The British Grand Prix: Three Takeaways from F1 at Silverstone in 2023

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The Formula One circus rolled into Silverstone with several unanswered questions. Was McLaren’s pace in Austria track-specific? Had Mercedes fallen behind in the development race? And was Red Bull being pressured into considering a mid-season driver swap for both of their teams? The British Grand Prix provided plenty of answers as a record crowd at Silverstone was once again treated to some spectacular wheel-to-wheel battles. With two British drivers sharing the podium at the event for the first time since 1994, there was much to cheer about despite a familiar face standing on the top step.

Are Mclaren now Red Bull’s Closest Rival?

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Lando Norris starred last time out in Spielberg, battling his way back past Lewis Hamilton and most importantly, staying within track limits to achieve a season-best fourth place. However, the immediate reaction to this result was one of anticipation as many wondered whether McLaren could consistently fight with F1’s traditional big three teams. Qualifying day in Silverstone was the first step towards solidifying their strong showing, second on the grid for Lando with rookie teammate Oscar Piastri behind him in a stellar third.

But still, the doubters were there! Could McLaren translate their single-lap speed into a competitive race pace? The answer was revealed early in the grand prix as Norris launched beautifully off the line to beat Verstappen into turn one, sending the British crowd into raptures. Although he was quickly re-passed once DRS was enabled, the two McLaren’s were able to stick within sight of the dominant Red Bull, extending their lead on the Ferrari’s and Mercedes behind and protecting any undercut threat. A late race safety car provided a stern test for Norris as he was forced to defend from a charging Hamilton on soft tyres. However, this was where Mclaren’s performance was truly solidified as he was able to ease away through Silverstone’s long sweeping corners to protect his lead and maintain second spot. 

It remains to be seen whether the MCL60 can replicate this form in Budapest next time out, a high downforce circuit known as ‘Monaco without the barriers’. One thing is for sure, the Woking-based outfit has a solid platform, quality drivers and sky-high confidence from which to build. 

Do Red Bull have a Second Driver Decision to Make?

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Another race weekend and yet another failure to reach Q3 for Sergio Perez, that’s now five races without an appearance in the top 10 shootout. In a machine that is comfortably the class of the field, as proven frequently by Verstappen, Christian Horner and co. must be less than impressed. The Upside for Perez, Verstappen’s form is so strong that he is maintaining the lead of the Constructor’s Championship alone meaning the team’s success is not being impacted by below-par performances. Despite poor qualifying results, Perez is able to race well come Sunday and he proved that again in Silverstone with a drive to P6. But starting so far down on the grid is putting a lid on what can be achieved in a race, especially given the recent upturn in development for the chasing pack. 

Horner and Dr Marko have publicly backed Perez, outlining that he has signed a contract and there is also a lack of drivers in the Junior team and academy to make the step up to replace him. Not to mention that Perez contributes a large sum of sponsorship money through Telcel. Nevertheless, the F1 rumour mill continues to produce, especially since former star and reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo is set to compete in the Pirelli tyre test in the week following the British Grand Prix. One must imagine that Red Bull will be seriously monitoring his pace in this session to determine whether he is a viable option to re-claim the seat he walked away from for Renault. Ultimately, it is unlikely that a driver switch will occur mid-season this time around with both titles effectively under no threat. But if Perez cannot begin to consistently back up Verstappen in P2, Red Bull must consider other options as they anticipate stronger competition in 2024 amid the team’s development and wind tunnel restrictions.

Hamilton always finds a way at Silverstone

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If Friday was anything to go by, Mercedes would be struggling to reach Q1, never mind challenge for the podium. However, if history has taught us anything, Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone is an inevitable duo for eventual success. Granted, he was handed a large slice of good luck as a perfectly timed safety car meant he could leapfrog multiple cars including the outstanding Piastri to claim third at the restart. One might argue that Hamilton earned this luck through his excellent medium stint pace and a recent history of being on the receiving end of badly timed safety cars over the last two seasons. Regardless, Lewis has never put himself in a position to benefit from such good fortune and once he was there he never relented. 

As the safety car peeled in, Hamilton attacked on the soft tyres with Norris ahead struggling for temperature through the slow turns of sector one. Norris darted to the inside along the Wellington Straight and allowed the car to wash to the outside through Brooklands, forcing Hamilton to yield. Lewis had a hint of an opportunity to throw it up the inside into Copse but perhaps history played on his mind in this case as he thought better of it. These would be the only real opportunities to pass as Norris’s superior high-speed performance through Maggots and Becketts was enough to build an advantage to protect against the DRS. 

It was privileged to witness this all-British battle from the Silverstone grandstands, veteran vs upcoming contender. Lewis was full of praise for his younger counterpart post-race with Norris expressing his delight at being able to battle knowing he could fully trust the other driver to be “hard but fair”. Hamilton will be hoping to replicate his podium in Hungary where the circuit’s tight nature should suit Mercedes’s draggy car. 

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, not even the unpredictability of Silverstone could stop Verstappen from claiming a seventh consecutive win, Red Bull’s 11th in a row. Although he had to work slightly harder for it this weekend, the pace advantage is evident for all to see as he eased into a ten-second lead once navigating back past Norris before the safety car decimated it. One glimmer of hope – Mclaren have shown that huge gains can be made if the correct development decisions are taken. This should encourage the chasing pack not to fully turn attention to 2024 just yet, especially since the regulations are an evolution of this year. Full focus now turns to Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix, a happy Hunting ground for eight-time winner Lewis Hamilton and a high downforce challenge that should provide a good test for many team’s recent upgrade packages.

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