After their performance in last weekend’s European Grand Prix in Valencia, I have a feeling Sahara Force India might just spring a surprise at the British Grand Prix on July 8. Silverstone is very much the team’s home track, its factory is literally on the opposite side of the fence and a podium finish could be a realistic expectation.
Normally a mid-field team which brings both its drivers home in the championship points with fifth and seventh places, as in Valencia, would be celebrating. However, such are the team’s ambitions, there was disappointment at the result. They felt they could have done better.
Paul di Resta was candid about his seventh place finish on the Valencia street circuit. After qualifying 10th, his team opted to put him on a single pit stop tire strategy.
At first it seemed to work. Di Resta cruised to preserve his tires and moved up the order as others opted to make two stops. Then Michael Schumacher, who finished third, and Mark Webber, on his way to fourth, made late second stops and using the extra grip from their newer tires, swept past the struggling Force India.
Had the team on the pit wall been more reactive to the situation on track, di Resta believes it would have been he, rather than Schumacher, on the podium. The team should, in di Resta’s words, have bailed out of its aggressive strategy and also made a late stop, rather than struggling to the bitter end.
So saying, it could have been worse. For McLaren, the European Grand Prix promised a genuine chance of victory, but after another bungled pit stop and a frustrating struggle to preserve his tires, Lewis Hamilton was knocked out of the race on the penultimate lap, after clashing (again) with Williams driver Pastor Maldonado.
Although Maldonado was later penalized for the collision, it was little consolation for Hamilton who dropped from first to third in the world championship standings. Frankly though, if either driver had shown any intelligence, they both would have survived to score strong results.
Hamilton, on completely worn tires, had no hope of defending his third place from the fast closing Maldonado. If he had let the Williams go by, he would have been able to stay ahead of Schumacher and Webber, still scoring 12 championship points for fourth. Instead, Hamilton elected to try to slam the door in the Williams driver’s face.
The mercurial Maldonado meanwhile elected to keep pushing. A bit silly really, as he had a clear performance advantage and at least five more overtaking opportunities before the checkered flag. One suspects that if their brains were fuel, neither driver would have enough to get out of the pit lane.
Meanwhile, a bigger problem for McLaren remains the shocking drop-off in form of Jenson Button. As in Monaco and Montreal, the winner of the opening Grand Prix of the season simply could not find a way of managing his tires, to bring them evenly up to the optimum working temperature.
McLaren insiders tell me that they are confident that a solution will be found by Silverstone. I hope so, because if not Button faces becoming “the McLaren Massa”.
The McLaren car should in theory be the one to beat on the Northamptonshire track’s fast, sweeping curves, but last year at Silverstone, as in Sepang and Valencia this season, Fernando Alonso has proved capable of muscling the formbook aside.
Michael Schumacher’s clear delight at scoring his first podium result since his return has also added yet more vigor to the Mercedes team. Meanwhile, Renault is determined that the power unit issues that sidelined Vettel’s Red Bull and Grosjean’s Lotus, robbing both of potential victory in Spain, will be fixed.
In other words, it means that we can look forward to another fantastic race, in what has become a vintage racing season.
Steve Slater is an F1 race commentator on STAR Sports’ coverage of the Formula One.