Shortly after the chequered flag had fallen on a historic 70th Anniversary of Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone this past Sunday, Lando Norris was on his team radio asking who won the race. Upon hearing the victor was none other than his close friend Max Verstappen, Norris replied with ‘Aah, Legend.’ Such a title is being said more and more - yet on a weekend when Sir Stirling Moss was celebrated - any comparison between Max and the legendary icon of motorsport has some way to go. However, what Sunday did show, according to Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team boss Toto Wolff, is that Max Verstappen is now a 2020 F1 Drivers' Championship title contender.
Global publication motorsport.com announced this bold prediction following an interview with the Mercedes team boss after the race when they asked Toto Wolff if F1 now has a title fight made up of three contenders:
"I think we have…I kind of enjoy the situation because everyone was saying, 'OK, this is going to be a walk in the park for Mercedes,' and here we go.”
This was indeed the case as many neutral fans had already signed off the season as being a record equaling seventh F1 Drivers’ World Championship for Lewis Hamilton.
"That wasn't at all a walk in the park. We were certainly not the quickest car, maybe not even the second quickest car. We have seen in the past that the hot conditions somehow don't suit our car, but as I said before, it's much more complex than that. I'm actually up for the challenge. We have probably the quickest package, but the quickest package also involves the most downforce, and the most downforce works the tyres hardest. In that respect, we have to learn how to tune the car to help the tyres survive a little bit.”
Mercedes clearly have a lot of learning to do and Wolff’s comments are supported by the words of Mercedes’ chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin who spoke to the media after Sunday’s Red Bull Racing victory when commenting on the tyre blistering seen on both of Mercedes’ W11s:
"This wasn't something that last year's car suffered from. And this year's car is, by and large, an evolution of last year's car. There's not any areas where we've really changed philosophy, we've just been pushing down the same paths for development…Right now, we don't understand what the problem is."
With races coming thick and fast and Red Bull Racing gaining momentum as the season approaches race circuits that are predicted to be driven in even hotter weather, Mercedes may be running out of time to fix the issue and Toto Wolff is also eager to see what racing in Barcelona this weekend brings to the team:
"I'm really curious to see and interested to see how we're going to do in Barcelona. We have a handful of days to understand, and there is nothing better than a great challenge."
Mercedes are reigning F1 Constructors’ Champions and as they look for a seventh straight constructors’ victory, they are certainly a team well measured for any challenge. Due to this, it is no wonder that Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner is not making any bold statements - although their package always develops considerably better as a season continues.
"I think Mercedes underperformed today, compared to the last few events, so I think it's going to be a few more races yet before we have a clearer picture on that. But we're delighted to get this first victory of 2020, particularly on this anniversary race." Horner told motorsport.com after Red Bull Racing’s first victory of the 2020 F1 season.
"These cars put up a little bit of a fight so far…So it has only been today that we have really seen the performance that we believe that it is capable of…So for us it is very important that we understand why it has performed so well today, in corners that we were weak in on Saturday today was no issue at all.”
"The wind was a little bit less, temperatures were pretty similar to the last couple of days, and last weekend. Tyre pressures were slightly different, because of the problems Pirelli had last weekend…It is important for us to take away this data and analyse it and understand it, because we're definitely underperforming on Saturdays, where, we are fighting over tenths with Racing Point and Renaults this weekend, and then we were lapping them in the race.”
“So there is a big delta, and we've seen a bit of a pattern of that across the last four or five races. We've got a lot to understand, but it is really encouraging to have this performance. It rewards all the hard work that is going in."
Seeing Max Verstappen on the top step of the podium was an encouraging sight indeed and clearly unexpected by many including Lewis Hamilton who most likely as a force of habit left the podium with the race winner’s trophy as opposed to the second placed one.
There is still a long way to go before any concerted discussion over the prospect of Lewis Hamilton concluding the 2020 F1 season in second place in the standings but what Sunday’s race showed us is that the title is not won yet.
So, with this in mind, bring on Barcelona and blistering temperatures as we all know what that can lead to.