Home comforts for Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton can reignite his F1 championship challenge by taking victory at this weekend's British Grand Prix.
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Mercedes, it seems, are wobbling.
After an embarrassingly straightforward first half-dozen races, a silver whitewash spoiled only by Lewis Hamilton's retirement in the opening race in Melbourne, the team's two cars have since been beaten by Red Bull in Canada, then out-qualified and kept honest by Williams in Austria.
Granted, no-one removed Nico Rosberg's and Lewis Hamilton's towels from the top two steps of the podium last time out, but Valtteri Bottas crossed the line only eight seconds behind winner Rosberg.
- 5.5pts Lewis Hamilton to win the race at 8/11 (Paddy Power, William Hill) - has the pace, just needs the rub of the green
- 2pts Daniel Ricciardo to win without Mercedes at 7/2 (Stan James) - Silverstone should suit Red Bull after Austrian damp squib
- 4pts more than 17.5 classified finishers at evens (William Hill) - a kind circuit mechanically, and not much to hit
So the question is this: has Mercedes' pace advantage been neutralised, as appears to be the case on the surface, or will this prove to be a circuit-specific blip, just a crease in a season-long narrative of dominance?
For now, it's sensible to treat the increased competition at the sharp end as merely circumstantial, the product of the last two grands prix being held on tracks which are unusually tough on brakes and particularly suited to cars with low levels of aerodynamic drag.
In each of the last two races, the Mercedes struggled to cope with the demands the circuits placed on both the cooling of, and the energy recovery from, the rear brakes.
Hamilton's braking system failed completely in Montreal, while Rosberg was left severely compromised losing energy harvesting through overheating brakes.
And in Austria again the cooling of these crucial components was marginal, with both drivers instructed to employ conservative settings on their hybrid systems for fear of another failure.
But Silverstone's fast, sweeping corners are a very different challenge to the long straights and tight turns of the last two tracks, and it's tempting to conclude that the Mercedes will once again be in a position to stretch their legs at their home track.
The Northamptonshire circuit is the polar opposite of the Red Bull Ring in terms of the demands it places on brakes and the related energy-recovery systems - here the challenge is to recoup enough energy to fully take advantage of the available storage capacity - while the drag:downforce trade-off moves in favour of those cars with more inherent downforce.
Silverstone's high speeds and ease of overtaking also mean cooling won't be a problem so the two major headaches Mercedes have faced over the last month, brakes and the related harvesting of the energy from them, will not be a concern this weekend.
With that in mind, it might finally be time to put some solid trust in the F1 punter's most uncomplicated friend: the fastest man in the fastest car.
Since pipping Rosberg to victory in Spain despite not being quite as comfortable with his machinery, Lewis Hamilton has been clearly quicker in race-trim in Monaco, Canada and Austria, yet has contrived to evade victory on each occasion.
He was forced to sit behind his team-mate for the entire race around the streets of Monte Carlo after being denied an almost-certain pole position by Rosberg's error, while costly mistakes in qualifying in each of the last two races put him on the back foot before the lights even went out.
Nevertheless, the speed he showed before his retirement in Canada and in the early stages in Austria showed that he continues to have the measure of Rosberg in terms of pure pace.
That pattern should continue this weekend if last year's race is anything to go by - Hamilton was leading comfortably from pole position before his left-rear tyre spectacularly exploded at nearly 200mph on the Hangar Straight - and the 8/11 for the 2008 world champion to repeat his victory of that year looks acceptable.
It's just 2/5 for a sixth Mercedes one-two of the year (although punters who have bwin accounts should take note of their 5/11 on a double podium-finish for the German marque) but behind them the bookies are struggling to split the Williams and Red Bulls.
As explained above, Silverstone should see the pendulum swing back towards those cars which excel in high- and medium-speed corners rather than over kerbs, under traction or in slow, twisty turns.
This should see Red Bull back towards the front of the pack, particularly Daniel Ricciardo, who continues to have the edge over quadruple-champion Sebastian Vettel.
The Aussie is 7/2 to finish the race ahead of everyone but the Mercedes pair, something he has achieved in three of the last four races and should arguably be shorter than the Williams drivers to do so again.
Finally, back there to be more than 17.5 classified finishers at even money with William Hill.
The stats show that there were eight retirements in Monaco and Canada but the punishing nature of those track and the disproportionately high chance of accidents skews the figures somewhat.
There were just two non-finishers in China and Spain, and three in Austria, which is around the reliability levels we would expect to see in the remaining races.
Even last year's chaotic event, which featured seven tyre-deflation incidents, only saw two drivers failed to be classified, as did the previous race in 2012.
- Friday's free practice sessions take place at 1000 and 1400; Saturday's at 1000. Qualifying is at 1300 on Saturday with the race scheduled for the same time on Sunday. All times BST.