SILVERSTONE, England -- What. A. Race.
The British Grand Prix had more or less everything you could want from an F1 race, even though a midrace safety car neutralised a lot of the drama. The fight for the lead was ruined by it, but would the outcome have been any different had Antonio Giovinazzi not beached his car in the gravel on lap 20?
A great race that could have been even better: The home fans got the result they wanted at Silverstone, but missed out on what promised to be one of the best battles of the season between championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. After the pair went wheel-to-wheel in the opening four laps, Bottas came out on top, but the timing of the safety car ultimately gave Hamilton a free pit stop and cost Bottas his shot at victory.
Had it been a straight fight, it's arguable that Hamilton still would have won. He appeared to be the faster of the two Mercedes at the start of the race and was eking out a strategic advantage by staying out longer than his teammate -- an advantage that ultimately paid out with the jackpot of a safety car. But had the race panned out as expected, he would have needed to make a move on track rather than emerging from his single stop with a lead gifted by Bottas' reduced pace under safety car conditions.
Regardless of the ifs, buts and maybes, Bottas will feel hard done by. The decision to fit mediums at his first pit stop left him tied to a two-stop strategy regardless of how things panned out, but that is understandable given the relatively low likelihood of a safety car. However, it was not clear why he wasn't brought in again for a set of hard tyres under the safety car that at least would have allowed him a straight fight to the flag with his teammate when racing resumed. The team said it wasn't sure if the hard tyres would last the distance, but ultimately Bottas had to make a second stop regardless.
Fortunately, the action further back made up for the loss of excitement at the front.
Leclerc vs. Verstappen is F1's 'Empire Strikes Back': It's not often a sequel is as good as the original, but this one was, and we only had to wait 14 days to see it. Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen's battle on Sunday will live long in the memory.
After their contentious clash for the lead at the Austrian Grand Prix two weeks ago, it was easy to imagine the re-run was going to end with another collision. Neither man was willing to give the other an inch, but they kept it clean throughout. After some thrilling wheel-to-wheel duels over a series of laps, Verstappen was forced wide as they went two-wide down the Hangar Straight in one heartstopping moment.
The most notable move came shortly after the safety car restart. Verstappen seemed to have gotten the jump on Leclerc, but the Ferrari driver forced his way past Verstappen on the inside of the final corner, pushing him wide across the run-off in what looked like a carbon copy of their clash at the Red Bull Ring -- albeit with their roles reversed.
Leclerc couldn't win the drag race out of the corner, however, and the fight soon fizzled out. He would have the last laugh, rising to third late on as Verstappen hit trouble in the form of the other Ferrari (see below) and finished fifth.
Leclerc clearly had a lot of fun, saying postrace: "That was definitely the most fun I've ever had in my Formula One career.
"It's a short career, only a year and a half, but it was definitely very, very fun from inside the car. I think Austria was quite an eye-opener for me, and I understand how far we can go and what was expected. I'm very happy at the end to race like this, I think every driver wants to race hard, and we did during most of the race. It was very, very fun, always borderline but I think within the rules, and very enjoyable."
Verstappen wasn't surprised his old karting rival was fighting with the bit between his teeth.
"They were good," he said of the fights afterward. "I think he was a little bit sore still from Austria so he was defending really hard, but that's fine. I'm all for that.
"I didn't want to take much risks in those battles to damage the car, because I knew we were quite a bit faster so I just needed to pick my moment but then luckily the team did it for me with a good strategy and then it was looking all good for a good result."
If the last two races are anything to go by, F1 is in incredibly safe hands as long as these two are able to fight like that on a regular basis.
A kick in the teeth for Bottas: The only silver lining in Bottas' strategy was the ability to bolt on soft tyres at the end and go for the fastest lap, but even that didn't work out. On his first flying lap out of the pits, Bottas set a 1:27.406 on his fresh, soft tyres -- the fastest time up to that point -- but on the final lap Hamilton trumped it with a 1:27.369 on 32-lap-old, hard tyres. It was a remarkable lap from Hamilton and underlined the extent of his advantage over his teammate. For Bottas, it will leave him wondering what he has to do to turn the tide in this year's title battle.
Where does Vettel go from here? While one Ferrari driver won driver of the day, the other ended his day at the back of the order after a rather embarrassing collision. Vettel took full responsibility for clumsily running into the back of Verstappen as they fought for third position (there was little else he could do, as it was his fault).
It was a fitting place for him to make his latest error -- 12 months ago was arguably the last time he raced like a four-time world champion with his enthralling victory here at Silverstone. He infamously crashed out of the lead at the next race at the German Grand Prix and has never quite looked the same since.
With Leclerc looking better and better with every race and those retirement rumours refusing to go away, there's a bit of an elephant in the room for Ferrari right now -- most agree Vettel isn't the future of the famous Italian team anymore, but recently he hasn't even looked like he deserves to be the present, either.
Haas hits a new low: Haas' slump hit a new low at Silverstone. Romain Grosjean banged wheels with teammate Kevin Magnussen in the opening moments of the race, giving both cars a puncture. An early stop followed for both, relegating them to the back of the order. Both cars were soon back in the garage shortly afterwards, with the team calling it a day.
When asked who was to blame, team boss Guenther Steiner said: "Both of them, it is not acceptable what happened.
"I was pretty clear with them after Barcelona, what not to do. In the end, we are in a difficult position at the moment, how to get the car work on track. Everyone works hard like hell. Then when we get a chance ... our long runs look OK. ... We crash into each other on Turn 5. It's not acceptable."
It was a bad day Haas just didn't need. The days leading up to this week have seen a lot of coverage of the internal struggle going on at Haas' title sponsor, Rich Energy. The CEO of that company, William Storey, called the team's car a milk float ahead of the weekend -- his fellow shareholders are currently trying to regain control of the company and its social media channels.
In case you wanted an update on how that's going, here's what the apparently Storey-led Twitter account tweeted when Haas' cars were running 19th and 20th.
- Rich Energy (@rich_energy) July 14, 2019
Pretty remarkable, considering Haas insists Rich Energy remains its title sponsor. Keep checking back to see how this bizarre saga unfolds in the coming days and weeks.