10 things we learned from the 2022 British Grand Prix

A stunning British Grand Prix highlighted by thrilling action, strategy dilemmas and a scary start crash, there were plenty of talking points from this weekend. Here’s what we learned from this year’s Formula 1 race at Silverstone

10 things we learned from the 2022 British Grand Prix

The 2022 British Grand Prix may have started with horrifying scenes, but it ended with surely the best period of racing so far this season – and to the eyes of many, the best in years.

What’s interesting is that in the modern era a good Silverstone race isn’t guaranteed as the high-speed track layout used to practically guarantee the higher-downforce and therefore faster cars were very hard to catch and pass. That scenario may indeed have come to pass had Max Verstappen not been unfortunate when running over a piece of AlphaTauri bodywork once he’d got ahead of Carlos Sainz after throwing away pole with a poor final sector. That was a bigger factor than lifting for the yellow flag following Charles Leclerc’s brief spin…

Once again, Red Bull’s package looked the class of the field before fate intervened, but Ferrari made a fight of it and came away with victory, although not without making very heavy weather of things and denying Leclerc a near certain win he’d worked brilliantly to be eying. The Scuderia’s impenetrable safety car call for the then race leader set up the thrilling battles to the flag, which confirmed the rule changes for this year are working as Formula 1 intended, along with tyre developments from Pirelli.

But there were plenty more takeaways from the season’s 10th race, which we present here.

Ferrari got itself tied up over race strategy and team orders

Ferrari got itself tied up over race strategy and team orders

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

1. Ferrari still hasn’t improved in one key area (AK)

While Carlos Sainz scored a popular victory – he was applauded into the post-race press conference by the assembled journalists, where he spoke as eloquently and thoughtfully as ever – Ferrari’s triumph came with a cloud darker than the ones that had sprinkled Silverstone with rain 20 minutes before the first start.

This was down to the team orders saga in which the Scuderia found itself entangled once Verstappen had dropped out of contention. Leclerc, despite a damaged front wing, was lapping on average 0.3s quicker than Sainz at this phase of the race and wanted to be allowed through. Ferrari’s choice to wait before pitting Sainz helped Lewis Hamilton close in and then when the Mercedes was leading, the red team again opted to give Sainz a chance to up his pace with Leclerc back to running close behind on his hards.

PLUS: The five factors behind Sainz winning a British GP he’d twice lost

To his credit, Sainz let Leclerc through when ordered and displayed his typical nous to recommend establishing a DRS train to try and keep the closing Hamilton behind late on. Even though the late safety car made most of this moot, Leclerc being even further ahead by the time Esteban Ocon retired might’ve meant the next intra-team saga in which Ferrari became embroiled never happened...

Ferrari opted to pit Sainz over race leader Leclerc, handing the Spanish driver the advantage

Ferrari opted to pit Sainz over race leader Leclerc, handing the Spanish driver the advantage

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

2. Ferrari’s explanation of Leclerc’s safety car strategy is baffling (AK)

When race director Niels Wittich called for the safety car’s intervention with Ocon stopped on the National Pits straight approaching Copse, Leclerc was at Stowe. But engineer Xavier Marcos declared his safety car window “closed”. Sainz, however, was pitted from over four seconds behind – as was Hamilton and most of the others further back.

Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto – who was caught having a pointed chat with Leclerc immediately after the Monegasque driver had climbed from his car post-race, which Binotto said was a message “simply to stay calm, because the way he drove was fantastic” – gave the following explanation for why Leclerc was left out on his 14-lap hards.

“Our two cars,” he claimed, “Were too close to stop both of them. We were the only one outside there having the two cars fighting for the good positions. The other teams got only one car, so certainly it was a lot easier. In our case, we [had] the two cars and we thought there was not a sufficient gap to stop both of them, because the second would have lost time at the pitstop and would have fallen back on-track.

“Why we decided to stop [only] Carlos [was] because Charles had the track position – he was leading, so he would have remained the leader of the race. [And] because his tyres were fresher. He had six or seven laps less laps [compared] to Carlos in a better shape. And Carlos, by stopping and being second, he would have protected at least in the first couple of corners where we knew that starting on the hard, it would have been a bit more difficult.

“That was the reason why we decided [what we did]. Then we were hoping for more tyre degradation on the softs, to give Charles maybe a difficult three or four laps initially, but then recovering later on. But the soft didn’t degrade as we were hoping.

