Another weekend had passed and just about everyone was expecting Mercedes-AMG to win the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix in Silverstone. It would be another 1-2 for Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and they would be 30 seconds ahead of Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen. When the two Mercedes-AMG's took the top two spots on the grid, a win for that team was almost certain.
But Red Bull Racing has had enough of German domination. As early as Saturday, they set out an out of the box strategy that would give them the win on Sunday.
During Saturday's qualifying, Red Bull made the bold decision to put the harder and less grippy tires on Max Verstappen. It was enough for him to qualify fourth that day, which was one spot down from his usual starting spot. That also means he had to start the race on the tire he had set his personal fastest time with, which were the hard compounds. The team knew that they had nothing to lose if they gambled with the plan as a third-place finish was typically guaranteed for Verstappen.
Come Sunday, the start was the same old story. It would be Mercedes-AMG leading the pack and pull away from the rest of the field. However, that race showed one weakness of the dominant Benzes: The heat. Track temperatures soared over 40 degrees Celcius, and Pirelli had supplied all the teams with softer compound tires. The softer compound, plus the heat, meant tires would wear out quicker. In the case of the Mercedes-AMGs, they would wear down much, much quicker.
Barely five laps in and Mercedes reported that the medium compound tires on both Hamilton and Bottas' cars were at a critical level. Their tires had severe blistering and were losing grip fast. Verstappen, who was on the hard compound, had pristine tires on his Red Bull. For the first time this season, we would witness something amazing: A car passing a Mercedes-AMG.
Hamilton was struggling with grip and was constantly pressured by Verstappen. Verstappen's teammate, Alex Albon, pitted early to get a set of hard tires and it set the precedent of the race. Some would say Red Bull's decision to pit Albon (very) early in the race was a way to rustle Mercedes-AMG's feathers. Whatever it the reason may be, it forced the German squad to bring in Bottas into the pits for hard tires. Hamilton followed a few laps later.
That handed Verstappen the lead and, with unblistered tires, left the two AMGs far behind. By the halfway point, Red Bull brought in Verstappen for medium tires but was passed by Bottas at the pit exit. It was a brief battle, but with the AMG's tire's blistered (again), Verstappen quickly dispatched Bottas to reclaim the lead.
A few laps after that, it was back to the pits for Verstappen, briefly handing the lead over to Hamilton. It was a brief moment of joy for Mercedes, but they had to concede that lead because Hamilton's tires were severely compromised by then. Verstappen was chomping away one second over Hamilton's 13-second lead. Hamilton was forced to pit, giving the lead back to Verstappen. From that moment on, the Red Bull was far out ahead and untouchable for the rest of the race.
Verstappen's Red Bull would win by a substantial 11.3 seconds over the Mercedes of Hamilton. The Honda-powered Red Bull was unchallenged at the top, which sounded unthinkable before the race started. Given Mercedes-AMG's dominance this season, Red Bull's win showed that the defending champs aren't invincible.
Red Bull's strategy was bold, to say the least. But the team's preparation for the win wasn't just during the race. Had the team not come up with that plan, the race would almost certainly finish the way everyone expected it to be. Thankfully, there are those in Red Bull willing to push the boundaries, and it worked out for them beautifully.