Silverstone: Max Verstappen and his Red Bull squad will seek a potentially decisive triumph over defending champions Mercedes and home hero Lewis Hamilton in this weekend’s British Grand Prix, which offers a new form of qualifying.
After securing his first hat trick of successive victories to take a 32-point lead over seven-time champion Hamilton, the 23-year-old Dutchman is in compelling form.
Red Bull are reveling in five consecutive wins to lead both championships after nine races.
But he recognizes that Hamilton, 36, remains a formidable force, especially at home at Silverstone.
The Briton has won a record seven times at the often windswept former war airfield in central England, where a crowd of 140,000 is expected on Sunday.
It will be the largest attendance at a sporting event in Britain since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I have great respect for Lewis and we don’t take anything for granted,” Verstappen said.
“We take each race one at a time, but of course I hope to come out of the race with 29 points.”
Normally that would be a maximum of 25 points for a win and one for the fastest lap.
Additional points are on offer this weekend via ‘The Sprint’ which is being used for the first time as an alternative to traditional qualifying.
It will take place on Saturday afternoon and, like traditional qualifying, will decide grid positions for Sunday’s 52-lap race.
The sprint is part of an experimental format aimed at attracting a younger audience, with the top three being awarded three, two and one point respectively.
They will also participate in a victory parade and receive “retro” wreaths in tribute to the history of the sport.
The 100 km nonstop race will last approximately half an hour. The starting positions for ‘The Sprint’ will be decided by a three-part qualifying hour on Friday afternoon, replacing the second free practice.
This means that tomorrow’s free practice opening hour will be the team’s only chance to find a competitive setup for the conditions. More sprints are expected to take place in Italy and in another race later in the season.
Hamilton and Mercedes will be under acute pressure as they attempt to stop their slide. The Englishman has been winless in five races since the Spanish Grand Prix in May, when he led the title race.
The team is hopeful that the possible introduction of updates can close the performance gap at Red Bull.
“We expect a very good performance from Mercedes and Lewis,” said team boss Christian Horner.
“He is at home and will be supported by the crowd, but if we can win at Silverstone it will be a very meaningful victory.”
Hamilton won last year’s UK event but was beaten by Verstappen in the “70th Anniversary” race a week later, as the circuit hosted two successive closed-door competitions.
The decision to allow a full house to attend the race secured the future of the circuit, said general manager Stuart Pringle.
“Our ability to survive Covid was against us if we didn’t have a crowd,” he said. “It’s absolutely critical.”
Euro 2020 final
Red Bull number two Sergio Perez and his Mercedes counterparts Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez are expected to be in the running, but many fans will be applauding McLaren’s 21-year-old Brit Lando Norris, who was assaulted after attending the England-Italy final of Euro 2020 at Wembley.
Norris is the only man to score points in every race this year and has three podiums. His compatriot George Russell of Williams has been chasing his team’s first points since 2019.
Although he was badly shaken by his experience, Norris said he would be “in the right zone” to enjoy the race in front of his home fans.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.
Hamilton, however, will draw the most energy from fans as he aims to add to his record 100 pole positions and 98 wins and reduce the deficit in his bid for an eighth world title.