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10 things we learned from F1’s 2021 British Grand Prix
Formula 1’s return to packed crowd at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix delivered plenty of excitement, intrigue and controversy as Lewis Hamilton recorded his eighth home win. Autosport discusses the major talking points from the weekend including that opening-lap clash, F1’s new sprint format and a hint at the championship’s future
Formula 1, the British Grand Prix and a sold out Silverstone – it had the feeling of familiarity after the unknown and empty grandstands since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.
But the 2021 British GP was anything but recognisable, starting on the Thursday with the first showing of a full-scale 2022 F1 car model and then a new weekend format which pivoted around the inaugural sprint qualifying race.
It all resulted in a dramatic and controversial victory for Lewis Hamilton after his lap one collision with Max Verstappen which sent the F1 world championship leader into a 51G impact with the tyre barriers.
Hamilton recovered from a 10-second time penalty for the incident to reel in shock leader Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and overtake him with just two laps to go – maximising his advantage with Verstappen out and cutting the deficit in the standings to eight points.
While penalties and sportsmanship became the major post-race talking points, it created a race weekend jammed with action and memorable moments.
Here are 10 things we learned from the 2021 British GP.
1. The first major clash of Hamilton vs Verstappen reveals true rivalry
Lewis Hamilton congratulates Max Verstappen after the Red Bull driver's sprint race victory
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
It’s easy to see why the Lewis Hamilton/Max Verstappen collision at Copse, which put the Red Bull driver out in a scary, high-speed accident, is being described as ‘inevitable’ – because, really, it was.
They have already clashed once in 2021 – at Imola. Then there was Verstappen’s divebomb in Spain, plus the ultra-on-the-line close racing between them between Abbey and the approach to Copse in both Silverstone races. But the reason why the grand prix clash ended as it did is precisely because of the championship situation Hamilton faces, as well as the fierce nature of both driver’s on-track attitude.
Hamilton came into the British GP 33 points down on Verstappen. This isn’t 2017-2021, when the Mercedes driver could afford to take a ‘big picture’ championship-points-tally-consideration view in 50-50 moves. He has more to lose now if something goes wrong, vital ground in a title battle where he has a slower package, so simply cannot afford to give an inch. And that’s Verstappen’s attitude overall – just look at his reaction to Hamilton getting alongside at Abbey and Brooklands on Sunday.
In the crash, Hamilton deserved a penalty for causing the incident, but it was still a fine call. Don’t expect this to be the last flashpoint of the 2021 title fight.
2. F1’s penalty system needs to be explained better
Lewis Hamilton had to sit stationary in his pitbox for 10s before his mechanics could service him
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
Red Bull’s calls for Lewis Hamilton to be given a race ban for his part in the opening-lap crash with Max Verstappen were always going to fall on deaf ears.
But you could fully understand its frustration that the 10-second penalty given to Lewis Hamilton for the clash ultimately cost the world champion nothing. Although it meant he had to fight a bit harder for the victory, he was still able to come home with the full 25 points.
While that may seem unfair for Verstappen, who saw his title advantage slashed massively, F1 is quite right not to dish out penalties based on the consequences of offences.
For doing it that way could open an even worse scenario where drivers get heavy sanctions for relatively minor rule breaches, but the book thrown at them when a tiny issue has big consequences.
What perhaps is most lacking in F1 is actually a definition of driving rules and etiquette – so fans are better able to judge incidents based on the same criteria the stewards use. That would be hugely helpful in preventing the kind of polarised opinions that have engulfed social media in the last 24 hours.
3. A spirited sprint success, but the overall verdict remains to be decided
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21, and the rest of the field at the start
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
Until the ill-fated clash of the titans at Copse, the weekend’s biggest talking point had been F1’s inaugural sprint race (let’s call it what it was, shall we?) which generated mixed reviews.
From “weird” according to Sebastian Vettel) to “I loved it” from Charles Leclerc, just about everybody had their opinion. Many welcomed the added excitement it brought to Fridays and the engineering challenge of getting the set-up nailed in FP1, while others questioned the relevance of FP2 when the cars were in parc ferme conditions which meant evaluating tyres was the only feasible action.
OPINION: The successes and warning signs from F1’s first sprint race
The 17-lap distance allowed for variation in tyre strategies which was seized upon by Fernando Alonso, whose star turn on the soft tyres undoubtedly enlivened the proceedings as the race for the top four proved pretty static after the opening lap.
F1 now faces a decision over whether to continue its experiment beyond the two further (as yet unconfirmed) sprint events planned for this season and, if so, whether to make further tweaks.
