A weekend of nostalgia and celebration, looking back on 70 years of Formula One, kicked off with one of the sport’s most ancient traditions; a good old-fashioned row about the legality of one of the cars.
Racing Point were on Friday fined €400,000 (£361,000) and docked 15 constructors’ championship points, after rivals Renault won a protest against their car’s brake ducts.
The decision, which was announced on Friday morning, overshadowed practice ahead of this weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, a nod to the first F1 world championship race, which was held at Silverstone in May 1950.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, having claimed a record seventh British Grand Prix victory on three wheels last weekend, is hoping to extend his record at his home race on Sunday. And the 35-year-old, who is also chasing a seventh world drivers’ title, ended practice on Friday fastest overall, 0.176 seconds ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Most of the paddock talk, however, revolved around the legality or otherwise of Racing Point’s car. Renault officially protested after the Styrian, Hungarian and British grands prix, bringing to a head a long-running saga over the similarity of the RP20 to last year’s title-winning Mercedes.
The points penalty drops Racing Point one place and five points behind Renault in the constructors’ championship. But crucially, it appears, from the lengthy ruling, that they will be able to continue using the components in question.
The controversy is set to rumble on for a while. Racing Point had already made it clear they would appeal if they lost. They have until this morning to do so. Their rivals are similarly incensed. Ferrari and McLaren both last night signalled their intention to appeal and others may follow suit. McLaren chief executive Zak Brown described the verdict as “confusing”, saying “everything else” about the Racing Point car now needed to be questioned.
“My initial reaction is Racing Point has been found guilty,” Brown said. “I am concerned that they still have what was deemed illegal in Austria on the race car now. I think that is confusing for the fans. How is something that is not legal in Austria still on the car?
“Around this whole ‘copying’, obviously they claimed that they had copied the car via photography. It’s clear from reading the document that that is BS. And therefore you have to question everything else around that car. I think this is potentially the tip of the iceberg.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, meanwhile, said he and his team were “100 per cent comfortable” with their involvement.
Hamilton certainly looked comfortable on Friday. Formula One will look back this weekend on 70 years of Formula One at the Northamptonshire circui this weekendt; from that first race in 1950 which was won by Giuseppe Farina in an Alfa Romeo, to the late 1980s and early 1990s when Mansell-mania reigned.
But never before has a driver dominated this circuit like Hamilton.
The six-time champion was second behind Bottas in morning practice, but turned up the heat in the afternoon session, setting the fastest lap in temperatures of 36C. Daniel Ricciardo was an impressive third for Renault, from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll and Nico Hulkenberg, the latter once again filling in for Sergio Perez who returned another positive test for Covid-19 this week.
This weekend is likely to follow a similar pattern to last weekend, with Mercedes expected to dominate Saturday’s qualifying session and Sunday’s race. But all eyes will be on Pirelli’s tyres. Three drivers, including Hamilton, suffered late punctures last weekend and teams will be using even softer compounds this weekend. That means they are likely to wear down quicker, throwing an element of unpredictability into proceedings.