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Hamilton in British box seat at Silverstone

Hamilton in British box seat at Silverstone

BOX OF NEUTRALS: There’s such a fine line between summer and British summer.

Formula-One
By Michael Lamonato

Wednesday 10 July 2019, 09:46AM


Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are hoping for mild weather at the British Grand Prix this weekend. Photo: AFP

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are hoping for mild weather at the British Grand Prix this weekend. Photo: AFP

While most of the European continent has sweltered through a heatwave brought about by some errant Saharan winds, the UK has remained stubbornly unmoved – British thermostats have been more likely to suffer from water damage in a sudden downpour than have their mercury rise to anywhere near 30°C.

Unsurprisingly this weekend’s forecast offers much of the same: 22°C, cloudy and a chance of rain – bad news, perhaps, if you’re planning on attending the Wimbledon or Cricket World Cup finals, but a boon if you’re supporting Lewis Hamilton at his home British Grand Prix.

A spot of British summer is exactly what Mercedes needs after its travails in an unusually warm Austria two weeks ago.

Hamilton’s neutered fifth-place finish while teammate Valtteri Bottas only just clung to third from a hard-charging Sebastian Vettel was easily Mercedes’s worst result of the season. As the temperature climbed in the Styrian mountains, the German marque, so used to controlling the action on the track, was forced to watch idly as Max Verstappen beat Charles Leclerc in a duel for a memorable victory.

But those hoping the outcome represents a permanent change in the competitive picture after all eight opening races fell to Mercedes would do well to check their expectations, because not only were Hamilton and Bottas’s struggles explicable, but they were predictable too.

The Mercedes W10 literally couldn’t handle the heat at the Red Bull Ring. The team opened as much of the chassis as possible to maximise cooling, but still its drivers were forced into extreme management during the race, lifting off the throttle and coasting as much as 400 metres before the apex of a corner just to keep engine temperature under control.

With the circuit sitting almost 700 metres above sea level, where the thinness of the air already makes cooling difficult, neither Hamilton nor Bottas was able to fight Red Bull Racing and Ferrari, so occupied were they in just nursing their cars to the chequered flag.

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“We knew that it was our Achilles heel and we were carrying the problems since the beginning of the season,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff explained. “We tried to work on mitigating the performance loss, but… we couldn’t do anything anymore, and it was already very damaging for performance what we did.

“I’m really hoping for the typical English weather in Silverstone so we can gain a little bit of time to sort our problems out!”

And certainly the British Grand Prix should swing the momentum back towards Mercedes, with its cooler climes and sweeping circuit layout all working in the team’s favour – the recipe has worked five times in the last six races, four of which were to the advantage of crowd favourite Hamilton.

But Mercedes’s way may not be so straightforward as simply hoping for favourable weather. Though the Silverstone Circuit has long been a stern test of aerodynamic balance, the sheer level of downforce produced by all the frontrunning machines in the last three seasons has turned many of the track’s iconic fast corners into effective straights, moving the balance of performance back towards Ferrari and its powerful engine.

Indeed last season, when Ferrari first nosed ahead in the power stakes, Sebastian Vettel missed out on pole by less than half a tenth of a second from Hamilton and beat the Briton to the chequered flag.

It should turn the weekend into a fascinating arm wrestle between the two iconic teams as they attempt to maximise the strengths of their machinery.

So long as the so-called British summer holds, of course.

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