Series bosses are encouraged by initial feedback, and have an unspecified “job list” to work through, but can at least be pleased that the format shake-up achieved what it set out to in building anticipation throughout the weekend.
4. Two-day race weekends look realistic option to ease pressure on growing F1 calendar
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, waves to fans after securing pole
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
F1’s first sprint race trial at the British Grand Prix can be viewed as an overall success. The boost in audience figures on Friday, plus increased interest for the Saturday 17-lap dash that provided a few spills and thrills, were exactly what F1 chiefs wanted.
Sure there are some things that need improving – like the issue of Saturday’s final free-practice being pretty much of no interest to fans on TV – but this is just a case of tidying up rather than starting from a clean sheet of paper.
And, of course, the sooner the FIA goes back to awarding pole position in the history books to the fastest driver in Friday qualifying, rather than the winner of the sprint, the better things will be.
PLUS: Why F1’s pole records could be about to become meaningless
But the success of the compressed format has also reopened the debate on whether F1 actually needs to stick at three-day weekends. Hamilton suggested a two-day schedule in the future would be the right way to go.
It’s something that F1 has baulked at in the past, and circuits would certainly not be happy at losing an extra day’s ticket sales. But could it be something that proves preferable for some venues in exchange for holding one of F1’s Grand Slam sprint weekends?
5. F1 at its best with packed crowds as Silverstone roars again
Fans cheer from the grandstands
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
Questions over the merits of letting a capacity crowd – that totalled 365,000 at Silverstone over the entire British GP weekend – gather during an ongoing pandemic should directed to the UK government, with the track itself understandably just trying to stay afloat in these awful times. But the fans in attendance were treated to an exceptional sporting event.
Friday night qualifying produced two exceptional displays from British drivers in front their home fans, with the reaction to George Russell’s Q3 lap the highlight for this writer given how the Williams racer was cheered from corner-to-corner. Then the sprint race delivered nicely in terms of an interesting race, even if it wasn’t the all-out thriller some claimed. But it did set up a grand prix that fizzled spectacularly throughout – capped by the title rivals colliding and Leclerc nearly holding on for a famous against-the-odds victory.
But there’s an interesting footnote to Hamilton’s victory. Autosport was told there were plenty of new, younger fans seen at Silverstone – with an apparent increase in female spectators too.
Drive to Survive fans: In defence of a valuable F1 asset
It will be interesting to see if this can be backed up in official data, but even anecdotally it suggests the ‘Netflix effect’, as well as Hamilton’s laudable efforts to help diversify motorsport are having an impact. And what a race they were treated to, hopefully cementing lifelong motorsport fan status.
6. Leclerc demonstrates Ferrari’s resurgence
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Leclerc was unbelievably close to a surprise victory at the British GP, but there wasn't quite enough in the tank to repel Hamilton's late assault for the lead. But Leclerc had been stellar, and his opportunistic move to clear Hamilton moments after the Verstappen incident rewarded him with the upper hand for the restart.
PLUS: How Leclerc almost defied Hamilton after F1 title rivals’ Silverstone clash
His getaway from the pole spot and subsequent managing of the gap to Hamilton were incredibly well-judged and, despite facing engine cut-out issues while in the lead, Leclerc was able to weather the storm and find enough in reserve to keep Hamilton at bay. The seven-time champion's recovery post-penalty, however, was too much for Leclerc to resist and his slight wide moment at Copse was the only blot on the Monegasque's copybook.
Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz Jr's recovery in the sprint and continued progress in the race also showed the pace of the Ferrari in the pack, although his ascent was halted by a slow pitstop. That dropped him behind Daniel Ricciardo, whose McLaren proved to be a tough cookie to overtake.
Nonetheless, Ferrari has showed greatly improved form after a disastrous Paul Ricard race, and the upcoming Hungarian GP could be a race in which the Scuderia truly shines.
7. Perez suffers like those before him in Red Bull’s second seat
Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, and Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, on the grid, ahead of the 2022 Formula 1 car unveiling
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
Sergio Perez appeared to have the Red Bull support role nailed after picking up the pieces to win in Baku and then claim a deserved podium at the next race at Paul Ricard.
But after being in the wars in Austria against McLaren’s Lando Norris and Leclerc, Perez’s performance in the British GP had shades of the struggles Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon endured before the Mexican came to Red Bull’s rescue.
It must be said it is down to fine margins, but qualifying behind Leclerc on Friday night set the wheels in motion for Perez's downward spiral. Trapped in the midfield battle at the start of the feisty sprint race, he was caught out by dirty air and spun off, to be condemned to the back of the grid for the main event.
