2014 British GP analysis: Delving into the detail and strategies from the race
Would Hamilton have still won if Rosberg had finished? How did Ricciardo turn the tables on Vettel again? And what's in a number?
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 09/07/14 12:22pm
Would Hamilton have beaten Rosberg anyway?
Formula 1’s annals will forever show that it was Lewis Hamilton who won the 2014 British GP. However, in the ‘What if?’ world of sporting hypotheticals there was much debate on Sunday night about which Mercedes driver would have triumphed had Nico Rosberg not been forced out of the race's lead with a gearbox failure.
Certainly, both title-chasing drivers were left convinced that it would have been them. “I honestly feel that I had the pace today,” declared Hamilton after the race. “I was catching Nico in the first stint. I was able to extend my first stint longer than ever before. I was feeling pretty comfortable.” Rosberg, however, was even more emphatic in his conviction that he would have stayed on top: "I’m very confident that I would have won the race.” Alas, we’ll never known for sure, but as Toto Wolff admitted himself on Sunday night, it would have been a close-run thing between the pair as their opposing tyre strategies from the first stops met in the closing stint.
The Rosberg/Hamilton Silverstone battle had been starting to bubble up nicely prior to the championship leader's retirement. Although separated by five places on the grid after Hamilton’s Q3 miscalculation, the Briton was characteristically incisive and aggressive in making up lost ground either side of the hour-long red flag and was second on the road to Rosberg by the end of lap four. The race leader had spent those initial laps creating himself a five-second advantage – thanks in large to a stonking restart lap – and even once Hamilton was clear of the McLarens, it was car number six that increased its advantage by a further seven-tenths of a second over the next five laps.
But it was lap ten – via an initial swing of three tenths – when the tide began to turn in Hamilton’s favour. Over the next eight laps, the gap consistently came down by between two and three tenths a lap to just 2.2 seconds mid-way round Rosberg’s in-lap. Impressively, Hamilton then managed to stretch his medium-tyre stint by six laps beyond his team-mate’s. This would cost him immediate net track time to Rosberg – as would another pitstop which was over a second slower than the sister car’s – but crucially meant his final stint on the quicker medium tyres would be short enough for him to go on the attack. Having now made the switch to the hards, it also opened up the possibility of not stopping again at all - and Wolff admitted post-race that Hamilton's eventual second stop was only precautionary.
By the time Hamilton returned to the track on lap 25 he was therefore 5.9 seconds adrift of the lead, on hard tyres to Rosberg’s mediums, yet that deficit was wiped out within four more laps as Rosberg, who said afterwards he was beginning to be hobbled by a malfunctioning gearbox from lap 20, pulled up on the grass and out of the contest. From there an easy Hamilton win was assured.
But would he have won even if Rosberg had continued? Certainly the two to three tenths a lap advantage he was increasingly holding in the first stint on the same tyres tallied with the advantage he appeared to hold over his title rival throughout practice. Yet, as we saw in Bahrain and Barcelona when Rosberg, appearing to have a slight pace edge in the race on those occasions, was trying to win from second on the ‘offset strategy, track position is invariably the determining factor in such tight bouts. On the other hand, had Hamilton tried a one-stop, then Rosberg would have needed to catch and pass him. Either way, the support of 120,000 fans behind him and a determination to make up for his qualifying disaster, you get the feeling that on this occasion it could well have been different. Fortunately for Lewis's title aspirations, it never came to that.
How did Ricciardo beat Vettel again?
The race-winning outcome may not have been the same for Daniel Ricciardo, but Silverstone bore more than a little resemblance to Canada in how the pendulum swing mid-race between Red Bull's two drivers. As in Montreal, Vettel had outqualified his Australian team-mate on Saturday and then held track position over him during the race’s first stint – by three places and six seconds - yet it ended up being the younger pretender, who claimed the result which could have been Vettel’s. “I expected to get third today, the pace was there but the strategy wasn’t right,” said a rueful World Champion afterwards after being one of only three drivers in the top ten to two-stop.
Back at the red-flag restart and Red Bull had used the return to the grid to make the mandatory switch from the medium to the hard tyre with both of their cars – a decision taken, according to Christian Horner, because “as soon as we dropped the positions to the McLarens, that dictated our pace which is why at the re-start, we thought, 'Okay, let's get the prime tyre out of the way because we knew we'd be quicker on the option'". However, Vettel’s first stop on lap ten then came too early to make a one-stop strategy work. “Twenty-twenty hindsight is always easy but we went for an aggressive undercut on the first stop,” Horner later reflected. “If we made any mistake at all it was at that first stop, because as soon as we committed to an early stop there, that dictates the rest of your race.”
Ricciardo, meanwhile, was left out for another five laps on his set of hard tyres and although he re-emerged from the pits now ten seconds behind Vettel, he started lapping fractionally faster than the World Champion in the 1:39s when switched back to the mediums. With the World Champion soon running back into the turbulent air of the one-stopping McLarens, Ricciardo had closed the gap down to eight seconds when Vettel stopped for the second time on lap 33. Several laps later and it was clear that Ricciardo was going all the way to the end - some 37 laps.
Then came the Fernando Alonso-shaped hammer blow for Vettel’s chances of catching his team-mate back up on fresh tyres. Returning to the track just ahead of his old Ferrari rival, but not yet up to racing speed, Vettel was tracked all the way through the first sector before Alonso pulled that astonishing move on him around the outside of Copse. At that stage Vettel was 14 seconds behind Ricciardo – by the time he eventually muscled his way past the Ferrari again 14 laps later the gap remained the same despite the German having been on rubber which was 18 laps newer.
It meant the post-race plaudits were again all for Red Bull’s burgeoning star, who finished just 0.8s ahead of Jenson Button. “I thought he drove a great race,” Horner said of Ricciardo. “He was quick when he needed to be quick, he conserved his tyres extremely well, he managed the gap to Jenson incredibly well and just made sure he’d got just enough left over the last couple of laps to keep him out of the DRS zones.” So in final shake-up it was Ricciardo, who has displayed impressive tyre management and pace all season, who yet again upstaged Red Bull's established star.
What’s in a number?
Sebastian Vettel may have got plenty of stick in recent years for apparently not winning races from anywhere other than the front row (for the record he has actually done so twice, from third), but before Sunday’s race the World Champion and fellow serial race winner Lewis Hamilton had a statistical quirk in common, in that neither of them had won from below the second-row.
Now, how much relevance you give to such statistics is questionable given drivers such as Vettel and Hamilton have invariably qualified cars with race-winning potential on the front-row in their careers (their F1 front-row strike rates are 51% and 46% respectively), and therefore such facts shouldn't really be turned into criticisms against them. However, it was a career anomaly for a famously swashbuckling driver like Hamilton and one he finally erased in his eighth season in F1. In passing conicidence, his childhood hero Ayrton Senna, the sport's ultimate qualifying master, only managed it once in his career.
By winning from sixth Hamilton also equalled the highest winning grid slot so far in 2014 - Daniel Ricciardo triumphed from the same slot last month in Canada. Furthermore, the three starting positions of the podium finishers – Hamilton (six), Bottas (14) and Ricciardo (eight) – was the highest combined total since the 2012 Abu Dhabi GP, the race when Vettel came from the pitlane to the podium.