Formula One: Mercedes' British Grand Prix victory punctures Ferrari's hopes

Winner Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates with his trophy on the podium after the British Formula One Grand Prix at the Silverstone motor racing circuit in Silverstone, central England on July 16, 2017.
Winner Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates with his trophy on the podium after the British Formula One Grand Prix at the Silverstone motor racing circuit in Silverstone, central England on July 16, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON - As Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes celebrated an extraordinarily dominant performance which reaped his fifth British Grand Prix victory and drew him level with greats Jim Clark and Alain Prost and within a point of the world championship lead, Ferrari were left pondering just what went wrong.

The hard facts were that they were beaten even without the punctures that afflicted both second-placed Kimi Raikkonen and third-placed Sebastian Vettel right at the end of a race that had already been shortened a lap after Jolyon Palmer's Renault broke down on the original grid formation lap.

Raikkonen traded fastest laps for a while early in the race, but it was soon clear that he could offer no realistic challenge to Hamilton. And had Valtteri Bottas not received a five grid-place drop because of a gearbox change, there would have been two silver cars running up front.

Vettel, meanwhile, got outfoxed at the start by the upstart Max Verstappen, and then duffed up by the Dutch star when he tried to pass him at Stowe Corner on the 13th lap. Vettel tried to suggest afterwards that the young Dutchman is "still jumpy", but he's just feisty and doesn't give ground to anyone without a fight. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with what he did in battle against Vettel at Silverstone, but right now the German may not be the best arbiter of such things in any case.

Ferrari are far too coy to identify exactly which corners they struggled on round Silverstone's wide-open sweeps, but the sector times told their own tale. If you deleted Verstappen's fastest times because he set them on fresh rubber right at the end, the two Mercedes topped all three sectors. The best Ferrari was 0.224s slower than the best Mercedes in Sector 1, which ran from the start/finish line to just before Brooklands corner; 0.451s slower in Sector 2, from that reference point round to the exit of Chapel Curve; and only 0.016s slower from that reference pint back to the start/finish line.

So the Mercedes were better in the twisty stuff just after the start, and the very fast, flowing curves that take the cars through Copse (flat in eighth gear if you don't mind scrubbing off some speed, but better taken in seventh according to the pole-sitting Hamilton), but little quicker on the Hangar Straight, through Stowe Corner, and through Vale and Club. So it's the really fast swervy stuff in which they lacked something.

The British race was their worst performance of the year, and arguably the first race in which they have not genuinely been in contention for victory.

It was the punctures which really hurt Ferrari, however. From scoring 30 points, they scored only 21, and of course Vettel took only six instead of 12, which meant the difference between 183 and 177 points overall.

Both drivers said that they detected nothing untoward before their front left tyres lost their treads, Raikkonen's on the 49th of the 51 laps, Vettel's on the 50th.

Notably, Red Bull brought Verstappen in for a precautionary change, while Hamilton said he backed off to "60 per cent throttle" in the closing laps to avoid possible problems. All of them had encountered blistering at times during the race.

"Everything was going more or less normally," Raikkonen explained. "The gap was fine for us. Two laps from the end, I don't know what happened - before Turn 6, the tyre didn't explode but the rubber part came off suddenly. I don't think I hit anything, everything felt normal before, luckily I came back."

Pirelli's immediate post-race analysis suggests that the two Ferrari failures were caused by totally different factors. Raikkonen's tyre threw its tread, while Vettel's suffered complete failure because of a puncture.

"Hindsight is great, with hindsight it is easy, but at the time it felt okay," Vettel said of the decision to carry on. "Kimi I think had similar issues, and his tyres were at least five or six laps fresher. So it caught us both by surprise."

It hurt them both, too, especially the German. But after slicing the deficit between then down from 20 to just one point, Hamilton refused to gloat.

"This is a championship where the fight will go on and on and there will be times when each of us scores sixth or seventh places," he said. "Those results may yet be as critical as the wins and podium places. You just never know which might make all the difference."