“If we would have stopped, maybe the other ones may have stayed out, and [Leclerc] would have maybe been fourth on soft tyres with other cars ahead of him. Would he have recovered the positions? I’m not sure.”

Binotto’s explanation can be summarised as: Ferrari wanted Sainz to drop back at the restart and protect Leclerc with his fresh softs, with the leader given space to warm his hards back to their optimum working range and then pull away again once the softs on the cars behind had lost their edge. But in addition to Sainz refusing to do as suggested, the softs did not degrade as expected.

Perhaps the bigger mystery is why Ferrari didn’t think the 4.2s gap between its cars on the lap the safety car came out, with Hamilton nearly two more seconds further back, was enough for a double-stack stop when it clearly was.

Perez was still able to go from the back of the pack to second on a bad day for Red Bull

Perez was still able to go from the back of the pack to second on a bad day for Red Bull

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

3. Red Bull is still the fastest team even on a bad day (MK)

Sticking with the supertimes from Silverstone, Mercedes still has some way to climb before it’s on an even keel with Red Bull. Its fastest lap from the weekend was some 0.509 clear of next-best Ferrari. Even if circumstances played against the brace of RB18s to end the six-race win streak, this was an off day but by no means a step backwards.

In Azerbaijan, Max Verstappen called on his team to give him greater one-lap speed. Pole followed in Canada and the car was quite capable of it again in Silverstone. That Verstappen did not top qualifying was not, as the defending champion claimed, solely the result of Charles Leclerc spinning to cause a yellow flag. Verstappen had lifted at the incident but could still have topped the timing screens had he not messed up his final sector.

On Sunday, at the red-flag restart, he had ditched his soft tyres for mediums to not quite out-drag Carlos Sainz into Abbey. But then the defending champion sat on the Ferrari’s six to pressure the Spaniard into a mistake at Becketts that appeared to hand Verstappen the win.

It was sheer bad luck that Verstappen’s afternoon was undone by running over debris from the AlphaTauri’s colliding to damage his bodywork and instinctively create a pitstop to remedy any possible puncture. The car was then far from at its optimum and Verstappen’s head dropped as he plied his trade in the lower reaches of the top 10.

Sergio Perez, who had been lacklustre in qualifying before his knock with Leclerc to force an added early pitstop, recovered well to dice with Fernando Alonso before storming to second after the safety car. Not only was the RB18 still the machine to beat, but as Ferrari stumbled, Red Bull only lost ground in the teams’ standings on its bad day by a palatable 13 points.

Mercedes closed the gap to Ferrari and Red Bull at Silverstone

Mercedes closed the gap to Ferrari and Red Bull at Silverstone

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

4. There’s greater reason for cautious Mercedes to be optimistic (MK)

Mercedes’ title ambitions were internally reignited in the Spanish Grand Prix. George Russell stoically defended against Max Verstappen on his way to third as Lewis Hamilton recovered from lap-one contact to fifth. Toto Wolff reckoned without the early tangle, Hamilton could have won. But as Autosport debunked, this was an overly positive spin.

PLUS: Why Mercedes' Spanish GP gains aren't as grand as they seemed

However, at Silverstone, Hamilton might have snatched a remarkable ninth home win. While he was boosted by Verstappen’s damage, Perez’s early pitstop and the latest Ferrari strategy misstep, the W13 was much improved. The smooth Silverstone asphalt accompanied a sizeable Silver Arrows upgrade to reduce bouncing and unlock more speed.

The supertimes reflected this as Mercedes was not only the third-fastest manufacturer, having ranked only sixth in Canada, but it was just 0.092 (as per the supertimes metric) adrift of Ferrari. Hamilton’s average 10 fastest laps were second only to Carlos Sainz. The performance marked a step forward. His opportunistic double overtake through Club had the fans at fever pitch - another showing of Hamilton finding an extra level at home - before he was run out of room by Sergio Perez.

The W13 is a sensitive beast so the new pace might not continue at every track, but there was at least greater evidence on show last weekend for Mercedes to take comfort from. Certainly when compared to its Barcelona false dawn. Although Wolff is much more circumspect this after the Spanish gains were only passing... He said: “We have had in Barcelona moments of where we saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Then the next three street circuits proved that we were wrong, so I don't want to talk us up nor be too optimistic at this stage.”

