On the wide-open expanses of Silverstone in early July many drivers were caught out by the wind whistling across the famous old track and had their qualifying times cancelled as their cars were blown outside the track limits.
It’s a familiar phenomenon at the British Grand Prix – but in 2015 there was a different wind blowing, a wind of change. And it sounded as if the change might be very welcome indeed.
Formula 1 has been under increasingly heavy fire as the complexity of the technical regulations, the ludicrous system of penalties before, during and after races and the dominance of one team threatened to take the sport away from its fans.
Silverstone, with an aggregate attendance of a staggering 350,000-plus, showed that the sport still does command legions of those fans. And the people who run F1 seem to have had a sudden attack of common sense, promising a raft of changes in the remainder of this season as well as in seasons to come.
Ironically it was at another former airfield, Biggin Hill in Kent, that F1’s so-called Strategy Group got together to address the difficulties the sport currently finds itself in.
From the Belgian Grand Prix onward (that’s just two races away) new restrictions will be placed on driver aids and driver coaching. So we won’t hear any more “Switch to Plan B, Nico,” or cryptic messages crackling over the intercom. Drivers will have to take greater responsibility for managing their own cars and their own races, and that can only be A Good Thing.
Looking further ahead, wider tyres – especially at the rear – and weight reduction are also mooted, while teams may be allowed to choose which of the four compounds available they use at any given race. That’s a logistical burden for Pirelli, but if they don’t like it they need to bear in mind that Michelin, a company whose whole ethos is built on the competitive spirit, have announced that they are contenders for the F1 contract from 2017.
There will be a full review of the current token system for in-season development, while an increase in fuel allowance per race would be a welcome antidote to the current fuel-management fixation which runs absolutely contrary to every racing driver’s instincts and training.
For 2017 wider cars with a more aggressive stance, revised wings and floors and fatter tyres are a possibility, while – perhaps worryingly – the powers-that-be say they plan some ‘exciting and innovative’ changes to the qualifying and race formats. We’ll reserve judgment on that one…
Not that we are resistant to change, in fact the sport is crying out for it. After all, it’s not so long ago that places like Silverstone used hay bales to keep the cars within the track limits. We must all fervently hope that the current straws in the wind really do help F1 get back on track.
Meanwhile, Mercedes are on track to repeat their 2014 title double. They are a cool 160 points clear of Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship, while Hamilton and Rosberg are 59 and 42 points respectively clear of their nearest challenger, Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton remains one of Britain’s more enigmatic champions, a self-styled cool dude who sometimes gets overheated when things go against him but still has that critical speed when he really needs it. Only dumb incidents like his Monaco pit stop mix-up have blighted another outstanding season, one in which his worst result to date is third.
Can Rosberg catch him? Nico is as much of a mystery in his own way: Silverstone was typical, with the German unusually low-key, perhaps because of the sheer weight of local support for Hamilton, and coming alive only in the closing stages when his touch on inters on a dodgy surface was breathtaking to watch.
Best of the rest at this stage is four-time kingpin Sebastian Vettel, whose switch to Ferrari brought almost instant reward with a maiden win for the Scuderia in round two in Malaysia. The German is bringing his intelligence, his ability to pick up foreign languages and his innate skill to bear on his new surroundings with great effect: Silverstone was his sixth podium in a scarlet car.
Belgium will be Ferrari’s 900th Grand Prix, by the way – and perhaps Kimi Raïkkönen’s final chance to persuade the team that they should stick with him in 2016.
Rumours abound: Bottas from Williams to Maranello? The young Finn’s frustrations at Silverstone, when he was clearly the quicker Williams driver at the start, may tip him over the edge. But then there’s our own Daniel Ricciardo, his name also mentioned in the same breath as the Scuderia – but handicapped right now by a run of failures and relatively poor form in comparison with young Russian teammate Daniil Kvyat.
Once firmly in the Ferrari frame, Nico Hülkenberg was in danger of becoming F1’s forgotten man. But his epic Le Mans victory and a run of points-scoring results in F1 have perhaps catapulted the 27-year-old German back into the reckoning.
Behind the top three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams the midfield mix is much the same as before – except for the fact that Red Bull Renault now find themselves firmly in that second tier. Dietrich Mateschitz has been publicly and fiercely critical of engine supplier Renault – and rumours have emerged in the media of a possible alliance with Aston Martin which would serve as a conduit to Mercedes power, perhaps even as soon as next season.
For the second half of the season, Force India is clearly an outfit on the rise again: 28 points in the last four races are a clear indication of potential, though the 24-point gap to Red Bull may be just too hard to bridge. On the other hand, Vijay Mallya’s men have scored exactly twice as many points as Red Bull in their last three outings…
“To score eight points in our home race and strengthen our hold on fifth place in the championship is a fantastic achievement,” said the good Doctor after seeing his two cars finish tin the top 10.
“Historically we’ve never been especially strong on the high-speed layout of Silverstone, but today the updated VJM08 looked competitive in all weather conditions. This track provides a tough test of a Formula One car so I’m optimistic we can keep up the momentum as we enter the second half of the season.”
Toro Rosso’s early form has faded, with Max Verstappen clearly struggling in changing conditions at Silverstone and unable to find his way to a working set-up on the car. Sauber too have failed to live up to the promise of their 14-point haul in Melbourne, while Manor deserve a mention for getting two cars home to the team’s best-ever finish in 12th and 13th at Silverstone.
But the biggest disappointment of the year must surely be McLaren Honda.
Just when F1 is crying out for a new force to shake up the old order, the once-mighty Anglo-Japanese combination has failed dismally. The two cars have made it home together in just one race; there have been double DNF’s in Malaysia, Canada and Austria. And yet…
Silverstone summed it all up: avoiding a first-lap accident, Fernando Alonso turned sharp right and T-boned teammate Jenson Button into retirement. The Spaniard then profited from others’ mishaps to come home 10th and collect his first point for his new team. “The first of many,” vowed the feisty Spaniard: all fans of F1 must fervently hope he’s right and that the second half of the season is the springboard to a genuine McLaren Honda renaissance.