Despite Red Bull F1 car tweaks made in a bid to aid his retaliation in the grand prix, but also meaning a pitlane start, Perez was making progress until he got stuck in DRS trains and then got impatient and collided with Kimi Raikkonen.
A P10 finish was as good as it was going to get until Red Bull sacrificed that solitary point to pit Perez for softs to take the fastest lap point away from Hamilton – even though finishing outside of the top 10 meant he wouldn't earn the point himself.
PLUS: British Grand Prix Driver Ratings
Perez has slipped back to fifth place in the standings and is set to play ‘who can be the best support driver’ against Valtteri Bottas for the rest of the year.
8. Old dog Alonso makes the most of new tricks
Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, and Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
Alonso demonstrated he’s lost none of his racecraft with his stunning start to the sprint. The Alpine driver's charge from 11th to fifth was aided by his soft tyre gamble, but the TV onboard footage was reminiscent of the old Alonso - carving through the pack and finding gaps few others can.
As his softs faded and left him seventh for the start of the main event, the double world champion held his nerve against an early attack from Vettel, before his old rival spun off on his inside at Woodcote, and went on to take seventh to extend his points-scoring run to a fifth race.
The British GP marks Alonso’s last race before his turns 40 and after a steady start to his F1 comeback, slowed by his pre-season training accident and adapting to his Alpine surroundings, he feels fresher and ready – a warning that the old dog has learned new tricks.
PLUS: Why the F1 title-winning Alonso is back, both on and off-track
“After the accident at the beginning of the year, in the first couple of races, there was still a part of the stress of coming back to the sport. I was concerned about the jaw, about the shoulder as well that I had the small injury with,” Alonso said after the British GP. “But now, I'm super fit and I am 200%.
“Next week is another number. So we'll eat some cake. But apart from that, it's going to be a very normal weekend. I feel 25. So whatever number it says in the passport it's not what I feel.”
9. Williams progress clear but Russell is making the difference
George Russell, Williams, waves to fans from Parc Ferme after Qualifying
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Hamilton’s qualifying triumph on Friday stole the headlines, but one of the biggest cheers from the crowd was reserved for Russell’s lap of honour in his one and only Q3 run.
The Williams driver made the final segment of qualifying for the third race in a row with the eighth quickest time, raising questions over whether the FW43B should be considered a Q3 car henceforth.
The team’s head of vehicle performance Dave Robson reckoned it was “a little too early to say whether that's going to be something that's a regular occurrence”, admitting he expected Williams would find it harder than in Austria but the “very calm conditions” on Friday evening played to the car’s strengths. Despite the Hungaroring requiring a totally different set-up, Robson predicts “there's a good chance we'll be there or there abouts”.
But even if it’s not, Russell can be counted on to make the difference. While his weekend went downhill after qualifying - a first-lap tangle in the sprint with Sainz resulted in a “harsh” three-place grid penalty for the grand prix that he couldn’t recover from against cars that remain quicker in race-trim - Russell is in the form of his life right now.
“I think there's an element for him of getting on that upward spiral,” explained Robson.
The question now is, how high can it go?
10. What the 2022 F1 show car hints at
The 2022 Formula 1 car launch event on the Silverstone grid
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
Although F1's vision for 2022 has been long defined after the unveiling of the all-new regulations (initially planned for 2021) back in 2019, the championship's promoters unveiled a full-size model of its interpretation of next year's chargers.
Of course, it came with all the bells and whistles expected for next year: the low-slung nose directly attached to the front wing, the simplified bodywork and focus on ground-effect aerodynamics all featured on the car wrapped in a distinctive holographic livery.
That being said, there were a few small differences between the physical model and the render, particularly around the front end; the nose tip sat in the middle of the leading front wing element, rather than protruding beyond them, hinting at the variation the teams can employ. Although F1 elected to pick a representation of next year's rules largely based on aesthetics, it can only be expected that the teams will take a more pragmatic view of the rules and might not necessarily stick to the spirit of them.
There's a greater focus on prescribed designs and single-spec components to cut costs and develop the aero effect that F1 has studied and earmarked as the way forward for closer on-track racing, but those effects will surely be a little diluted when it comes to the actual range of cars next year.
Regardless, it's an exciting new direction for F1; although some have questioned the necessity of the new rules as 2021 continues to intrigue us all, the British GP still showed the difficulties of racing within the current level of dirty air. The new rules should reduce that problem, should everything go to plan.
By Alex Kalinauckas, Jonathan Noble, James Newbold, Jake Boxall-Legge and Haydn Cobb
Drivers group photo with the 2022 F1 car
Photo by: Liberty Media
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