Can Hamilton soak up more pressure on race day?
After his first run in Q3, Lewis Hamilton seemed to have one hand firmly clasped around pole position’s neck, but then came the news that his lap of 1m 29.339s had been deleted after he put his left-hand wheels too far over the black and white kerb at Copse. But far from adding to the pressure, the world champion said he drew strength from the incident.
"Honestly, it energises me, I don't know why," he revealed. "Those moments are when I am most excited. Being under pressure is something not to shy away from, but something to attack full on, and that’s generally what I try to do.
"Every single lap I go out and every single corner I see the crowd, they wave. There is nowhere in the world I can ever experience that and I wish people could feel what I feel. When I look and see the flags waving, it’s very reminiscent of when I was going up – I appreciate it more than anything, and that’s why I did the lap."
He held his nerve on his second effort, which stopped the clocks at 1m 29.287s, as Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg’s second run of 1m 29.715s proved slower than his first. Thus Hamilton duly won back the pole, by 0.319s. If he’s in similar form - and a similar mindset - on Sunday he could prove unbeatable. And that would mean a fourth Silverstone win - the most by any Briton.
How will Mercedes’ revised ‘rules of engagement’ play out?
Of course, everyone wants to know how the Mercedes drivers will run their races, after their latest clash in Austria last Sunday and the thinly veiled suggestion from team boss Toto Wolff that a further collision between them could result in one or the other - or both - being suspended for a race.
"Tomorrow we are going to race, race like we always do," Hamilton said. "Of course what we have been told this weekend we are aware of, so will be at the back of our minds, but that doesn't mean we will not continue to drive hard as we have. Tomorrow the start is the same."
Asked if he was clear on the rules of engagement, Rosberg replied succinctly: “Very clear.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean there won’t be more fireworks…
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Will Verstappen get one over on Ricciardo again?
Daniel Ricciardo suffered another blow to his psyche on Saturday when for the first time since they became team mates at Red Bull Racing, he was out-qualified by Max Verstappen.
For the Australian it could not have come at a less opportune moment, as he’s still trying to figure out where his pace went last weekend in Austria, where he finished a trailing fifth as Verstappen - the winner of the Spanish Grand Prix in May - took a fighting second.
“Yeah, it’s the first time this year - it sucks getting beaten in any case,” said Ricciardo, of having to play second fiddle to a team mate for the first time this year. “You’d love to go through a perfect season, but we just missed a little bit here and there today.
“I thought the car was pretty good in the high-speed stuff, I was confident there, just the low-speed, the last chicane, I couldn’t really get through there clean. That was my Achilles heel today. It’s tricky when the wind is changing all the time, but same for everyone. One mistake can be quite costly.
“I didn’t really get the 100 percent out of it today. Tomorrow is points day, I’ll try and maximise that and get on the podium. I’ve got my eyes set on that.”
He really needs to get ahead of Verstappen and to stay there, if he is to prove that the pecking order at Red Bull isn’t facing imminent change - especially with another podium finish at stake.
“It’s the first time Max has out-qualified Daniel, so he’ll take confidence from that I’m sure,” team boss Christian Horner said. “Max absolutely nailed it and did the job - his first lap was a stonker.”
Can Ferrari get close to Red Bull on race pace?
Ferrari have been going through a tough time lately, seemingly falling further behind Mercedes despite a series of successful technical updates to their SF16-H car.
Having another five-place grid penalty after an unscheduled gearbox change for Sebastian Vettel - which dropped him from a subdued sixth to 11th - won’t help, nor will their faster runner Kimi Raikkonen being unable to get on terms with the Red Bulls which separate them from their Silver Arrows targets.
Both Ferrari and Red Bull have shown decent race pace here, but the odds favour the former unless the Finn can make the sort of start he did in Austria.
“On this track it seems we are a bit behind, I think we have done good steps in the past, but probably not enough,” Vettel admitted after a scrappy qualifying. “Also compared to other people, I think there's a lot of catching up for us to do. We need to make the car quicker, to put more downforce in it, make it more efficient at the same time, and add a bit of power.
“Replacing the gearbox is something we have to accept, but it's not something that is in your head when you start a race. I look forward to a good one tomorrow, the pace is there, we don't belong where we start the race, and that's why I'm quite sure we can make good progress. I hope for a good start, a good first lap and then we'll see. Maybe we'll have some rain, anyway we need to keep our head down, keep calm and just go racing.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes they have a great chance here of cutting into the 24-point deficit to Ferrari, with many circuits which should favour his car coming up.
“To convert our pace into a second-row grid position with both cars was certainly more than we could have expected coming into the weekend,” he said. “Hopefully we can give them a hard time tomorrow, our long-run pace is better than our short runs.
“We’re 24 points behind Ferrari, so if we can nick a few points this weekend then there are circuits coming up that are good for us.”
Daniel Ricciardo is also gungho to make a point in the race.
“I think Ferrari will give us a run for our money in the race, but third is definitely up for grabs. You’re gonna see a race tomorrow, I won’t be hanging about.”
Who will win the tight midfield battle?
Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso and McLaren all showed similar single-lap pace in qualifying, if you discount the track limits violations that cost Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso their best times.
Williams' FW38 machines looked oversteery on Friday, and recently have been seriously prone to graining, while Carlos Sainz has continued to push Toro Rosso's STR11 very hard with some very strong race performances. Hulkenberg and team mate Sergio Perez, who starts 10th after Vettel’s grid drop penalty, have put in some giant-killing drives in the Force India VJM09. Finally, the McLaren MP4-31 chassis looks very smooth-handling, and the new Honda engine upgrade has helped here. Alonso was quick in practice, and Jenson Button had a great race in Austria last weekend.
If it stays dry the fight for the lower end points is likely to extremely hard-fought. If it’s wet, watch Perez in the Force India and home favourite Button in the second McLaren, which suffered a rear wing endplate delamination and subsequent loss of downforce in Q1.
Who will fall foul of track limits rules?
The FIA and their race stewards have been very focused on the observation of track limits for some time now. The subject raised its head at Turns 8 and 9 in Austria over the past two years, and here at Silverstone the stewards have determined to take a zero-tolerance attitude to anyone putting wheels over the black and white-painted kerbs at Copse, Stowe and Club.
Lewis Hamilton wasn’t the only miscreant to be penalised in qualifying - Max Verstappen, Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso also had laps disallowed in Q3, even though the Dutchman’s was actually slower than his best. And as they demonstrated in Saturday afternoon’s GP2 feature race, the stewards - Nigel Mansell, Tim Mayer, Nish Shetty and Dennis Carter - intend to take the same hard stand in the race. Five-second race-time penalties were applied in GP2 and warnings in GP3.
“Copse and Stowe are difficult ones, being that one of the great characteristics of this circuit is that it’s gusty and the wind is constantly shifting,” explained Hamilton, whose penalty was applied at Copse. “One lap you go into Copse and you’ve got a massive headwind, another time it’s a crosswind. And so each time you go in, you don’t know until you get mid-corner, so you try to approach it the same each time. Going in it was looking quite good, I noticed that when I got on the power it was going to be on the edge and then it bottomed on the actual kerb and jumped over the other side of the line. I knew it was the case. I was expecting it. I think the stewards did a great job, so that’s not an issue for me.”
Hulkenberg agreed. “I ran a little bit wide through Copse corner and couldn’t keep the car inside the track limits. Without that, I would have been a place higher up. But I think the stewards are correct to insist on these track limits and it’s something we discussed yesterday in the drivers’ meeting, so you have to accept the penalty.”