July 24, 2017, 19:35

Mercedes win first battle of 2017 Development War as Lewis Hamilton ‘owns’ Silverstone

Mercedes win first battle of 2017 Development War as Lewis Hamilton ‘owns’ Silverstone

“Because I own it.”

It was a reply made by Lewis Hamilton when asked in his Sunday night media briefing to explain why he is so formidable at Silverstone with plenty of laughter.

But own it he did and for Ferrari, a distant second best for the first time in 2017, Mercedes and Hamilton’s superiority this weekend at the British GP was no laughing matter.

Hamilton had, as he later reflected, enjoyed “the perfect weekend” as he cut the gap to Sebastian Vettel from 20 points to just one.

Dominant in qualifying, the home favourite remained in total control on race day, breezing to victory with such ease that he was able to spend much of the race watching the battles elsewhere on the big screens dotted around Silverstone.

The picture he saw must have been hugely encouraging – and uncomfortable viewing for Ferrari.

Having been evenly matched hitherto this season, it wasn’t just momentum which shifted from Ferrari to Mercedes at Silverstone but perhaps the balance of power as well.

Mercedes’ big step forward
Mercedes have held a clear advantage over Ferrari in qualifying all season. Between them, Hamilton and Bottas have claimed eight poles in 2017 compared to just two for Raikkonen and Vettel.

But on Saturday Hamilton claimed pole by 0.547 seconds, the biggest margin of the year.

More significantly, clear daylight emerged also appeared between Mercedes and Ferrari on race day for the first time too.

Hamilton’s fastest lap, set on lap 48, was a 1:30.621. Ferrari’s, set on lap 44, was a 1:31.517.

But it was the consistency of Mercedes’ advantage which will have alarmed the Scuderia’s pitwall the most.

In the critical period of the race, occurring either side of the pit-stops, the lead Ferrari of Raikkonen, running in clear air, had no answer as Hamilton suddenly upped his pace to streak ten seconds clear.

The critical laps – How Ferrari and Mercedes’ compared Lap Hamilton Raikkonen 18 1:32.360 1:33.273 19 1:32.456 1:33.281 20 1:32.286 1:33.516 21 1:32.304 1:33.430 22 1:32.190 1:33.467 23 1:32.437 1:33.399 24 1:33.098 1:33.511 (pitted) 25 1:32.410 (pitted) 1:52.468 26 1:50.994 1:31.903 27 1:31.529 1:32.369 28 1:32.255 1:32.234 29 1:31.858 1:33.055

“Our qualifying pace is looking really strong and our race pace was a lot higher than Ferrari’s for the first time this season,” said Hamilton.

It was an ominous conclusion difficult to dispute.

Can Ferrari respond in Hungary?
What must also worry Ferrari is that Silverstone wasn’t a blip but part of a larger trend: the Scuderia’s last win is already five races old and the team have won just one of the last seven events.

An engine upgrade for Britain produced no discernible competitive improvement as Mercedes topped every session. Qualifying has been Ferrari’s weakness since the start of the year – Vettel has only claimed one pole in 2017. But that weakness was counter-balanced by general race superiority.

The significance of Silverstone, however, was that in both qualifying and the race Mercedes held a clear advantage.

“At the beginning of the year Ferrari had a big upper hand on Sundays, they were really quick,” said Bottas. “But in Austria we were very quick in the race and here again we were quicker than Ferrari so we have definitely made progress.”

From Ferrari’s perspective, there will be concern but not panic. At least not yet. F1’s next stop is Budapest where the Hungaroring’s status as the circuit closest in type to Monaco, where Ferrari won and achieved their only one-two of the year to date, is both reassuring and pressure-inducing.

“We need to be aware Mercedes are very quick and there are a couple of advantages that we need to work on. Then it could be a different picture,” said Vettel before leaving Silverstone.

Hamilton in particular struggled to find the sweetspot of the W08 in both Sochi and Monaco. Hungary will be a test of just how much Mercedes’ lead driver has learnt about their 2017 ‘diva’ since the start of the year.

“The car has been tricky to get used to and some of the weekends where we started on the wrong foot we still didn’t get the car in the perfect window whereas Ferrari nailed the head from the beginning,” said Hamilton. “But with a lot of work and a lot of analysis we have really been able to move forward, particularly in the last two races.”

Qualifying next Saturday will be critical. It may even be the most important session of the year so far.

“It’s true that in the last couple of races Mercedes have been a bit stronger but the real game changer is qualifying,” said Vettel. “They are able to turn up the engine and gain between three and six tenths on the straights. That’s something we can’t do.

“If you have the cars in front for the first lap, the race looks different. We know where to [focus] but it’s not easy.

“We have a strong car, especially on Sundays. We need to make sure we step up on Saturdays and then Sundays look different.”

Hamilton is Hungary specialist – he has previously won there five times. If he claims a sixth next Sunday he will sign off for the summer break as the world championship leader and overwhelming favourite to claim a fourth title.

Sourse: skysports.com

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