Leclerc and Hamilton, along with Perez, engaged in an incredible battle in the closing stages

Leclerc and Hamilton, along with Perez, engaged in an incredible battle in the closing stages

Photo by: James Sutton / Motorsport Images

5. Leclerc delivered the passing move of the season so far (AK)

Yes, this is a rather subjective entry. But before those inclined to froth with anger over perceived bias for or against certain drivers or nationalities, try and remember the fun in people with different opinions expressing how they see a world as interesting and ridiculous as motorsport.

But away from the internet’s toxicity, it was a joy to behold the close battling between the drivers in the final frenetic shootout to the Silverstone flag and their positive reactions to it. Beyond Fernando Alonso bringing his ire to bear once again on what he sees as stewarding inconsistencies on things he has been guilty of, the pack really seemed to have enjoyed what happened in those closing stages. There, the officials applied a light touch approach to what were pretty bolshy moves from several drivers – Leclerc included.

The pick was Leclerc’s effort to go all the way around Hamilton’s outside at Copse with aging, worn hards and a hobbled car. Yes, the Ferrari is better and faster than the Mercedes even with part its front wing missing, but the bravery of each driver and respect between them was brilliant. There may well be better passes to come this year and you might prefer another one from earlier in 2022, but surely that was at least a pass worth savouring.

“It was quite on the limit,” Leclerc, who drove magnificently all weekend at Silverstone bar his Q3 spin, said of his move. “As soon as I passed the corner, I looked in my mirror and I had a flashback of last year, but luckily nothing bad happened.”

PLUS: British Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022

Once again the halo came to the rescue in a huge F1 crash

Once again the halo came to the rescue in a huge F1 crash

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

6. The halo will never stop proving its worth, but other lessons must be learned from Zhou’s crash (AK)

Even before George Russell and Pierre Gasly clashed to the right of Zhou Guanyu at the first start last Sunday – a tiny, unfortunate touch that would have huge ramifications – the halo cockpit safety device had proved its worth.

This was in the earlier Formula 2 feature race, where Roy Nissany’s unsafe rejoining from a Stowe off took out Prema Racing’s Dennis Hauger, and the halo then protected Nissany from serious injury when Hauger’s wreckage speared onto the side of the DAMS-run car at Club having been sent airborne by the kerbs.

The halo also prevented Zhou’s helmet from scraping along the ground at high-speed in the Abbey incident. This means the FIA is going to have to discover why the Alfa Romeo’s blade-approach roll hoop – cleared for use after passing the pre-season crash tests – gave way as it did after Russell’s out of control Mercedes flipped the Chinese driver’s car.

In addition, how Zhou’s wreckage was able to come to rest between the tyre barrier and the grandstand catch fence behind Abbey is also being investigated.

Autosport Podcast: F1 British Grand Prix Review

The experiments that led to the original halo implementation push factored in wrecked cars stopping upside down, with marshals trained to right them safely and prevent fires breaking out before a driver can climb out. But Zhou’s car landing where it did and Romain Grosjean’s Bahrain 2020 crash proving unexpected, rapid fires remain a serious risk and shows why the worthy crusade to improve motorsport safety never stops.

There were plenty of upgrades on show, most notably at Williams

There were plenty of upgrades on show, most notably at Williams

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

7. Major updates prove the ground-effect learning curve is steep (MK)

Mercedes has its size-zero design, Ferrari its distinctive bathtub-like top surfaces and Red Bull has those angular sidepods. It has been well established that those concerns the new rulebook for 2022 would create a grid of identical-looking cars were misplaced.

Of course, the controversy from Spain when the updated Aston Martin turned up with more than a passing likeness to the Red Bull RB18 proved that the various design offices would, one way or another, converge around the optimum configuration. While the likes of Haas has played it conservative by avoiding a radical overhaul to truly understand and exploit its car’s baseline performance, the covers came off widely revised Williams, Mercedes, Alpine, Aston and Red Bull creations at Silverstone.

The most noteworthy, most visible design change at Williams was the FW44 moving from a sidepod inlet that originally had best resembled the Mercedes to one that now might be said to better mimic the RB18. Alpine appears to have taken some inspiration from Milton Keynes for its new inlets too but has also considered a concave sidepod design like that of Ferrari.

It's still a long way from ‘one size fits all' as the cars remain distinctive. But despite the limitations that stem from a cost cap that dictate sweeping car updates must be more considered, when the learning curve is at its steepest, it appears the cosmetic changes are at their most radical.

Seven people were arrested for invading the track at the start of the British GP

Seven people were arrested for invading the track at the start of the British GP

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

8. F1’s booming popularity makes it a prominent target… (MK)

There are downsides to the Netflix-powered boom that Formula 1 is currently enjoying. For one, there’s a much bigger audience for mistakes and controversies to play out in front of.

