Austrian GP Review & Silverstone GP Preview from Bob Constanduros
Here we go, then, the last blast of the triple header. On Sunday evening/Monday morning, upwards of three hundred trucks left the Red Bull ‘Ring in Spielberg and set their course (or as we say, Satnavs) for Silverstone. It’s a long long trip but handled mainly by professional drivers, teams of two with relays along the way. Not so easy for the support race teams, but when you have 27 trucks – nine to carry the race team, 18 for the motorhome – and various vans as Mercedes do, then it’s a pretty massive undertaking.
How much of a toll is this triple header having on teams? I was interested to hear from one midfield team that their engine supplier had borrowed engineers from them, leaving them to fill in with largely inexperienced staff. It left me wondering how much this had to do with the fact that every one of the six retirements from the Austrian Grand Prix – Stoffel Vandoorne was classified as a finisher – was mechanical.
And looking forward, I’m also wondering about this weekend at Silverstone, where the average track temperature over the last five years has been about 32 degrees with a maximum of 36 degrees. Silverstone has been completely resurfaced which means that the tarmac will be very black; very black means that it absorbs heat and with an ambient expected to be close to 30 degrees, then the track temperature is going to be close to 50 (it’s 47 as I write this) which is something that is very unexpected when it comes to the British Grand Prix.
Fortunately Pirelli have brought almost their hardest combination of tyres, similar in property if not in name to last year’s selection but then that’s because a lot of energy goes through the tyres anyway on this high speed circuit but what effect will hot tarmac have on the tyres and their capabilities? It will be a vital factor in this weekend’s equation.
The Austrian Grand Prix was, as usual, a thoroughly enjoyable experience with scarcely any aggravation in stark contrast to the previous weekend – about which some of us are still seething. The circuit is really quite short and simple but very technical. It has ten corners – one of which is scarcely a corner but is nominated as one for MotoGP – not sure why. Silverstone, by contrast, has 18 corners.
It has to be said that the Red Bull Ring’s character means that drivers do have problems in almost every corner. There were cars going wide at all except a couple of corners and the baguette kerbs lining the outside of the corners were doing a fair amount of cosmetic damage, although a little more for Pierre Gasly who broke his front suspension on the turn nine kerb. But the drivers largely accepted that they had to stay away from the kerbs otherwise they would do damage.
Even around this short circuit – the shortest in terms of time – the FIA had decreed three DRS zones which actually didn’t seem to make that much difference to the Grand Prix, but certainly livened up the Formula Two races in particular and to some extent the GP3 races where DRS use is limited. There are three DRS zones at Silverstone too, but whether this will make a difference remains to be seen. All it does do is underline the difficulty of cars following other cars, which really is the major problem for this current generation of car, thankfully recognised by Ross Brawn and his staff.
(Incidentally, much is being made of the fact that the first corner is under DRS but will anyone use it there? It is expected that drivers will try it but it is interesting that once open, DRS only closes when you brake – and you don’t brake for turn one. We might see a few cars going wide there…)
I haven’t heard the full extent of Lewis Hamilton’s rants following his retirement last Sunday but I can imagine they might be quite damning. I have no doubt that he will have apologised for them, just as tactician James Vowles did, particularly as he will no doubt have visited both the Brackley and Brixworth Mercedes factories prior to the Grand Prix. As I’ve mentioned earlier – and as I’m sure he appreciates – there are staff there who are working their guts out for him to claim glory. To damn those efforts is simply unjust; everyone is doing what they can to get him past the chequered flag first.
His teammate, on the other hand, was apparently quite cool after the Austrian Grand Prix. I thought his first Q3 lap was absolutely stunning and I was so pleased that he claimed back-to-back poles, but upset that he was almost too cautious at the start – unlike last year’s lightning getaway. But then that retirement happened and it was no surprise that he was sanguine in his acceptance of fate; after all, there was nothing he could do. A mechanical retirement is usually greeted calmly by drivers. It’s not their fault, so there’s blame to be apportioned.
There were a couple of other stand-out performances in Austria. Haas, of course, had a fantastic race and once again that underlined the team’s problem: what are they going to do about Romain Grosjean. He is a very quick driver and when all goes well, he does things like claim fourth place in the Austrian Grand Prix. But then he makes some very basic mistakes. Do Haas hang on to him or let him go? Can you really sack a guy who finishes fourth for you?
And then there’s Charles Leclerc and Sauber. Well, it’s becoming almost a habit that they’re in the points, which delights everyone but this time even his teammate Marcus Ericsson claimed a point too.
Talking of Swedes, what chance of even the British Grand Prix at Silverstone making much of a sporting impact this weekend? The World Cup match starts as the chequered flag falls on qualifying; Lewis even joked that he might miss the post-qualifying press conference to watch the match. How much would the fine be, he asked? And then there’s Henley of course; OK, not such a big deal, but Wimbledon too, and the next day the Tour de France starts. Now that is a big challenge for Liberty Media.
So Silverstone is under way. It is a big event and it’s great that there’s so much happening on the track, what with four different support races. But is anyone really going to want to watch racing at 8.05 in the morning? Not even the Aussies – who have more support races than anyone – get going that early in the morning. The programme needs tightening up, I feel, but that’s probably not high on their list of priorities.
I’m not certain it’s going to be a great race, and it might be a bit of a two horse race between Mercedes and Ferrari, with Red Bull trailing a little breathless in their wake. But there could be a good duel at the front. Let’s hope…