Après le déluge, moi
Après le déluge, moi
It was just like the French revolution in reverse. No really, stay with me.
‘Après moi, le déluge’ (‘After me, the deluge’) was said famously by King of France Louis XV, or perhaps by his most famous lover, Madame de Pompadour. Meaning probably that after his reign there would be revolutionary upheaval. On which he or she was proved right, in time.
In today’s British Grand Prix we started with something like a deluge, but after that it was all about one person. Which was the same one person as it had all been about in the British Grand Prix gathering prior to the deluge too. Appropriately, Lewis Hamilton’s home race and weekend had a lot of regal pomp about it. And his amassed subjects seemed pleased with it too.
Not even the worst of the British summer weather could halt him. And we got just the worst, and at the worst moment. After a couple of days of iffy weather and leaks of precipitation over the Northamptonshire former airfield, and just when the consensus had formed that the rain would in fact stay away for the race after all, around 20 minutes before the start there was a very British cloudburst. It meant that for the off the circuit was thoroughly saturated, to the point that puddles gathered and rivers ran.
The usual, slightly wearing, decision to start a wet race behind the safety car was made. The usual decision was made too for the said safety car to stay out rather longer than seemed necessary, even though by the time the start time arrived the sun was out and even then the track didn’t have a great deal wrong with it to observers or it seemed to drivers. Again, as usual, we wondered in an auxiliary matter what the point is in F1 spending money carting full wet tyres around the world, given their only suitable use it seems is for wet starts behind the safety car…
Sure enough some pitted for inters as soon as the safety car went in eventually, before lap 6, and all had changed to the green-sidewalled tyres within a couple of laps of that.
In this case, the best things came to those who waited though – which was the top three of the two Mercedes of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg followed by Max Verstappen, as well as Sergio Perez – as the virtual safety car was initiated on lap 7 after Pascal Wehrlein binned it at Abbey. As ever there was a big gain to be had from pitting in such a period. If it was part of the considerations of those who had held off – and I suppose virtual safety car periods aren’t all that unlikely in the wet – then it is indeed impressive.
Whatever was the case, at this swoop the top three made their escape and weren’t seen again, while Checo vaulted straight to P4. Ferrari’s decision announced this weekend to retain Kimi Raikkonen for 2017 didn’t go the Mexican’s way but on-track the sun continues to shine on him, even on a weekend wherein he hadn’t been all that much of a factor up until that point. Not for nothing he later called it ‘the perfect strategy’.
And with an echo of Monaco earlier in the year Lewis looked much more confident on the perfidious track than Nico did. Lewis checked out and established a 5.2 second lead after just four green flag laps, while Nico had the prodigious Max all over him like a bad suit.
Then Max put in a pass for P2 that most of us will likely take to our graves, at the Becketts complex. On the outside. Wow.
‘I just thought I’d go round the outside and see where I’d end up’ said Max later with some insouciance. Ah, the assurance of youth…
It also framed much of the rest of Nico’s day, as the Red Bull later provided a plug in the bottleneck between him and his haughty team mate. Max as we know fights harder than most, and many times, particularly into Stowe, Nico attacked but Max resisted. ‘The young Dutchman was a bit annoying out there today’ said Nico afterwards with a glint in his eye.
Nico did eventually make it through – on lap 38, again at Stowe, on the outside (by which time everyone had long switched to slicks). He also looked for a time like he might even make a race of it for first, as he chipped away at his team mate’s lead, sometimes taking big chips. Still the numbers suggested he’d run out of laps and Lewis’s occasional laptime response suggested he had pace in hand. The point then became moot when Nico picked up a gearbox problem with five laps left. Initially he was stuck in seventh gear, then he was told to avoid it. He lost five seconds almost immediately but just about retained his second place once he’d got back up to something like normal speed. It mattered not though as he got a post-race 10 second penalty some time later as his gearbox conversation – specifically the instruction to shift through seventh gear – fell foul of the infamous radio restrictions, which swapped the pair’s positions in any case. The matter now drags on however as Merc has lodged an appeal
Not that all of this will be too much of an additional concern to the victor. ‘I definitely think I’m in my prime right now’ Lewis reflected later. ‘This year has been a year of growth, lots of ups and downs, problems we’ve had. It’s been an opportunity for growth and for learning.
‘Honestly today I feel light, I feel energetic, I feel great. I felt stronger than ever this weekend in the car and I’m sure that a large proportion of that is because of the fans. You know, the energy, it’s electrifying. And in the car I felt that’.
As for the treacherous early laps? ‘Very very easy [to throw it off]…especially when you start the race you’re the first one, if there’s car in front you can kind of back off, you can kind of gauge it by the car in front…But I felt very very comfortable…’
There is of course a big picture too, that Nico’s championship lead over Lewis once 43 now is but one. After no wins at all in the first five, the Englishman now has won four of the next five.
‘The glass half-full version is that I have scored four more points than Lewis’ Nico insisted later, though as noted his lead got even thinner with the stroke of a steward’s pen. ‘But I don’t focus on that and I don’t think about that. Today I am just disappointed because I wanted to win the Grand Prix, and that didn’t work out – Lewis just did a better job all weekend and he deserves to win it’. Surely the direction of travel cannot have escaped him though.
Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen also had got ahead of Perez before the end too, something Checo attributed to flat spots. ‘I went off at turn 1’ he said, ‘and I flat-spotted my wheels a bit. It hurt me quite a bit in terms of degradation’.
Still, both Force Indias scored, as did both Toro Rossos, who made good on their chassis that is strong in high speed turns. Again Carlos Sainz did well, despite a couple of lairy moments, to finish eighth and finally Daniil Kvyat got at least some good news back at the B team with the final point. And the grandees of Williams and McLaren got nothing at all in another difficult day for either.
Much of the race further down was impacted by the lap-opening Abbey turn, which for a time threatened even Lewis’s status as star of the show. Nico Hulkenberg summed it up. ‘It’s massively high speed, you arrive at 280[kph], you usually chuck the car in there and you have grip but the problem is that the outside bit where you turn was still quite damp and wet for quite long and, you know, you had to be so cautious, and a little bit too aggressive and a little bit quick in and it would send you to heaven! I went off two times there!’
Perez we’ve mentioned, but he was far from the only one to fall foul of it. A spectacular spin for Fernando Alonso cost him a probable point or two (he also was critical of the team not being bolder in the timing of its tyre changes). Sebastian Vettel, who’d made slow progress from his low starting slot, was the first to switch to slicks but almost immediately gave the places he’d gained in so doing back by spinning when returning to the track after his own Abbey adventure. He later picked up a five second penalty for a curious forcing of Felipe Massa off the track when passing. Ninth was his eventual reward – ‘overall it was not our day, not quick enough simple as that’ was his synopsis. Others had offs too at the notorious turn but just about got away with it albeit with some time lost.
This included even Lewis at one point, but it was about the only time in the whole race that he missed a beat. Just like he has all weekend, Lewis was just about impossible for the rest to touch.
Author: Graham Keilloh
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