Race Weekend Central

F1 Review: Max Verstappen Repels Challenge From McLaren, Drives Away For British GP Win

Max Verstappen fended off a strong challenge from McLaren but controlled all but the opening five laps to win the Aramco British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit. Verstappen had an uncharacteristically slow start at lights out, which allowed Lando Norris to take the lead. But Verstappen easily retook the lead on lap 5, and after that, it was business as usual, with Verstappen easily, although not as dominantly, topping the field. 

With a different team looking to challenge the Dutch master, Verstappen accepted said challenge and, as he is prone to do, ran away with it.

Norris finished second, and countryman Lewis Hamilton joined him on the podium, thanks partly to a timely pit stop under the safety car that allowed him to gain four places on drivers who had already pitted. Norris’ McLaren teammate Oscar Piastri, the main victim of Hamilton’s good fortune, took fourth to give McLaren its biggest points haul of the season.

George Russell crossed the line fifth, while Sergio Perez stormed from 15th on the grid to take sixth, ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in seventh. Alexander Albon continued his recent strong form by claiming eighth, and the Ferrari’s of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished a disappointing, yet seemingly true-to-form, ninth and 10th.   

“We are having a great time but today was not the most straightforward race,” Verstappen said. “I had a bad start with a lot of wheelspin, I had to pass Lando, and then he came back into my DRS again because my tires were a bit hot.

But once we settled in, I could eke out the gap, and at one point, it was nine seconds, so we were looking quite strong again, and then the Safety Car everyone was together to the end.”

“Insurmountable” is the keyword in both the drivers and constructors standings. 

Verstappen now leads Perez 255 to 156 in the drivers standings, while Hamilton trimmed nine points off Alonso’s lead for third, now 137 to 121. 

In the constructor standings, Red Bull has more points than second and third-place Mercedes and Aston Martin combined. Red Bull leads Mercedes 411 to 203, with Aston Martin checking in with 181. 

The Race

Norris blitzed Verstappen at lights out, beating Verstappen to the first corner, sending the British crowd into a frenzy. Verstappen barely held off Piastri, while Hamilton lost two spots at the start. 

Norris was a second clear of Verstappen by lap 2, temporarily safe from the Red Bull’s deadly DRS.  

Verstappen calmly stalked Norris while Norris tried to defend from the inevitable Verstappen pass. Meanwhile, Piastri was right on Verstappen’s tale, waiting to strike if the Verstappen-Norris battle went haywire.

Verstappen struck on lap 5 and slipped past Norris at Brooklands. Norris kept Verstappen in sight, and McLaren team radio indicated Piastri would hold his position as Norris chased Verstappen. 

The Mercedes of Russell and Hamilton were making headway, up to fifth and seventh, respectively, by lap 7. 

Verstappen cushioned his lead to over a second by lap 8 but couldn’t extend it to much more than that, a testament to the McLaren upgrades. It was early, but it looked like Verstappen, and Red Bull, had competition for the time being.

The threat of rain became an issue on lap 10, coinciding with the retirement of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon with a hydraulic issue. The rain held off, but several drivers noted high winds.

Verstappen’s lead was over two seconds by lap 13, while his Red Bull teammate Perez was up to 11th after starting 15th. Russell, on soft tires, was chasing Leclerc for fourth, foreshadowing several Mercedes-Ferrari battles on the day.

Leclerc was the first to pit, coming in for hard tires on lap 19, which suggested a two-stop strategy. Ferrari suggested “Plan B” to Sainz, which Sainz forgot, or at least said he did. Whatever strategy was eventually chosen for Sainz, it was a given that he wouldn’t be happy with it. 

Verstappen set the fastest laps on lap 21, then eclipsed that on lap 23, making a statement, albeit a little later than usual, that everyone else was racing for second.

Piastri, in third, was five seconds clear of Russell in fourth on lap 25, and at this point, it seemed anything less than a 2-3 finish for the McLarens would be a failure. The team urged their drivers to manage their medium tires, as the longer they could go would make their desired outcome easier. 

Sainz pitted for hard tires, presumably “Plan B” if to whoever remembered correctly, and came out 12th. Russell, who started on softs, came in for medium tires on lap 29, and a slow stop left him behind Leclerc, with the caveat that Leclerc was on hard tires. 

Piastri dove into the pits for hard tires on lap 30 and, with a quick 2.4 second stop, emerged in sixth, behind five drivers who had yet to pit. 

Russell, despite the slow stop, was on Leclerc’s tail in a hurry and got past the Ferrari on the outside of Luffield on lap 31.

The race’s complexion changed dramatically on lap 33, when Kevin Magnussen’s engine expired on the Wellington Straight, resulting in a virtual safety car and wholesale pit stops. The safety car was deployed a lap later, and Hamilton took advantage to pit for soft tires, coming out ahead of Piastri. Verstappen pitted for softs, while Norris chose the hard compound. Alonso took a set of softs and was in sixth, with Russell ahead of him on mediums.

The safety car was probably the last thing McLarens wanted to see, as their pre-safety car strategy looked foolproof. Now, Norris had to defend fellow Brit Hamilton driving on soft tires against his own hard tires, a situation with which Norris was clearly displeased.

