After their performance in last weekend’s European Grand Prix in Valencia, I have a feeling that next weekend, Sahara Force India might just spring a surprise at the British Grand Prix. Silverstone is very much the team’s home track: their factory is literally on the opposite side of the fence and a podium finish could be a realistic expectation.
Normally a mid-field team which brings both their drivers home in the championship points with fifth and seventh places — as in Valencia — would be celebrating. However, such are the team’s ambitions that there was disappointment at the result. They felt they could have done better.
After qualifying 10th on the Valencia street circuit, Force India opted to put Paul di Resta on a single pit stop tyre strategy. At first it seemed to work. di Resta cruised to preserve his tyres, and moved up the order as others opted to make two stops. Then, Michael Schumacher, who finished third, and Mark Webber, on his way to fourth, made late second stops and used the extra grip from their newer tyres to sweep past the struggling Force India.
di Resta was candid about his seventh place finish. Had the team on the pit wall been more reactive to the situation on track, he believes it would have been him, rather than Schumacher, on the podium. The team should, in di Resta’s words, have “bailed out” of their aggressive strategy and also made a late stop, rather than struggling to the bitter end.
Could’ve been worse
So saying, it could have been worse.
For McLaren, Valencia promised a genuine chance of victory, but after another bungled pit stop and a frustrating struggle to preserve his tyres, Lewis Hamilton was knocked out of the race on the penultimate lap, after clashing (again) with Williams driver Pastor Maldonado.
Although Maldonado was later penalised for the collision, it was little consolation for Hamilton who dropped from first to third in the drivers’ standings.
Frankly, though, if either driver had shown any intelligence, they both would have survived to score strong results.
Hamilton, on completely worn tyres, had no hope of defending his third place from the fast closing Maldonado. If he had let the Williams go by, he would have been able to stay ahead of Schumacher and Webber, still scoring 12 championship points for fourth. Instead Hamilton elected to try to slam the door in the Williams driver’s face.
The mercurial Maldonado, meanwhile, elected to keep pushing. A bit silly really, as he had a clear performance advantage and at least five more overtaking opportunities before the chequered flag.
One suspects that if their brains were petrol, neither driver would have enough to get out of the pit lane.
Concerns over Button
Meanwhile, a bigger problem for McLaren remains the shocking drop-off in Jenson Button’s form.
As in Monaco and Montreal, the winner of the opening Grand Prix of the season simply could not find a way of managing his tyres, to bring them evenly up to optimum working temperature.
McLaren insiders tell me that they are confident that a solution will be found by Silverstone.
I hope so, because, if not, Button faces the prospect of becoming “the McLaren Massa.”
The McLaren should in theory be the car to beat on the Northamptonshire track’s fast, sweeping curves. But at Silverstone last year — as in Sepang and Valencia this season — Fernando Alonso has proved capable of muscling the formbook aside.
Michael Schumacher’s clear delight at scoring his first podium result since coming back from retirement has also added yet more vigour to the Mercedes team.
Meanwhile, Renault are determined that the power unit issues that sidelined Vettel’s Red Bull and Grosjean’s Lotus, robbing both of potential victory in Spain, will be fixed.
In other words, it means that we can look forward to another fantastic race, in what has become a classic racing season.
(Steve Slater is an F1 race commentator on STAR Sports.)
Keywords: ritish Grand Prix