Lewis Hamilton returns to Silverstone this weekend knowing he faces another “serious challenge” with even softer tyres and hotter conditions for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix than those he overcame on his way to a dramatic triumph in last Sunday’s British Grand Prix.
Just days after his victory on three working wheels, and one that was damaged and punctured, the championship leader and six-time world champion is braced for a similarly testing weekend with high temperatures forecast and tyre suppliers Pirelli switching to a less durable compound.
“One step softer is going to be a challenge for us all and, no doubt, will move us all to at least a two-stop (strategy),” explained Hamilton in the aftermath of his 87th career win.
“Obviously, our cars are a lot quicker this year, but we’re using the same tyres as last year.
“They (Pirelli) weren’t able to develop a better tyre to deal with the forces for this season so it’s going to be a really serious challenge.”
Hamilton’s heroics in bringing his damaged car home to win by five seconds ahead of the rapidly-closing Max Verstappen of Red Bull has given him folklore status within the sport as he moved 30 points clear of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the drivers championship.
“I think we cannot take anything away from Lewis, who I think is one of the greatest drivers in Formula One history,” proclaimed Charles Leclerc, who finished third behind him for Ferrari last weekend.
“Always very constant, always 100 per cent, mentally very strong,” he told Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“There is nothing else to say. Mercedes and him—that combination, of these two elements, makes it so difficult to compete with them right now.”
‘Counting sheep’ –
This weekend’s race will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the inaugural world championship race, held at Silverstone in 1950 – an event that saw Italian Giuseppe Farina victorious in the first of three triumphant Alfa Romeo cars.
Juan-Manuel Fangio, who was to be a five-time champion, led briefly but failed to finish in his Alfa Romeo after rupturing an oil pipe.
This allowed Luigi Fagioli to come second ahead of Briton Reg Parnell, who hit a hare during the race.
Such hazards may be less likely this weekend, but after last Sunday’s three tyre failures in the closing laps – Bottas and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz were also hit by delamination and punctures – more unexpected incidents cannot be discounted.
“The hotter conditions brought the field closer together last week and the softer tyres will mean more pit stops and more variability with strategy this time, so we can expect a good fight,” warned Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff.
After completing a hat-trick of successive wins in this coronavirus-hit season and extending his record of consecutive points finishes to 37, Hamilton will start as favourite again as he bids to draw level with Michael Schumacher’s record of 155 podium finishes.
If he wins, he will be within three victories of Schumacher’s record of 91 as he bids to progress to a seventh title and draw level with another Schumacher record total.
Like Leclerc, Verstappen has already suggested that Hamilton is uncatchable in the title race, giving only Bottas a chance of staying in contention, following Mercedes’ four wins out of four this year.
“So I will be counting sheep again,” he joked, when he looked ahead to his prospects of following the two Mercedes in this weekend’s race.
“You have to be realistic,” he said. “You can dream. You can hope. But I think it is more important to be realistic because that’s how you can move forward.”
Like the Dutchman, Nico Hulkenberg will hope for better fortune this weekend as he prepares for a likely second opportunity as stand-in for Covid-19 victim Sergio Perez with Racing Point.
Last Sunday, the German failed to start.