The lengthy safety car period lasted until lap 38, and on the restart, Verstappen pulled away while the two Mercedes were on the tails of the two McLarens. Norris defended well, repelling two Hamilton dives for position. 

Hamilton had DRS on lap 41, but Norris, with sufficiently warmed hard tires, continued to successfully defend in a thrilling display of wheel-to-wheel racing and intense but fair defending on Norris’ part. There were tight battles for all the points-paying positions, with Perez after Sainz for seventh. Piastri kept Russell at bay for fourth, keeping the McLaren out of Russell’s DRS range. 

While Verstappen opened up his lead to over three seconds, Perez slipped by Sainz on lap 44 for seventh, looking for more and surely lamenting what could have been had he made Q3 on Saturday. 

Norris could breathe a little easier with a little more distance between he and Hamilton, the gap of which was 1.5 seconds on lap 46. Piastri was not making any inroads on Hamilton, and the McLaren double podium now seemed unlikely. 

Perez claimed sixth from Alonso on lap 46 and eyed Russell for fifth, but time was running out on Perez to gain any more positions. Russell and Norris were shown the black and white flags for track limits, and five-second penalties would be devastating for the pair. The top six positions looked mostly set at this point and Russell and Norris stayed within limits.

Verstappen crossed the line for the win and also claimed fastest lap for maximum points. It was Verstappen’s second British Grand Prix win, and his sixth consecutive win of the season.

The Good

McLaren took the fight to Verstappen right at the start. Norris, in his second race with new upgrades, and Piastri, in his first, impressed with their pace – as especially noted by Hamilton, who described them as “rocketships” – and even revealed, if even for a moment, that Verstappen can be vulnerable, for very fleeting moments.  

And while a McLaren victory was not a likelihood, their upgrades seemed to bring them closer to Red Bull than any of the other teams’ recent upgrades.  

Albon added an eighth to go along with a seventh in Canada and has all but assured he will have a seat, and possibly a better one than at Williams, in F1 next year. At Silverstone, Albon bested both Ferraris and was hot on the tail of Alonso for seventh at the end. For a driver who once looked like he would be on the outside looking in, after being jettisoned by Red Bull, Albon has become a commodity.

The Bad

Verstappen’s start. Yes, Verstappen got off the line terribly, which cost him the lead, but what was worse than Verstappen’s start was his reaction to it after the race. When asked about it, the Red Bull driver said he would “look into that” and find out “why that was.” I’ve done the legwork and investigative work to “look into that,” and I’ve concluded “why that was” was because he choked on the start. It’s not the car, Max: it’s you. Except when you make a great start: then it’s you and not the car.

Also on the “bad” list: trying to predict what on earth you’ll get from Perez on a race-to-race basis. From race to race, Perez can’t decide whether he’s racing onto the podium or out of a Red Bull seat. At Britain, he was brilliant in the race after not being so brilliant in qualifying. Someone get this man a sports psychologist.

Perez is probably kicking himself for such a disastrous qualifying effort as just a decent qualifying result would have probably resulted in a podium finish.

The Disappointing

If you look up “disappointing” in Webster’s Dictionary, you might very well find an image of this year’s version of the Ferrari team. And if you want to see more of those images, look up “underperforming,” “mistake-prone,” “slow,” “right on brand,” and “winless this year.”

Ferrari couldn’t even beat both Williams cars, as Albon finished ahead of both. This is a Williams team that has scored in only three races this year. Look for that Ferrari image once again in the dictionary under the definition of “new low.”   

The response to Magnussen’s disabled car after his engine quit on lap 33. How long does it take to remove a disabled Haas car from the track? I mean, it’s not like the race stewards don’t have experience doing that. The safety car was on the track for five laps, while Magnussen’s car was apparently detailed and scented before being removed.  

Some of the best racing of the day came after the safety car left the track, including the scintillating Norris-Hamilton battle. A quicker cleanup of Magnussen’s car could have possibly resulted in more of this type of racing. 

The Driver

Unanimously, Norris gets the call here for no other reason than the roar from the crowd he evoked after beating Verstappen at the start for the lead. I’m sure it was a goosebump-inducing moment for most of the fans in attendance, as well as Norris himself.

McLaren’s performance at Britain served notice to the entire paddock that they are not the team they’ve been for the previous ten races this year. McLaren’s recent upgrades were impactful; the question is, can their remaining upgrades be equally as impactful? 

The Results

Aramco British Grand Prix, Silverstone Circuit

11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT521:25:16.93826
24Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES52+3.798s18
344Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES52+6.783s15
481Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES52+7.776s12
563George RussellMERCEDES52+11.206s10
611Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT52+12.882s8
714Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES52+17.193s6
823Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES52+17.878s4
916Charles LeclercFERRARI52+18.689s2
1055Carlos SainzFERRARI52+19.448s1
112Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES52+23.632s0
1277Valtteri BottasALFA ROMEO FERRARI52+25.830s0
1327Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI52+26.663s0
1418Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES52+27.483s0
1524Zhou GuanyuALFA ROMEO FERRARI52+29.820s0
1622Yuki TsunodaALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT52+31.225s0
1721Nyck De VriesALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT52+33.128s0
1810Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT46DNF0
NC20Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI31DNF0

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