Red Bull & Ferrari adapt best to tricky tyres, but McLaren struggle
The Red Bull and Ferrari cars are beginning to emerge as the best in Formula 1 after the British Grand Prix.
It would be wrong to draw too many conclusions because the conditions were changing so much over the weekend and nobody was able to optimise their cars.
But the teams who have most effectively made the aerodynamic and mechanical changes needed to cope with the very challenging Pirelli tyres this season are Ferrari and Red Bull.
Superficially, it appears as if Fernando Alonso lost the British Grand Prix because Ferrari decided to run the more fragile 'soft' tyres on his car at the end of the race rather than the strategy Red Bull chose, which was to get them out of the way early on.
The other tyre, the 'hard', was the better race tyre at Silverstone and Alonso had struggled on the 'soft' in the only dry practice session. Hence the decision.
“Instead of Jenson getting better, Lewis has gone back to meet him somewhere. They've probably met up in the middle”
Ferrari's strategy made a lot of sense.
It meant that Alonso would be using the 'soft' tyres when the fuel load was lightest, when they should work better and last longer than with a full tank at the start of the race.
Using them later should also lessen the phenomenon known as 'graining' - when the surface of the tyre tears and reduces grip - because there would be more rubber laid down on the track.
Unfortunately for Ferrari, Alonso had a lack of front grip when he fitted the 'soft' tyres and he was helpless to fend off Mark Webber.
The one thing Ferrari might have done wrong is make Alonso's second stop too early.
They did it because Webber was starting to catch them at about half a second a lap and they wanted to ensure Alonso came out of the pits still comfortably ahead.
But Webber was closing so fast because he was on new tyres at the time. That edge would have gone away pretty quickly.
Had Alonso stayed out longer, he may have rejoined behind Webber. But if he had had five or six laps at the end of the race on new tyres he might well have been able to catch and pass the Red Bull before he had to worry about getting into the graining stage.
Having said that, Alonso's team-mate Felipe Massa had gone really well on the 'soft' tyres for 14 laps at the beginning of the race, so Ferrari had no reason to believe their strategy would not work out. So you can't really say they did anything wrong.
Red Bull were a bit surprised when they saw the blankets come off Alonso's tyres and reveal he was starting on the hards.
From that point on, Webber knew he needed to not lose too much time to Alonso in the first stint so he could come back at him at the end of the race. It worked to perfection.
McLaren started the season with the fastest car, as their group chairman Ron Dennis lost no time in reminding me at the first race in Australia.
Dennis gave me a bit of a lecture because I had said before the season that they had made a mistake in designing a car with a lower nose than all of their rivals.
I stick with what I said. The higher chassis gives you more opportunity for aerodynamic development.
McLaren do not have the fastest car any more - they struggled at Silverstone.
It was a bad sign that their two cars had hugely different amounts of front wing on them in the race, with Jenson Button running a lot less than Lewis Hamilton.
The front wing is the most critical aerodynamic part on the car - it defines the airflow over the rest of the bodywork.
And if you have two cars so different in set-up it means they are scratching their heads. It appears as if McLaren have lost their way a bit.
Button's car seems to be a bit of a light switch - it either works really well or it doesn't work at all.
And now Hamilton seems to be getting caught in the same little box. Instead of Jenson getting better, Lewis has gone back to meet him somewhere. They've probably met up in the middle.
They really do have to look at the car and understand where people who had problems at the beginning of the year solved them. Most of it is understanding the black rubber bits at each corner.
Hamilton complained after the race that his second set of 'hard' tyres felt different from the first.
I would bet the reasons for that are to do with the amount of time the tyres spent heating up in the blankets in the pits - that can change their characteristics enormously.
There was further evidence of McLaren not optimising the tyres in qualifying at Silverstone.
A lot of the problems Button has been experiencing in recent races have been caused by him struggling to get front tyre temperature.
Yet at the start of first qualifying, Button and Hamilton drove down to join a queue of 12 or 13 cars waiting to leave the pit lane.
So Button would have lost tyre temperature by sitting in the pit lane and then following 12 mostly slower cars that were all slowing down trying to get a gap to the car in front before they did a flying lap.
Other teams - such as Red Bull - waited, and sent their cars out after the queue had cleared and when there was a nice gap. If you do that, the cars in front have also all cleared water from the racing line.
Lo and behold, Button complained of having no front grip - until he came in and fitted a new set of warmed tyres. But then there were yellow flags on his last lap and he was out.
The alarm bells should be ringing in the situation McLaren are in.
I think Button's problems are revealing an issue with the car. It is not as obvious with Hamilton because he is better at driving around problems and adapting his style, but at Silverstone it affected him, too.
McLaren said their tyre problems in Silverstone qualifying were not related to the wider ones Button has been experiencing through the last few races.
It is confusing that there is such a wide gap between what they see from the inside and what we see and hear from the outside.
Gary Anderson, a former technical director of Jordan, Stewart and Jaguar, was talking to BBC Sport's Andrew Benson