SILVERSTONE: Red Bull’s Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen was fastest by a hefty margin in practice for a new-look British Grand Prix on Friday with home hero Lewis Hamilton only third on the timesheets.
On a sunny afternoon, with fans filling the grandstands on a day of action as Formula One experimented with a fresh format, the 23-year-old Dutchman produced a best time of one minute 27.035 seconds.
That was 0.779 quicker than McLaren’s second-placed Lando Norris, who pipped Mercedes’ seven times world champion by 0.001 in a big boost for a youngster still shaken by a mugging last Sunday at the Euro 2020 final.
“Seven-tenths? Where does that come from?” Hamilton asked his engineer over the radio when the team, who have brought some car upgrades to Silverstone, informed him of the gap to Verstappen.
Hamilton is seeking a record-extending eighth British Grand Prix victory this weekend but Verstappen and Red Bull have the momentum, with the youngster 32 points clear in the standings after nine rounds.
While Silverstone has been a fortress for champions Mercedes in recent years, Red Bull are on a roll and chasing a sixth successive win.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was fourth fastest with Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas fifth.
George Russell, the third Briton in action, was bottom of the timesheets with Williams.
The usual second Friday practice session has been replaced by qualifying for a new Saturday 17-lap sprint race that will decide the grid for Sunday’s grand prix and award points to the top three.
The ‘Sprint’ is an experiment that will be repeated, at most, at two more races this season.
It will last 25-30 minutes and be run over 100km, which at Silverstone means 17 laps. That compares with 52 laps and just over 306km for the race itself on Sunday.
F1 describes it as “a short and fast-paced racing spectacle — similar to a Twenty20 cricket match — with drivers racing flat-out from start to finish without the need to pit.”
With UK coronavirus restrictions relaxing, Silverstone can host a capacity crowd of 140,000 on all three days.
Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2021