After a weekend off, Formula 1 returns with two races at Silverstone that will pose a new test to the teams and drivers, and reveal answers to season-defining questions.
The British Grand Prix is not going to determine the 2020 campaign and associated storylines on its own, of course, but with three races complete and maybe a dozen or so remaining, it will send various narratives in a clear direction.
We should learn more about the key stories of F1 2020 over the next 11 days or so at Silverstone, whether it’s the fight at the front of the field, the prospects of those further back, or wider off-track unknowns.
Here, our F1 writers outline 10 questions they believe the British and 70th Anniversary Grands Prix will answer.
Has Red Bull understood its weakness?
Red Bull is running out of time to save its title prospects, and the 2020 F1 season.
Lewis Hamilton vs Valtteri Bottas could develop into the sort of nail-biting fight F1 enjoyed in 2016, but that would still feel like a poor trade-off given we were expecting – almost promised – Mercedes would be challenged by Red Bull and Ferrari this season.
Ferrari’s done, on the ropes if not knocked out on the canvas. But Red Bull and Max Verstappen could still come out swinging.
Verstappen was being tipped to potentially lead the title fight after the opening triple-header before Mercedes struck back on much more ‘Mercedes-friendly’ tracks – now Red Bull needs to look at those tracks as a vital testbed for solving its aerodynamic weakness.
The car’s too snappy, giving Verstappen and Alex Albon little confidence. At its peak, it isn’t far off the Mercedes. But finding that peak has been very tricky indeed.
But a full week off since Hungary will undoubtedly have been spent studying the data earnestly to find the problem, and a solution.
Silverstone will punish Red Bull badly if the weakness remains unknown, or reward it if progress has been rapidly made. Either way, the next two weeks could spell out exactly what kind of season we have in store. – Scott Mitchell
Is Bottas really a threat?
Bottas’s season started well with victory in Austria, but since then he’s lost ground to Mercedes team-mate Hamilton. If he’s really to be a title threat this year, he needs to stem the tide in the two Silverstone races and interrupt Hamilton’s momentum.
While Bottas is still only five points behind Hamilton, that gap can grow rapidly if he doesn’t pick up wins.
Last year, he had a shot of victory at Silverstone after a superb pole position lap but lost out to a combination of Lewis Hamilton switching to a one-stop strategy and an ill-timed safety car.
Having said that, he was already struggling to make the two-stopper work before the safety car intervened given he would have had to catch and pass his team-mate to win had the race played out normally.
Assuming Mercedes doesn’t have any mishaps at Silverstone, Bottas needs at the very least to hold the points gap to keep his title bid in the best possible shape. – Edd Straw
Will this be ‘pretty special’ for Mercedes?
The 2020 Mercedes is really good through the fast stuff, reckons Hamilton, and there’s been a clear step forward made in engine performance too. This after Mercedes made really good progress in the slow stuff last year.
So the Mercedes W11 gets to corners quicker, then goes round them quicker, than ever before. Which makes Silverstone a tantalising test of just how good this car is, and whether the opposition really have a chance.
Silverstone’s always been Mercedes territory in the V6 turbo-hybrid era (don’t let Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari win in 2018 fool you) and has let the Silver Arrows take flight in quite stunning style.
“Well, we are looking forward to it,” admitted Mercedes technical director James Allison after Hungary.
“But anyone that’s been doing this for a little while will remember times when they thought ‘I can’t wait to go, blah, blah, blah, we’re really gonna show them’, and then you get there and you don’t quite deliver everything you hoped and it’s a very depressing experience, having got your hopes sky-high.
“Most things about the car would make me feel that Silverstone will be a track that will be pretty special for it, but it feels very sort of fate tempting to say something like that.” – SM
Is Ferrari about to reach its lowest ebb?
Of all the tracks on this year’s calendar, Silverstone is going to be quite possibly the least suitable for the current traits of the Ferrari SF1000. This year’s car has good downforce but at the cost of a drag level that’s far too high for the 2020-spec version of its engine.
A few years ago the downforce might have clawed back through the circuit’s fast corners what such a car would lose down the straights. But that all changed with the 2017 generation of cars with the much more powerful aerodynamic footprint.
Since then, all the cars have been able to be flat out through corners such as Copse and Maggotts. Which simply means that they will enter them at whatever speed they are going as they reach the end of the preceding straight. If that straightline speed is lower, then the cornering speed will also be lower – despite the greater downforce.
Essentially, the bigger proportion of the lap spent at full throttle, the worse Ferrari will be.
As such, it would be a very big surprise of Ferrari was even as competitive as it was in Austria and Hungary. – Mark Hughes
Is Perez at risk from Stroll on track?
Lance Stroll outperformed Racing Point team-mate Sergio Perez at the Hungaroring. But while Perez was the quicker of the two in dry conditions in the Red Bull Ring weekends, he needs to reassert himself at Silverstone to avoid the risk of his place as the team’s stronger driver being eroded.
Over their 24 race weekends together at Racing Point, Perez has been comfortably the better performer but, combined with Stroll being quicker in the wet qualifying for the Styrian Grand Prix, has had a patchy start to the season.
History suggests he will reassert himself, and he needs to do so. With Sebastian Vettel still considering joining up for 2021 there might come a point where the team must decide between Perez and Stroll. It’s down to Perez to ensure Hungary was a one-off caused by his physical problems to ensure he remains the right choice to retain.