That was part of the thought process for Just Stop Oil, the environmental activist group that has claimed responsibility for the first-lap protest in the British Grand Prix for which seven people have been arrested. As per an interview given by one of its members on Good Morning Britain, the demonstration has gained the group international press coverage in the past 24 hours thanks to the platform F1 has built.

OPINION: No matter how noble the cause, the Silverstone protest was reckless and risked lives

Of course, the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have backed the planet-saving motivation behind those who broke onto and then sat down on the track. But had the race not been red flagged for the terrifying Zhou Guanyu crash to reduce speeds, the narrative around the protest might have been wholly more morbid. The threat to life has been much more widely condemned.

Northamptonshire police had “credible intelligence” prior to the weekend that a protest might take place and did seek to offer a peaceful alternative but breaking onto the circuit was going to create the bigger disruption and garner more attention. That, at least, was achieved.

Vettel celebrated his 35th birthday with demo laps in the Williams FW14B Renault he owns

Vettel celebrated his 35th birthday with demo laps in the Williams FW14B Renault he owns

Photo by: Dom Romney / Motorsport Images

9. …but there are ‘cooler’ ways to make an eco-statement (MK)

However, it was the not the only environment-supporting, scene-stealing moment from the weekend. As a 35th birthday present to himself, Sebastian Vettel drove his £2.7million purchase - Nigel Mansell’s 1992 world championship-winning Williams FW14B ‘Red 5’ immediately before the driver parade. If not noteworthy enough, the engine cover and his retro-style race overalls were decked in the ‘Race without a Trace’ branding in deference to the moving demonstration run being powered by carbon-neutral fuels.

While perhaps the most visceral and nostalgic example, Vettel’s glorious-sounding demo run was not the only way the F1 paddock sought to engage in positive change over. Alpine launched its Race(H)er gender diversity-inspired programme that aims to triple the number of females in its team and possibly culminate with a female driver. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton’s Ignite Partnership initiative announced its first grants that will work to improve diversity and inclusion with motorsport.

Although past F1 title winners and championship supremos had dominated the build-up to the British Grand Prix for their terribly conceived comments, which were widely rejected, F1 did show where it can operate as a force for good.

The phrase flexi-floors entered the F1 lexicon at Silverstone

The phrase flexi-floors entered the F1 lexicon at Silverstone

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

10. Flexi-floors clampdown adds a “shocker” factor to 2022’s porpoising problem (AK)

Where at the Canadian GP there was outrage over a thin metal bar introduced at Mercedes in a bid to aid its ongoing porpoising problem that generally just occurs in corners these days, at Silverstone a furore erupted over some teams having floors that apparently flex by as much as 6mm.

In a post-Montreal Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) meeting, the FIA revealed its suspicion that some teams had been working to get a higher maximum deflection of 2mm – required by F1’s rules – at a floor’s two middle plank holes and above the no more than 2mm allowed likewise at the rearmost hole on such a part.

These efforts are suspected of being done to ensure that floors are stiff enough to avoid them severely striking the ground at high speed, all while allowing lower rideheight to gain ground effect performance.

"Nobody had an idea until the FIA brought it up, which was to a great surprise of all the teams," said Mercedes’ team boss Toto Wolff. "What's in the regulation and what the intent of the regulations is, is pretty clear. I mean, there's is no argument why that could deflect more than what's in the regs. So, a bit of a surprise to say the least. More a shocker."

At Silverstone, the FIA sent the teams the draft technical directive intended to measure porpoising on each car and require the teams to make set-up adjustments if outside the tolerance level for bouncing that will now be introduced at the upcoming French GP.

The rules regarding floor stiffness are to be tightened at the same time, but, although insisting his team would not have to change anything on its car design to comply with the changes, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner railed against the FIA potentially mandating set-up requirements.

"The metric that they're talking about, it's quite complicated, that's the concern about it: over what period is the measurement taken, individual instances and all that kind of thing," Horner said.

"When you look at it from a purist point of view, it's not ideal, because it seems that we're giving more and more influence to the FIA to dictate what your set-up is. At what point do they say you have to run this rear wing, or a certain rideheight? It's a dangerous avenue to go down.”

As ever this year with the debate around porpoising, it’s not over yet and will continue on beyond the next two events.

Silverstone enjoyed another sold out British GP

Silverstone enjoyed another sold out British GP

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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