The ‘Fight for Five’ begins at the British Grand Prix

2018 British Grand Prix analysis

Scorching temperatures were matched by red-hot track action at Silverstone, as the 2018 British Grand Prix delivered the race in which the 2018 title fight was truly ignited.

Sure, this was round 10 of the season and chief title protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel had already exchanged top spot in the drivers’ championship on three occasions in 2018.

However, the billed ‘Fight for Five’ – in which four-time champions Vettel and Hamilton would fight each other in a duel to secure a fifth crown – had somewhat been lost in other storylines. Valtteri Bottas has starred, only to be hampered by misfortune. Red Bull has won three races with it’s strongest package since 2013.

These distractions dissolved at Silverstone, replaced by what felt like the first gloves off duel between Vettel and Hamilton. It highlighted and potentially foreshadowed some of the themes that will define the outcome of the championship.

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Image Credit: Octane Photos

Following the safety car intervention for Marcus Ericsson’s high-speed spin at Abbey, the final 15 laps of the race were thrilling. Mercedes’ on old tyres but with track position against Ferraris with fresh soft rubber but behind Bottas and Hamilton respectively.

It was a titanic battle and one which demonstrated that the two teams are largely neck and neck in terms of performance. Considering Mercedes’ significant aerodynamic upgrade in Austria, that is a testament to the progress Ferrari has made. It bodes well for the remainder of the season.

Red Bull meanwhile does seem to have fallen behind. Max Verstappen described the power deficit experienced by the team at Silverstone as “tragic.” Corners such as Copse which are easily flat-out further accentuate the power deficiencies as it essentially extends the straights.

Red Bull will unquestionably be competitive in Hungary and Singapore, but aside from those venues, it is difficult to envisage the Milton Keynes squad winning another race in 2018 on pace. The team’s impending divorce from Renault will certainly not help as communication between the two parties will no doubt stall to the detriment of Red Bull’s performance.

This weekend has provided ample evidence to once and for all eliminate Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen from the championship frame.

Meanwhile, Vettel and Hamilton stole the show. This was the first time since the opening round of the season in Australia that the two had finished first and second in a race and throughout the weekend, they fully justified their positions at the head of the pack.

Take qualifying, for instance. In one of the most hotly contested poles of the season, Hamilton narrowly beat Vettel to pole.

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Image Credit: Octane Photos

The home favourite was the first to cross the line with his final time, pinching provisional pole from Vettel despite having suffered a scruffy exit from Club corner. That mistake opened the door for Vettel to snatch pole back. He was 0.124s down after the first two sectors, but a session-best time through the final sector reduced the gap to 0.044s at the line.

On their epic qualifying tussle, Hamilton said; “With the whole build-up, the whole intensity, the whole spirit and moment thing, knowing how close we were, it feels like one of the best laps I have been able to produce.

“It felt like the most pressurised that I’ve ever had. And then afterwards I was just… I can’t tell you how I was shaking, the adrenaline rush, it was way above the limit than I have experienced before.”

Sunday would unravel for Hamilton. A poor start dropped him to third by the time the field entered the tight right-hander at Village on the opening lap. Kimi Raikkonen locked his right-front wheel on entry to the corner and understeered into the side of Hamilton, pitching the Englishman into a spin.

From 17th place, Hamilton charged back through the field. He profited from the safety cars in the closing stages, but to eventually finish in second place was a huge achievement. It was only an imperious Vettel who denied him a fifth consecutive home victory.

Vettel may not have had an early race setback like Hamilton – the Ferrari driver led from the start until the safety car for Ericsson’s crash – but his race did have similarities to Hamilton’s.

When Vettel pitted under the safety car and Bottas stayed out, the Finn gained track position over the Ferrari. Vettel had fresh tyres at his disposal but now needed to pass Bottas to seal the victory.

Bottas’s defence was as stern as would be expected from a driver in search of his first 2018 win in a season marred by bitter misfortune. It took a courageous dive to the inside at Brooklands by Vettel to seal first place  – a move reinforcing the idea that he is one of F1’s strongest exponents of wheel to wheel combat.

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Image Credit: Octane Photos

All achieved in spite of an obvious issue with Vettel’s neck during the weekend. He ended his FP3 running early to seek physio and emerged for qualifying with heavy strapping on his neck. While the issue appeared to give him less discomfort on Sunday, it was still another hurdle that Vettel had to negotiate during his victorious weekend.

Both Vettel and Hamilton needed to show racecraft, courage and desire to reach first and second on Sunday. They were the class of the field and despite the various challenges faced during the race, they prevailed.

After the race, tensions befitting of a high stakes championship battle were evident as the two sides entered a war of words. Hamilton had hinted at “interesting tactics” used by Ferrari, implying that Raikkonen had deliberately hit him – a view seemingly supported by the team at first, with Mercedes technical boss James Allison reportedly quipping mid-race “do you think it is deliberate or incompetence?”

These opinions have effectively been retracted and watered down since. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who had reported Allison’s comment, said that it was a “stupid comment of mine in the emotion.” Hamilton, meanwhile, accepted Raikkonen’s apology for the collision and said in an Instagram post “sometimes we say dumb shit and we learn from it.”

Nevertheless, tensions are clearly rising as F1 nears the halfway point of the season. Vettel and Hamilton are separated by eight points and the championship battle is now unmistakably a two-way battle.

The ‘fight for five’ has been a forgotten theme in the first half of 2018. It seems that the intensity is building and that the narrative will now focus on the two four-time world champions vying to become the greatest of their generation in the remainder of the season.

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