While Stroll outperforming his team-mate in two Silverstone weekends doesn’t mean he has definitively asserted himself, it will be a big step in the right direction to finally fulfilling the potential that he clearly has but has only rarely shown. – ES
Can McLaren keep third place?
After headline-grabbing performances in the opening two rounds of the season, McLaren returned to reality with a bump in Hungary after a race-wrecking opening few laps.
But it is still third in the constructors’ championship, has all the ingredients required to beat a limping Ferrari this season, and should be aiming to defeat Racing Point as well.
McLaren has admitted it hasn’t quite developed enough for 2020 to reach the level of Mercedes last season, which is its thinly-veiled way of saying that Racing Point copying the 2019 title-winning car means it has found a shortcut by eschewing its own car design.
However, McLaren’s one-lap pace has been very impressive and Racing Point hasn’t maximised its potential at any race so far this season.
So with upgrades on the car at Silverstone, a track that will test the teams’ high-speed performance for the first time this year, McLaren’s credentials face another big challenge over the next two races.
Technical director James Key has promised “a continued evolution of the MCL35 with some developments that will be tested over the coming race weekend”, with “further test items to add to the car to provide new insight into potential development opportunities for the future” at the second Silverstone race and then in Spain the week after.
This has been a hectic period for the teams, and a busy few weeks will tell McLaren if it has been worth it. – SM
Will engineer change stop Albon becoming a problem for Red Bull?
A change of race engineer can be hugely beneficial for a driver given the difficulty to formulate the right chemistry between the two. Albon is working with the experienced Simon Rennie for the first time this weekend and this can’t help but change the way he works.
While we shouldn’t necessarily be looking for a light-switch moment, with Albon suddenly fighting tooth and nail with team-mate Max Verstappen in qualifying, it could be very significant.
If he finds the injection of new ideas and the fresh dynamic works for him, there’s the possibility the upward curve will start over the next two weekends.
And it’s not just Albon who needs this to happen. Contrary to the conspiracy theories, Red Bull needs Albon to succeed and become the strong support act to Verstappen that it needs. So we can be sure the team will do everything to make this work.
Let’s hope it does, because Albon has a huge amount of ability and deserves to extend his stay with a top team beyond the end of this year. – ES
How is Renault’s new tech team working?
Like its customer team, Renault is preparing to evaluate upgrades at Silverstone – but unlike McLaren, Renault sorely needs them to work to inject some momentum into a season that’s already faltering.
A trio of eight-place finishes is a paltry return for the works team, which moved pre-season to play down expectations. That was a pragmatic move given the 2020 car was designed by a technical team that was shaken up at the end of 2019, with new leadership put in place.
So this year’s car was never going to be a true reflection of the tech structure that Renault (and Fernando Alonso!) is banking on producing the goods for the major technical rules change coming in 2022. But the development of the car should be.
And while Renault’s trying to maintain a more measured position now, it has still resorted to playing up a Silverstone update package.
Chassis technical director Pat Fry says: “We are bringing a number of updates to the car this weekend as well as running a different downforce level.
“It’s a reasonable update and it will be interesting to see how it performs here at Silverstone.
“I wouldn’t say it’s enough to shake up the order but it’s a good upgrade at this stage of the season.”
Renault was worried about the opening two races of the season because the Red Bull Ring has never been a good track for the team, so Hungary was the first test of how it really stacks up on car performance – and it failed the maximum-downforce exam, given it was very much a background character all weekend.
Now it’s time for a high-speed evaluation with a mix of corners thrown in for good measure. Time to see what progress this version of Renault is really capable of. – SM
Is F1 reinforcing its anti-racism stand or letting it slip?
It would be unfair to say Formula 1 has stopped caring about its anti-racism pledge before the start of the season but perfectly justified to point out that after a prominent, albeit disjointed, effort at the Austrian Grand Prix it has definitely lost its place in the spotlight.
Hamilton was not happy about that at all, and he was not alone. Sebastian Vettel joined his fellow world champion in calling for a better, more organised effort moving forwards – and it appears F1 is answering the call.
While exact details are unclear, this weekend’s British Grand Prix is expected to have a dedicated slot in the timetable pre-race for a driver-led anti-racism demonstration.
At the previous two races this has been rushed, messy and – quite frankly – undermined the cause. It was touted as something of the utmost importance, but quickly felt like it was being done as quietly as possible.
Hamilton’s criticism was not out of place, and now we will see how F1 intends to respond. Not just at the first Silverstone race, but the second as well, so we can see if F1 is committing to its position, or letting it slip. – SM
Will F1 regret its repetitive format?
Formula 1 got away with repeating its Red Bull Ring format in the Styrian Grand Prix thanks to rain scrambling the grid and a circuit configuration that tends to produce drama. But Silverstone is a different proposition.
While it has produced some fine races in recent years, it has also produced some more processional ones. Given it has perhaps less chance to spring a surprise than the Red Bull Ring, this raises greater fears of the second race at the circuit being close to a repeat of the first.
Whatever your stance on the idea of a reverse-grid qualifying race, it’s undeniable that it would have shaken things up and ensured the second Silverstone grand prix was different to the first.
But let’s hope that there’s enough drama in the cumbersomely-named 70th Anniversary Grand Prix for regrets over it not happening not to arise. – ES