F1 2020, British Grand Prix, Silverstone, qualifying at 11pm (AEST) — Lewis Hamilton expects Mercedes to come good in qualifying for the British GP on Saturday after a “difficult” Friday practice.
Mercedes has been untouchable in the 2020 season having won all three races in Austria and Hungary, but on Friday the Silver Arrows trailed Max Verstappen for Red Bull and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll on the timesheets at Silverstone.
Nonetheless, Hamilton isn’t concerned about Mercedes’ pace ahead of qualifying given the Briton, or his teammate Valtteri Bottas, have claimed pole at every event this season.
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“We’ll work through it,” Hamilton said after practice. “We’ve got great engineers and that’s the great thing about this team – we just continue to dive deep into the details and hopefully we’ll make some good changes overnight.”
Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo was ninth-fastest on Friday as Renault aims for another top 10 qualifying result. Ricciardo has finished eighth in the past two races.
“It’s always a fun track to drive, so I enjoyed taking on some of the high-speed stuff this place offers,” Ricciardo said. “In terms of our running, we showed some promising signs but, on my side, we lacked a bit of consistency in the car. On some runs, I felt happier than others, so we have some work to do there.
“As always, it’s pretty close between a group of cars. The temperature is dropping tomorrow, so it should change quite a bit.”
All eyes, however, will be on Racing Point and whether it has what it takes to pull off an upset result at Silverstone.
The team has caused a stir in the paddock this year with its car dubbed the ‘Pink Mercedes’ because of its similarity to last year’s championship-winner.
On Friday, Stroll set the pace and topped the time sheets while Nico Hulkenberg — replacing Sergio Perez who has coronavirus — was seventh-fastest.
Ferrari looks set to struggle further this weekend as their woes were laid bare on Friday, with Sebastian Vettel’s time 1.6 seconds slower than Stroll.
On his first day back in Formula 1 and after a night of little sleep, Hulkenberg — Aussie Daniel Ricciardo’s ex-teammate at Renault — was just six tenths of a second slower than teammate Lance Stroll in both sessions, the second of which Stroll was fastest of all.
“The last 24 hours have been a bit special, crazy and wild,” Hulkenberg said after practice.
“At 4.30pm yesterday afternoon I got a call, took a plane here, seat-fitted until 2am, then at 8am this morning (I was) into the simulator for an hour, a bit of prep work. So it was a short night — but all worthwhile.
“I want to thank the team, the night shift guys who did an amazing job to fit me in the car quite comfortably, and the FIA for turning it round so fast on the superlicense. It’s been very special.”
Racing Point boss Otmar Szafnauer added: “I think he was flying to Germany to do some kind of sports car test or something, I don’t know what category of racing, but he landed there and he said, ‘Yeah yeah, I just landed here, I’m going to do a test’ and I said, ‘Well, maybe you should jump in a Formula 1 car’ and he said, ‘Yeah, absolutely’.
“I think he spent an hour on the ground in Cologne to grab his boots and a helmet and I think the helmet he grabbed isn’t to spec anyway and then he flew into Birmingham so he landed here, I think 7pm or 7.30pm last night.”
Hulkenberg has actually only missed three races since leaving F1 because of the delayed 2020 season — but his return was still a shock given the lateness of the call, and the fact Racing Point could have picked official reserve drivers.
He admitted he’d been thrown into the deep end because of the “unique and so special” physical challenge Silverstone represents, but still finished in the top-10 in P1 and P2.
“Even though I’m in pretty good shape, these kind of G-forces and especially around here, one of the fastest high-speed tracks, in 35 degrees … I got the best of everything,” Hulkenberg said.
“I think my body will feel it tomorrow and the day after. It’s obviously a huge challenge, but I’m not shy of that one.”
Hulkenberg drove for the team, who were formerly known as Force India, in 2011 and 2012 and from 2014-16 — but a lot has changed since the German was in their ranks.
One of those changes being they are now genuine challengers at the front of the grid.
“You see the huge potential, the car is massively fast,” Hulkenberg added. “I think I got to grips pretty quickly with things.
“I try to take it step by step today, get up to speed with the car, understand it, it is quite different to (the Renault) last year.
“Every car, it just takes time to inhale everything, understand it, know how you have to drive it and learn. It’s pretty quick around here nowadays.”
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HOW MANY RACES WILL HULKENBERG BE DRIVING FOR RACING POINT?
Perez is currently asymptomatic and is self-isolating for at least seven days in an apartment after his positive test for COVID-19. He would have to return a negative test before he returns to the paddock.
Given there is another race at Silverstone next weekend — the second of an F1 2020 triple header — it seems likely Hulkenberg will have more than one GP with the team.
Szafnauer told Sky F1: “I still don’t know today whether Sergio needs to quarantine for seven or 10 days. That’s the first question that needs to be answered.
“And if the government can answer that for us and it’s 10 days, for sure Nico will do two (races).
“The other thing is that Sergio has got to test negative for the virus, it’s got to be out of his system, before he can come into the paddock and that’s part of our COVID-19 code of conduct.
“That is hard to predict as that can happen in 10 days, seven days or it could take three weeks. That is an unknown right now but, as time goes on, we’ll know more.”
All close contacts with the driver have also been quarantined, with F1’s stringent track-and-trace protocols enacted. The FIA says the incident will have “no wider impact” on the running of the Silverstone weekend.
“Perez has entered self-quarantine in accordance with the instructions of the relevant public health authorities, and will continue to follow the procedure mandated by those authorities,” read an FIA statement.
“With assistance of the local organiser of the British Grand Prix, local health authorities and the FIA COVID-19 delegate, a full track and trace initiative has been undertaken and all close contacts have been quarantined.
“The procedures set out by the FIA and Formula 1 have provided for swift containment of an incident that will have no wider impact on this weekend’s event.”
Racing Point say Perez is in “physically well and in good spirits” and that he will continue to self-isolate as per the health guidelines.
“The entire team wishes Sergio well and looks forward to welcoming him back into the cockpit of the RP20 soon,” said the team.
“Our intention is to race two cars on Sunday. We will communicate the next steps for our British Grand Prix weekend in due course.”
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F1 is holding back-to-back races at Silverstone. Sunday’s British GP is followed by next week’s 70th Anniversary GP.
F1’s strict and extensive COVID-19 protocols have included contingencies amid the expectation that front-line personnel would test positive during the course of the year.
Racing Point do not have a reserve driver of their own for 2020 but, as engine customers to Mercedes, they do have access to the world champions’ reserve roster – former race drivers Esteban Gutierrez and Stoffel Vandoorne.
But neither has driven the team’s RP20 and last raced in F1 in 2016 and 2018 respectively.
Vandoorne is also currently preparing for next week’s return of Formula E in Berlin, where he will race for Mercedes’ own team.
Racing Point could also turn to other potential options. Their former driver Nico Hulkenberg, for instance, is currently unattached and raced in F1 as recently as last season with Renault.
This article was originally published by Sky Sports and reproduced with permission.