So far, Red Bull has achieved an impressive series of victories on various tracks with different characteristics. However, Silverstone is likely the ultimate track to evaluate their potential, as explained by their rivals before the British Grand Prix weekend.
After numerous street circuits and tracks with peculiar features, Formula 1 finally returns to an old-style circuit with many fast corners and important braking points, where not only high aerodynamic load matters but also a well-balanced car. Indeed, the key topic on Friday was balance, as coping with strong gusts of wind exceeding 20 km/h made it far from easy to maintain consistent behavior throughout the entire lap.
Max Verstappen made headlines, as often happens on the first day of practice. He reestablished the hierarchy by being 22 milliseconds faster than a strong-performing Ferrari on single-lap pace. The FP1 start on a dirty track and the high tire pressures caught everyone by surprise, but lap after lap, the track progressively improved, instilling more confidence. The changes between the two sessions were also crucial, although Charles Leclerc couldn’t try them due to an electrical issue that required extensive work by the mechanics in the garage.
Despite the potential arrival of rain on Saturday, the first day of practice at Silverstone highlighted that Ferrari seems to have the right cards to compete for a prestigious qualifying result while showing some additional challenges in race pace, lagging behind Mercedes. An interesting aspect is that Carlos Sainz was one of the first to focus on long-distance runs, having finished the setup work for Saturday early and being able to test two different tire compounds.
Mercedes, on the other hand, remains one of the uncertainties of the first day of practice. The W14 didn’t perform well on single-lap pace but showed rather convincing aspects in long-distance runs. The behavior in qualifying simulations is unique: the drivers explained that they didn’t feel a significant improvement when switching to the soft tires. However, it’s worth noting that Mercedes was the only team to use a single set, as they will have seven sets available for the rest of the weekend compared to their rivals’ six. This could imply that the Anglo-German team is indeed considering a stint on the soft tires for the race, as it was extensively tested during the race simulation. Additionally, both the W14 and the updated MCL60 showed low top speeds in qualifying attempts.
Who surprised is Williams, which immediately showed comfort on the British track: on a single lap, the FW45 seems to have something more than in race pace, but their exploit brings an important hope, to fight for the top ten on Sunday.
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Max Verstappen flies in the first sector, Ferrari surprises in the fast section
With cars of this generation, the first two corners are now taken flat out, especially in qualifying when the cars offer maximum grip and help hide those small understeer issues that, on the other hand, some teams encountered in their race simulations. The most interesting aspect that emerges in this section is how the Spaniard tries to let the car flow more, hence the higher minimum speeds, but covering more distance, unlike the Dutchman who takes narrower lines.
The same can be applied to the next section, the slowest part of the track, consisting of turns three and four. In this case, the different interpretations between the two drivers are even more evident, as they prioritize different phases of the section: Verstappen lets the car flow on entry but then closes the line through the corner to get back on the ideal line for the necessary change of direction to set up turn four. Carlos Sainz’s interpretation is almost the opposite, with a much more aggressive entry into turn three, which, however, pushes for a wider line through the corner, requiring more road to be covered.
A similar but opposite approach can be seen in turn four, where the Red Bull driver chooses the inner line that brushes the curb, while the Spaniard opts for a wider trajectory that allows for earlier acceleration. For the Ferrari driver, this interpretation remained consistent throughout the entire second session, and it is hypothesized that the drivers are trying to exploit different strengths of their respective cars. It is precisely in this section that Max Verstappen was able to build part of his advantage, approximately one and a half tenths.
Silverstone is an old-school track with many fast sections, but also with many corners that allow for different interpretations, and this could be appreciated even at the entry of turn six and the exit of turn seven. The most interesting aspect is that while the two-time world champion opts for a cleaner line, on the contrary, the Spaniard tries to push, especially on entry, a sign that he currently has some confidence in the car. Observing the telemetry data, this can be seen especially in how, despite a wider trajectory that could penalize the next corner, Carlos Sainz briefly reaches almost 100% throttle on the exit of turn six, staying on the accelerator longer than Max Verstappen.
Clearly, this leads to a different interpretation of turn seven, with the Ferrari driver forced to take a wider line. In this case, the Spaniard probably feels a certain confidence in being able to push on the front end.
The most surprising aspect probably comes from the fast sequence of the snake, where Ferrari manages to perform well, especially in the final section where pedal control comes into play. In turn 13, as often happens with his style, Max Verstappen completely lifts off the throttle, even touching the brake. If today’s qualifying is dry and with lower temperatures, it will be interesting to see how much margin the driver from Hasselt has left in the practice sessions.
On the other hand, Carlos Sainz seems closer to the limit but also in tune with the car. It is in turn 13 where the Ferrari driver manages to recover, reaching partial throttle without the need to touch the brake. While it is true that these corners are challenging but not as tight in terms of direction changes as other sections where the Ferrari had shown some signs of struggle in previous events, it is still an aspect that provides a glimmer of hope and increased confidence.
However, it is important to keep in mind that this is also an area where confidence with the car matters a lot, and the gusts of wind in that section have tested the balance of the cars. It will be intriguing to see if and how the values on the field may change in qualifying.
Even the final sector highlights a completely different approach, especially in turn 15, Stowe, which resembles some elements that were already present in Austria: while the Ferrari drivers are more decisive on the brakes to quickly get back on the throttle, Max Verstappen’s behavior on the left pedal is much smoother, aiming to carry more speed through the middle of the corner. Different behaviors can be observed, while concerning the last corner, the most noteworthy aspect is the improved traction on exit by the Ferrari, although it is not enough to overturn the outcome of the lap.