British GP | Hamilton tops final practice as rain arrives at Silverstone

Lewis Hamilton tops the final practice session at the 2017 British Grand Prix.

Silverstone sunshine went missing as Lewis Hamilton went fastest ahead of qualifying, edging Sebastian Vettel in overcast conditions at the British Grand Prix. With just 0.032 seconds separating the title-rivals, before rain fell to switch the programs. Catching out few drivers, and Max Verstappen’s engineer.

Final practice at the British Grand Prix engaged with the field flocking to the track on all of the three available compounds of Pirelli tyres thanks to an 80% chance of rainfall during the session.

The nature of the Silverstone surface has previously welcomed the use of the hard compound tyres. But with the harder spec of Pirelli’s wider 2017 tyres, the supersofts were brought. Yet the circuit still welcomes harder compounds, hence the heightened use of soft tyres during practice.

At first, Hamilton’s tyres of choice were the yellow-walled Pirelli softs. Taking straight to the top of the leaderboard on a 1:29.544 – around a second down on the Friday pace.

At the time, Daniil Kvyat also reported no rain had yet to fall. But marginally after Hamilton moved top, Raikkonen reported rain was beginning to fall as he split Hamilton and Vettel for second.

Early FP3 Raikkonen =

Early laps for Kimi Raikkonen during final practice at the British Grand Prix. Photo credit: Scuderia Ferrari.

Raikkonen’s time in second, though, was short lived as Bottas engaged a fight for the top with his team-mate. Initially moving top of the leaderboard as P1 changed hands with every fresh lap until Hamilton secured the position by 0.080 seconds.

Supersoft tyres then congregated on the track to reignite the fight. Once again seeing the Silver Arrows battle for the fastest lap, and again seeing Hamilton come out on top as the Briton posted a string of purple sector times to lap 0.764 seconds up on Bottas’ earlier soft tyre time.

On supersofts, Bottas was able to reduce that margin to one-tenth of a second. But his best effort of the day was not enough to regain second place after Vettel moved three-hundredths down on Hamilton after bettering Lewis’ first and second sectors.

Although carrying a 25-place grid penalty into qualifying, Fernando Alonso is once again running the Spec-3 Honda unit after switching back to Spec-2 in Austria. The upgraded unit makes qualifying irrelevant for the Spaniard, but the added power would have played a part in moving Fernando up the order to just five-hundredths down on Vandoorne in the middle of the order.

Vandoorne FP3 -

“Good improvements to the car overnight” notes Vandoorne in the opening stages of FP3. Photo credit: McLaren.

Vandoorne, contrastingly, was reporting bad shifts on the radio before boxing and adding “no power also”. Yet was later able to be sent back out for a late investigatory lap.

Vandoorne’s investigatory lap saw the Belgian run as the only car on track with intermediate tyres after the expected rain eventually fell over Silverstone to end all running.

Before hand, though, “start the lap,” came the order to Verstappen by his race engineer. But the Red Bull driver denied, replying “forget it – its raining” as he ran off at Turn 7. Verstappen’s engineer, however, appeared unaware of his driver’s excursion as he warned Max of the yellow flags.

“Yeah, they’re because of me” chuckled Max back.

After a period of silence, the field briefly returned to the track late on for a small window of running with the intermediate tyres. Seeing lap times drop far off the supersoft times. While seeing drivers still pushing the limits and seeing Ricciardo nearly clout the pitwall as he spun when applying the throttle out of the final corner.

Like Ricciardo, Ericsson was one of the drivers caught out in the closing stages of the session as the Swedish Sauber driver spun across the grass at Club – narrowly avoiding contact as his car snapped under braking.

Bottas FP1:2 Pace-setter -

Friday pace setter, Valtteri Bottas runs in front of the BRDC clubhouse at Silverstone. Photo credit: Mercedes AMG F1 Team.

Bottas had set the pace in both Friday sessions, going fastest in FP1 on a set of the soft compound tyres and lapping faster than the 2016 pole position time.

Valtteri then improved in the afternoon session to lower his benchmark from the overcast opening. Lapping the Silverstone International Circuit six-tenths of a second faster on the supersoft rubber.

But while Bottas regained P1 following his switch onto the softest Pirelli offering at the British Grand Prix, Valtteri’s time was just 0.047 seconds faster than his soft compound running team-mate, Hamilton – the winner at Silverstone on Formula One’s last three visits.

Furthermore, like Hamilton in Austria, after topping the pace during Friday’s two sessions, the Austrian Grand Prix winner was then handed a five-place grid penalty by the stewards after Mercedes changed the Finn’s gearbox. Daniel Ricciardo also received a five-place grid penalty after Red Bull, too, were forced to change his gearbox.

First free practice also saw Sebastian Vettel become the first driver to trial the latest cockpit protection device. Attacking Silverstone in the opening stages with the ‘Shield’ fitted onto his Ferrari.

Vettel FP1 Shield trial -

Sebastian Vettel waits in the garage ahead of his FP1 trial of the ‘Shield’ cockpit protection device. Photo credit: Scuderia Ferrari.

The ‘Shield’ is a screen that extends along the nose of the car, almost like a variation of the ‘Aeroscreen’ trialled and pushed for by Red Bull last year. It is also a much more visibly appealing option that the FIA-backed ‘Halo’ that was planned to be introduced in 2017 – or 2018 should an alternative solution not be found.

Vettel’s brief run out with the ‘Shield’, however, saw the German note vibrations. While adding that the curved nature of the screen led to forward visibility being “not very good,” and caused the four-time F1 champion to feel dizzy at the wheel of his Ferrari.

Speaking after practice, Vettel explained: “There was a lot of downwash down the straight, coming off the back of my helmet and pushing my head forward.
“We had a run planned with it, but I didn’t like it, so we took it off.”

While on the other hand, F1’s aero-heavy regulation changes for 2017 have proved to have worked at Silverstone. Upping the average lap pace to nearly 150mph, and upping the G-Forces put on the drivers through Maggots-Beckets-Chappel to a peak of 5.2G.

As well as the added G-Force at Maggots, FP2 saw Carlos Sainz suffer a heavy kick of oversteer as he turned into the famous corner. Spinning off into a heavy run through the gravel that left the Spaniard stuck in the Toro Rosso garage until the final 40 minutes.

Pos Driver TEam Laps Time Gap
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 18 1’28.063
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 14 1’28.095 0.032
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 20 1’28.137 0.074
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 15 1’28.732 0.669
5 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 14 1’29.480 1.417
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 15 1’29.612 1.549
7 Romain Grosjean Haas 14 1’29.819 1.756
8 Max Verstappen Red Bull 13 1’29.904 1.841
9 Felipe Massa Williams 19 1’29.959 1.896
10 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 19 1’30.088 2.025
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren 17 1’30.138 2.075
12 Esteban Ocon Force India 19 1’30.172 2.109
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas 15 1’30.270 2.207
14 Jolyon Palmer Renault 16 1’30.302 2.239
15 Sergio Perez Force India 16 1’30.416 2.353
16 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 20 1’30.504 2.441
17 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 19 1’30.515 2.452
18 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 24 1’30.621 2.558
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 24 1’30.630 2.567
20 Lance Stroll Williams 18 1’31.358 3.295

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