While celebrating seven decades of racing’s past, perhaps it was apt that a talent who guarantees Formula One a bright future lit up the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. Max Verstappen’s win at Silverstone was distinctive not only for his combative but measured driving and striking race management from his Red Bull team, but the way the 22-year-old just seized his chance. Here was a verve, an enthusiasm, a sheer delight in competition that was irresistible.
Verstappen’s victory, beating the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton into second and his teammate Valtteri Bottas into third, was just the fillip the season required, ending four consecutive wins for a Mercedes team who were beginning to look invulnerable.
The Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, was not overstating the case when he described it as “an amazing performance”. For Verstappen to have finally been in the fight meant everything, as the driver confirmed through a beaming grin. “It is a great result to win here,” he said. “I am incredibly happy. We have not had an opportunity to push them so far this season.”
There was perhaps an object lesson echoing through history at Silverstone on Sunday. The race, coming after last week’s British Grand Prix, was designated to mark 70 years since Silverstone hosted the first round of the world championship.
The race programme that year had advice for newcomers to the sport. “Grand prix drivers do not have to undergo strict physical training,” it read. “Moderation in eating, drinking and smoking is sufficient, for motor racing is a test of brain rather than brawn.”
The latter instruction proved prescient. This season Mercedes have muscled their way to the front and proved quickest on three different circuits, their car enjoying great pace allied to great downforce. Last weekend they were untouchable here until tyre failures caused late drama.
They had looked similarly strong this weekend but on race day, with softer tyre compounds in use this time, the very strength of the car appeared to plague it. It was so quick through the fast corners of Silverstone but the great downforce, high temperatures and softer rubber worked their tyres terrifically hard and the blistering it caused was costly.
There is no shortage of brain at Mercedes – they have shown that repeatedly with six consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships – but this time their much-flexed muscles proved a weakness.
Nor, crucially, did they have any luxury of a lead and cushion over Red Bull on which to fall back. Instead Red Bull and Verstappen had brought the fight to them, right from qualifying onwards. Red Bull’s bold decision to use the hard tyres there, which meant Verstappen started from fourth on the grid and pursued a different strategic direction, paid off. They must be applauded for their willingness to take a chance.
Having done so and moved up to third, behind Bottas and Hamilton, off the start with his rubber proving immediately effective, he hared after the leaders. It became immediately obvious the Red Bull driver meant business.
His intent was clear and it was glorious to behold. So quick was Verstappen that he was advised to ease back to preserve his tyres. The Dutchman, having got within DRS range of Hamilton, was having none of it. “This is the only chance to get close to Mercedes, I am not sitting behind like a grandma,” he replied boisterously.
Red Bull had called the race to perfection. They held Verstappen out a long time, until he had built a 20-second lead after both Mercedes drivers had pitted, and when he came in he emerged right behind Bottas. Once more his bravura commitment was a joy. He immediately attacked on fresher rubber and went – of all places – round the outside of Luffield to retake the lead. The driver had the bit between his teeth and was revelling in his first chance this season to compete with Mercedes.
A second stop was required as Red Bull committed to holding their lead. This time told to push by his team, Verstappen responded joyously: “So we are just going to fully send it” and he promptly did so, hurling his car around with abandon. Several laps later he and Bottas pitted at the same time and they were in a straight fight to the finish. It was one that the Mercedes, tyres blistering at an alarming rate, could simply not win. Indeed after Hamilton had tried in vain to hang on for a one-stop, he pitted and emerged having to chase down Charles Leclerc and then his teammate to clinch second two laps from the end.
For Mercedes a crucial debrief lies ahead. The team principal, Toto Wolff, admitted their high downforce and pace came at the cost of working the tyres mercilessly, especially the softer compounds in hot conditions – and next week Barcelona in August beckons.
The world champion was disappointed but F1 has reason to celebrate. Verstappen now has nine career wins but this is his first at Silverstone and his first this season. That it came very much against the odds on a circuit where Mercedes have been completely dominant will have made the success all the sweeter.
After five rounds of a season likely to run to 15 races, Hamilton leads the championship with 107 points, in front of Verstappen on 77 points, with Bottas on 73 in third.
Leclerc was fourth for Ferrari, with Alex Albon in fifth for Red Bull. Lance Stroll and Nico Hülkenberg were in sixth and seventh for Racing Point. Esteban Ocon was eighth for Renault, with Lando Norris in ninth for McLaren and Daniil Kvyat in 10th for AlphaTauri.