Carlos Sainz finally did it. He is a Formula 1 winner after winning a thrilling 2022 British Grand Prix in his 150th race start.
It was certainly a race to remember, initially for all of the wrong reasons when Guanyu Zhou flipped over the tyre barriers at Turn 1 and into the catch fencing, then for all the right reasons when we go some incredible racing.
Sergio Perez aggressively fought his way back to second place, ahead of home hero Lewis Hamilton who drove brilliantly and could have won the race, had things played out differently.
As for the two main title protagonists, it was a bad day for both Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, although the latter should feel truly robbed of his third win of the season.
Sainz lucky advantage
Sainz became the 112th different winner in F1, a day he will look back on fondly for the rest of his life. He put himself in a position to benefit from various bits of fortune, but you have to be in it to win it.
On Saturday, Sainz took his first pole position with a very good lap to snatch top spot from Verstappen at the end of Q3.
However, an unseen spin from Leclerc caused a yellow flag which stopped Verstappen from improving his lap time when the track conditions were best, having gone purple in the first sector. That was the first bit of luck.
In the race, he lost out to Verstappen on the original start and was put back onto pole position following the red flag. Again, this is part of motorsport, as was Verstappen‘s bodywork damage.
Clearly Sainz was slower than Leclerc throughout the race, despite the Monegasque driver suffering with a broken endplate on his front wing.
Ferrari should have made a team order to let Leclerc take the lead earlier in the first and second stints, given he is the one in championship contention.
The race victory was never on the cards for Sainz once Leclerc was eventually let through and the only way he would win was with a safety car, with the right strategy, which is exactly what happened.
A good win for Sainz to get the monkey off his back, but his outright pace was no different to normal and he needed a lot to go his way.
“It was probably, mentally, one of the toughest races, because there was so much going on on the radio, trying to manage both the gap to Charles and Lewis and at the beginning with Max there was a lot of fighting going on,” Sainz told the press.
“I wasn’t completely comfortable with the car. I was struggling a lot with understeer in the high-speed corners, opening a lot the front-left tyre and this was taking me out a lot of pace.
“But I kept it cool, kept believing, kept within reach all the time. And suddenly when the opportunity came, I grabbed it and it happened.
Hamilton on top form
Hope turned into potential for Hamilton as he produced a stunning performance which could have been worthy of the top step of the podium had things gone slightly differently.
Hamilton made light work of Lando Norris, who also had another impressive weekend, after the red flag restart and faced a deficit of five seconds to the leaders, a gap he slowly but surely trimmed during the first stint.
With Verstappen out of play and the Ferrari pair debating over the team radio, Hamilton was on a charge.
In typical Hamilton style, he was pumping in great lap times despite being on worn, medium tyres to give himself a great chance in the latter stages of the race to overtake the squabbling Ferraris.
Even with a slow pit stop, Hamilton was closing down on Sainz and almost certainly would have been in pursuit of Leclerc without the safety car. Who knows if he would have caught, and overtaken, the Ferrari driver.
We saw exactly why Hamilton is a seven-time F1 world champion and he will believe race wins are now possible in 2022.
“It’s difficult for the team to know how to after a race like that,” said Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin.
“On one had its frustrating to only come away with a third place as with two cars and a bit more luck we could have been fighting for the win and a good haul of points.
“On the other hand, we can be pleased that we were fighting at the front after a very tough start to our season and a lot of hard work from everyone in Brackley and Brixworth to recover a huge performance gap.
“There were plenty of times where it looked like we might be able to get back into the fight for the win but sadly it was not to be. Even so, we can take a lot of encouragement from the progress this weekend.
“We brought a significant update to the car and it looks to have delivered what we expected. Now we know what works for the car, we can find more.”
What does Leclerc have to do to win?
You have to start feeling sorry for Leclerc if you didn’t already, the win was his until the safety car came out, and it was still on until Ferrari made another strategic blunder in F1 2022 by not pitting him for fresh soft rubber.
It’s a no-brainer to pit if there’s a late safety car and you’re on old, hard tyres on a track where overtaking is very much possible, hence why everyone else did so.
For Leclerc to fight as he did and take so many risks, including around the outside of Hamilton at Copse and the outside of Perez at Stowe, was impressive and he did an incredible job to finish fourth.
However, he only took six points away from Verstappen, to reduced his deficit to 43, when it should have been so much more.
“It’s a shame we scored fewer points than we could have done with Charles who, when the safety car came out, was comfortably in the lead,” said team principal Mattia Binotto.
“Pitting Charles at that moment, which would have put him behind Hamilton, who at that point would have stayed out on fresh hard tyres, did not seem the right choice, so we therefore decided to leave him out on track.
“Unfortunately, at the restart, he was at a disadvantage in terms of tyres.”
Damage limitation for Verstappen
It was quite literally damage limitation for Verstappen as he was all set to cruise into the distance once Sainz made a mistake which allowed him by at Chapel.
But, he hit a piece of debris from an AlphaTauri out of Copse which ripped through his floor and was costing him a big chunk of downforce.
Verstappen was visibly understeering and twitching in every corner and did well to finish seventh following an elbows out fight with Mick Schumacher.
“There was a piece of debris on the race line and I could not drastically go left or right in the kink [at Woodcote] so I tried to hit it head on,” Verstappen told Sky Sports F1.
“Normally it explodes or pushes away but this time it went in the floor and destroyed my whole left-hand side of my floor.
“I felt like the car was falling apart within two corners and it was a handful to drive. To finish seventh with that car is still a good result.”
Thank God for roll hoops and the halo in F1
Much has been said about the introduction of the halo, but a significantly older safety device which doesn’t get much credit, is the roll hoop, which was just as important when Zhou rolled over at Turn 1.
Zhou‘s Alfa Romeo scarily high jumped itself over the barrier and into the catch fencing which also did a stunning job.
“It was a big crash and I’m glad I’m ok,” said Zhou. “The marshals and the medical team at the track were fantastic with their quick response, and I also owe my thanks to the FIA and Formula 1 for all the work they have done, and they keep doing, to improve the safety of our cars.
“The halo saved me today, and it goes to show that every step we take in improving our cars has real, valuable results.
“I’m keener than ever to get back on track and do what I love: I’m fit and I’m looking forward to Austria next week.”
As for the incident itself, Russell is fully to blame and is fortunate to not have a grid penalty for this weekend’s Austrian GP.
He completely cut across Pierre Gasly, causing carnage as Alex Albon hit the wall hard when trying to take avoiding action, after Sebastian Vettel hit his rear.
Thankfully nobody was hurt and Albon was released from hospital on Sunday night, having had a big impact with the concrete pit wall.
F1 at its best, nearly
The safety car restart saw some of the best F1 action in the turbo-hybrid era, proving why Silverstone is not just loved because of its passionate fans, but the track is just spectacular.
It allows the drivers to take different racing lines, thus going side by side into many high-speed corners, which really is hold your breath stuff.
Frustratingly, Perez forced Hamilton off the track and wasn’t penalised, the same with Verstappen on Schumacher in the last couple of laps.
The FIA are setting a dangerous precedent which allows the driver on the inside of a corner to simply edge their rival off the track. That’s not racing, and it’s not right.
Nevertheless, what a weekend at Silverstone – it more often than not delivers. The Austrian GP has a lot to live up to.