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Jolyon Palmer column: Lewis Hamilton makes winning in F1 look easy


Jolyon Palmer

Former F1 driver Jolyon Palmer, who left Renault during the 2017 season, is part of the BBC team and offers insight and analysis from the point of view of the competitors

The British Grand Prix was a momentous result for the World Championship.

Two weeks before in Austria, Valtteri Bottas chipped Lewis Hamilton’s lead down to 31 points. Had he beaten his Mercedes team-mate to victory at Silverstone it would have guaranteed the Finn brought the gap to within the 25 points drivers get for one race win.

When Bottas set pole on Saturday, he looked to have a very good chance to do exactly that.

Instead, Hamilton won yet again, at a canter, and not only extended his championship lead to 39 points – thanks to a last-gasp fastest lap as well – but understandably took huge delight in winning his home grand prix.

For Bottas, it was a major blow. He has had a good season, all in all, but Hamilton is just proving too good, and it’s hard to see a way back for Bottas from here.

It’s worth remembering that Bottas is a top driver, and earned his place at the front end of F1 by beating Felipe Massa consistently as team-mates at Williams.

He’s doing a very good job now as well – his Silverstone pole position was his fourth of the 10 races so far; not a bad stat at all.

But the bad stat for Bottas is his conversion rate. Of those four poles, he has gone on to win only one race, in Azerbaijan, and even that was a struggle, initially holding on well from Hamilton in the opening corners, and then surviving a lot of late pressure from the Brit as well.

  • Hamilton makes history at Silverstone
  • British GP: How Hamilton’s win unfolded
  • Read the full race report from Silverstone
  • Chequered Flag podcast: British Grand Prix review

In front or not, Hamilton finds a way

Hamilton lost out on pole position at Silverstone for the first time in five years

All drivers would say that no win in F1 is easy, but often Hamilton makes it look the case.

Silverstone was another example, as was France a couple of races ago.

When Hamilton’s in front he wins; when he’s behind he can often win as well.

This season he has won in Bahrain, Canada and now Silverstone from initial losing positions, just by getting his head down and pressuring the drivers ahead, either into a mistake or into using their tyres more. Admittedly in Bahrain he needed some unreliability for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc as well.

It’s telling that, although Bottas did a tremendous job to take pole, the feeling around the paddock was still that it was probably Hamilton who was favourite to win the race on Sunday.

While the safety car mixed up the order and clearly helped Hamilton on his way, as well as helping and hindering others throughout the field, in fact it was fairly guaranteed Hamilton was going to win anyway.

Firstly, his opening laps showed how much speed he had in the car. Crawling all over the back of his team-mate, momentarily taking the lead on lap four and piling the pressure on, his pace and desire to win was plain to see.

When Bottas pitted on lap 16, Hamilton was slightly over a second behind him, but had usually been within the one-second gap, and ready to pick up any pieces if Bottas made even the slightest error.

Credit to Bottas, his defence was magnificent, he put his car in all of the right places and with a lot of gusto as well, not allowing his rival an easy pass, for which he has sometimes been criticised in the past.

But all that defence took a toll on his tyres, while somehow Hamilton, despite being in the ‘dirty’ air behind, had kept his in better shape.

Hamilton extended his first stint, and even if he had then copied Bottas’ tyre choice of mediums, committing himself to a two-stop like his team-mate, he would have had fresher tyres to attack for the lead again. And considering his pace and intent early on, it would be surprising if he couldn’t make it stick for the rest of the race with this advantage.

But that’s irrelevant conjecture, because instead Hamilton went for a different strategy.

He had headed into the race thinking he would try for a one-stop, even though Mercedes thought it would be difficult, and by the time the safety car came out that was what he was going to do whatever. He chose the hard tyres at his stop and comfortably saw out the remaining laps.

All things considered, it’s hard to argue the better driver on the day didn’t win the race.

While Bottas deserved a ‘fairer’ chance to fight for the win, and he would have had it without the safety car, Hamilton was the stronger on Sunday.

His fastest lap on the final tour just emphasised his advantage. On 32-lap-old hard tyres, he managed a time quicker than Bottas did on five-lap-old softs, underlining the monumental pace advantage he had.

The fact he even went for the fastest lap showed his supremacy. No other driver would have bothered going for it on such old tyres, knowing their team-mate had just pitted for new soft tyres. It would be futile. But at Silverstone Hamilton proved otherwise.

Perhaps Bottas thought it was a given he would get it, considering his late pit stop and choice of tyres, so felt he didn’t need to extract 100% out of the car on that lap. But the fact that Hamilton beat him would probably have hurt his ego as much as losing the race itself.

Hamilton clearly knows he has the upper hand and this was an illustration of that.

Surely no stopping Hamilton now

No-one is safe when Verstappen is locked in battle – his tussle with Leclerc continued down the pit lane

This sort of result should energise Hamilton, driving him on further in the next two races in Germany and Hungary before the summer break. By the time he leaves Budapest, a track where he has an incredible record, he could have one hand on his sixth title, which seems more and more inevitable with every passing race.

Hamilton has now won seven of the 10 races this year, and is marching to title number six. He just seems so in control.

Since his former team-mate Nico Rosberg retired, I haven’t seen Hamilton flustered at all, and his calm approach is reflected in his driving.

He seems a much more mature driver, particularly in contrast to the new kids on the block around him such as Leclerc and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

They are undeniably fantastic talents, and provided cracking action once more at Silverstone, but you sometimes get the feeling they are one oversteer away from a race-ending crash.

With this maturity, there just doesn’t seem to be a chink in Hamilton’s armour. He’s probably the fastest driver out there, he isn’t making mistakes, his race-craft is incisive yet clean and his ability in the wet is unrivalled, although Verstappen might disagree there.

Title number six is on its way, and while I can understand some fans finding his dominance boring and bad for the sport, sometimes you have to just embrace the brilliance you’re witnessing.

I’d love to see him in a less-dominant car, and hopefully Ferrari and Red Bull can keep challenging as they have been more recently. But with Michael Schumacher’s seven titles within range, I don’t see Lewis going anywhere just yet.

So, while Hamilton’s record-breaking sixth Silverstone win might not have been the result the championship was crying out for, it’s hard to say it should have been any other way.

Hamilton romps on, the championship appears all but over, but if we keep getting races as good as we had In Austria and Silverstone, I won’t be complaining.

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