundary road of the former World War 2 airfield.
Indeed, Copse is now the only corner that is almost unchanged from 1950, but sequences like the Maggotts and Becketts complex and the Arena section introduced in 2010 have only added to the thrill ride that Silverstone provides.
Currently, three drivers hold the record for most British GP wins. The first was Jim Clark, who scored his five victories in just six years in the ’60s before Alain Prost matched him between 1983-1993.
More recently, Hamilton reached that figure starting with his famous wet-weather masterclass in 2008 and dominating with Mercedes from 2014-2017.
Nigel Mansell sits one behind with four, but it is the iconic moment of the Briton returning to the pits after victory in 1991 with Ayrton Senna riding shotgun that most remember.
Michael Schumacher enjoyed three wins, including the controversial 1998 race when he crossed the line in the pits serving a penalty, but also broke his leg in 1999 after brake failure at Stowe, causing him to miss six races.
Fast forward back to this year, let’s conclude this preview with some predictions for you to look out for this weekend.
Hamilton back on top but only just
With conditions set to be more favourable to Mercedes, it won’t be a surprise to see them leading the way once again.
Hamilton is without question the man the rest will have to beat, however, the sense of invincibility around the team this season has been broken.
That’s why as much I expect the Briton to earn that record-breaking sixth win, I also believe Ferrari will push him all the way.
Leclerc now the man at Ferrari
After narrowly missing out on his first F1 win for a second time in Austria, frustration must be creeping in for Charles Leclerc.
However, what the Monegasque has done superbly in recent races is prove to Ferrari he is capable of being the team leader as Sebastian Vettel has hit trouble in qualifying.
And now, as his confidence grows in that role, it is going to be very difficult for the German to claim it back, that’s why I anticipate Leclerc will be the man to challenge Hamilton at Silverstone.
Honda to be the Achilles heel at Red Bull
While a lot of praise has been showered on Honda after ending their 13-year wait for an F1 win two weeks ago, a lot of work still remains for the Japanese brand to be in that position consistently.
And their deficit may well be highlighted at Silverstone with engine power and energy deployment now one of the key requirements due to the number of flat-out sections.
Last year Red Bull struggled with Renault, and while they might have momentum on their side, it is unlikely they will have the pace to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari this time.
Could McLaren capitalise?
For the potential weakness I see in Red Bull, it may open the way for McLaren to certainly continue their recent trend of splitting Verstappen and Pierre Gasly.
The British team has shown great strength in high-speed corners and on the straights too, meaning their car is in theory, perfect for their home track.
A small concern could be tyre wear, citing their issues on front-limited tracks rather than rear-limited ones this season, but in terms of pace, McLaren should remain ‘best of the rest’.
Alfa Romeo on the rise
With Ferrari power and having shown recent signs of progress, Alfa Romeo is a team to watch out for in the midfield.
Antonio Giovinazzi will have gained confidence after scoring his first F1 point in Spielberg, while Kimi Raikkonen remains his ever-consistent self.
Certainly, the Swiss outfit has the potential to again beat Renault and challenge for the final positions in the top 10.
What’s going on at Haas?
Haas begin the weekend in turmoil after title sponsor Rich Energy stated they had cut ties with the team on Wednesday, something team boss Guenther Steiner has since denied.
Also, the team appears lost in terms of performance, with a car that we know can be competitive but is proving very difficult to extract the performance from.
On such a technical track like Silverstone, any flaws will certainly be shown up, so if Haas get it right they could be in the points, if not, another race threatening to keep Williams company awaits.
Source: Inside Racing