The 2021 British Grand Prix is here – and it’s live on Sky Sports and Channel 4! So before you settle down to enjoy two hours of top-quality high-speed racing, here’s the story of the season…
By Chris Miller, Writer
It’s been the biggest event in Britain’s motor racing calendar since 1948 – but last season’s race was, to put it mildly, weird. Normally the Silverstone Grand Prix comes slap bang in the middle of the F1 season, but in 2020 it was round four, so the drivers had barely got going. Its special status was also somewhat diluted by the fact that there was another Grand Prix – the 70th anniversary race – at Silverstone the very next weekend.
But worst of all, of course, there were no spectators at the track to see Lewis Hamilton take his seventh British GP victory and 87th race win overall on his way to a record-equalling seventh world championship triumph. But this year they’re well and truly back, so there should be a terrific atmosphere as Hamilton battles his rivals for that chequered flag.
So if you’re planning to join the millions watching on TV this Sunday, in front of the TV or on the go with the Sky Sports app (if you subscribe to Sky Sports), here’s what you need to know…
1. Lewis Hamilton started strong...
The 36-year-old British driver began the season looking as if he’d cruise to his record-breaking eighth driver championship. Wins in Bahrain, Portugal and Spain put him clear at the top of the table after four races, and those who witnessed his remarkable comeback from a 21-second deficit in Barcelona started to wonder if anyone could stop him in his quest.
2. …but he hasn’t had it all his own way
Hamilton and his Mercedes team arrived in Monaco for the season’s fifth GP full of confidence. But this tricky road race has frequently thrown spanners in the works for leading drivers: not only did Hamilton qualify only seventh on the grid, he was unable to improve on that position in the race – despite recording the fastest lap – and finished well off the podium. He hasn’t won any of the four Grands Prix since.
3. Max Verstappen is opening up a bit of a lead
The Dutch driver and his Red Bull team jumped at the chance to capitalise on Hamilton’s Monaco problems, with a dominant performance from the front row of the grid to take the chequered flag by nine seconds. And Verstappen has barely looked back since then (well, other than in his rearview mirrors, we hope), winning in France and then taking victory in both the GPs held at Austria’s Red Bull ring to heap the pressure on the defending champion.
4. It’s a marathon AND a sprint
Ahead of the 2021 season, the F1 authorities announced a new style of qualifying and this will be unveiled at Silverstone for the very first time. Under the Sprint Qualifying format, the Saturday afternoon session will decide the starting order for a 100km flat-out, no-pitting, daring dash to the finish in the early evening. It’s F1’s answer to cricket’s Twenty20, a short, sharp blast of pure high-octane entertainment – and there are points on offer for the top three too, while the finishing order will determine the grid for the full 52-lap race on Sunday. A new era dawns.
5. Mixed fortunes for F1’s famous sons
Verstappen’s father, Jos, was a Formula One stalwart of the 1990s and 2000s, racing for nine seasons and claiming a handful of podium finishes along the way, so he must be delighted by his son’s 15 career wins already. However, Mick Schumacher has a lot more to live up to, thanks to dad Michael’s record-setting seven world championship wins, not to mention 13 wins in one season in 2004. In Mick’s first full season he hasn’t finished higher than 13th, but he’s put in some promising performances in the Haas car, using an engine from the constructor where his future probably lies – Ferrari.
6. A new British hero rises
Hamilton’s garlanded career is in its 15th season and he’s just signed a deal for two more, but he can’t go on forever (right?!). Fortunately there’s another British driver coming up behind the Stevenage speedster in the form of 21-year-old Lando Norris, now in his third season with McLaren. His first two years garnered a single podium finish – but Norris has been up there spraying the champagne three times already in 2021 and gained more than 100 championship points. He may not yet be as iconic as the Rebel Alliance general whose name he shares, but it’s only a matter of time.
7. Spending has been reined in
How would you cope if you were forced to manage on just $145m a year? Well, that’s the tricky situation facing the 10 Formula One teams this season under new financial regulations, with budgets due to be further reduced by $5m in each of the next two seasons. The idea is to create a level playing field and make running an F1 team more sustainable in the long term. Admittedly Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari have dominated the constructors’ championship so far – but could fans of the underdog have more to cheer about at Silverstone?
8. Perez finally gets his rewards
Speaking of underdogs… They say slow and steady wins the race; in fairness that’s rarely true in Formula One but Mexican driver Sergio Pérez is showing the benefits of continuing to plug away despite little success. After ten seasons with the likes of Sauber and Force India, he was rewarded with a contract at Red Bull and promptly started picking up serious points. With top-six finishes in eight of 2021’s nine races so far, including his second career GP win in Azerbaijan, he’s third in the drivers’ table and making every effort to close the gap on Hamilton and Verstappen.
9. Former champs have a tough road back
This year’s driver roster includes three championship winners (apart from Hamilton) but their glory days appear to be well and truly behind them. Kimi Räikkönen, the 2007 champ who will be 42 by season’s end, is in his third year with well-off-the-pace team Alfa Romeo, while four-time title winner Sebastian Vettel took second in Azerbaijan but languishes 10th in the table. After two seasons away, double champ Fernando Alonso returned with the Alpine-Renault team but has not come close to troubling the podium. Perhaps it’s time for the trio to follow the example of 2016 champ Nico Rosberg, who’s now a successful team owner in the all-electric Formula E series.
10. Ferrari has put its trust in youth
The Prancing Horse has traditionally been a home for experienced pros, the wily campaigners expected to be in title contention, but this year it has its youngest ever pair of drivers in Carlos Sainz, 26, and 23-year-old Charles Leclerc. The experiment has had mixed results: Leclerc has been consistent without once reaching the podium, while Sainz’s second place in Monaco is a bright spot in a series of disappointing finishes. The pressure is on both to up their game and quickly, since some suspect the team are lining up Mick Schumacher – whose dad won five consecutive championships in Ferrari red – as a replacement sooner rather than later.
When is the British Grand Prix on TV?
Coverage of the qualifying starts at 2pm on Friday 16 July on Sky Sports F1/F1 HD (CH 516/506).
Coverage of the Sprint Qualifying and Sprint Grand Prix starts at 11.45am on Saturday 17 July on Sky Sports F1®/F1® HD (CH 516/506) and 3.45pm on Channel 4 HD (CH 104/141).
Coverage of the Grand Prix starts at 1.30pm on Sunday 18 July on both Channel 4 HD (CH 104/141) and Sky Sports F1®/HD (CH 516/506).
Watch on the go
Virgin TV customers who subscribe to Sky Sports can watch on the go with the Sky Sports app. Not only will you be able to take your Sky packages with you, but you get in-depth sports coverage, as well as exclusive videos and interviews. On iPad and Android tablets you can also access Sky Sports’ cutting-edge second-screen functions. Download from the Apple app store for iPad or iPhone, or from Google Play.
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