Preview of the British Grand Prix
After three street circuits in a row, Formula One turns to something completely different – the open spaces, powerful straights and high-speed sweeping curves of Silverstone. Fernando Alonso became the first driver to win two races in this year’s fluctuating season and the Ferrari driver also won last year’s British Grand Prix so can he do it again? Or will one of the Championship leader’s rivals strike back? Or might we even have an eighth winner in 2012?
So what should you expect this weekend?
Track and Conditions
Silverstone is the original Formula One circuit, the place where the world championship began in 1950, and one of the fastest circuits on the calendar. However, whilst most of the other high-speed circuits rely on long straights, Silverstone is about the challenging flow of sweeping curves.
Silverstone has undergone a series of changes in the last couple of years, firstly with a new in-field section making it the second longest circuit on the calendar, and then the Formula One paddock moved to a new pit lane and start-finish line. That means the start of the race now immediately threads through Abbey and in to the new complex. The Loop in some ways acts like a slow chicane, allowing drivers to follow each other closely and sets up the DRS-assisted passing opportunity at the end of the Wellington Straight, braking into Brooklands.
Copse, is a 280km/h right-hander which requires just a dab of the brakes and a flick of the wrist. The most enjoyable section for the drivers is Maggots, where cars thread turning left, right, left, right, left, and rely a lot of the time just on engine braking. The end of the Hangar Straight provides further passing opportunities, before turning into the 240km/h Stowe corner.
Overall, the team that succeeds will have developed the best aerodynamic efficiency. This is a very fast and flowing circuit, but it also suffers terribly from crosswinds which threaten the cars’ balance. As for the weather, pretty much anything goes although there have been a lot less wet races than you might think. However, the long range forecast currently suggests that showers will feature throughout the weekend.
The straights are not particularly long and therefore the teams can afford to run fairly high downforce levels in order to balance the car in the high speed corners. A relatively stiff suspension is also used to give good change of direction through the curves, especially the snaking Maggotts-Becketts section. However, the surface can be quite bumpy in places.
After three street circuits, with their heavy braking zones, it’s a complete contrast at Silverstone. With most of the corners taken at high speed (between Copse and Stowe, the cars never drop below 195 km/h) there is relatively little brake usage. Instead, the difficulty is ensuring they are warm enough to function correctly for the areas that do need the brakes.
The layout of Silverstone is reasonably hard on the engine due to a high average rpm over the course of a lap.
Overtaking is difficult but the track does tend to shuffle the field: The race has been won from pole position just three times since 1999. Meanwhile, Silverstone is a fairly average circuit when it comes to the potential for retirements, whether through accidents or car problems but the extensive run-offs have limited the likelihood of the safety car being called into action – just once in the last five years. With relatively light braking requirements, there’s also little opportunity to recharge KERS over a lap, weakening its effectiveness for defending and attacking while drivers have to be selective about when and where they deploy it.
Silverstone is one of the most demanding tracks of the year on the tyres, due to its abrasive surface and a lap length that is second only to that of Spa-Francorchamps on this year’s calendar. The hard tyres (silver) and soft tyres (yellow) have been nominated for this weekend, but with cool temperatures, cloudy skies and an uncertain weather forecast, there is a strong chance that the intermediate and wet tyre will see some action as well.
Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi and Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne have both been handed grid penalties ahead of this weekend. Kobayashi will move back five-places after his clash with Felipe Massa in Valencia. Vergne, meanwhile, received a 10-place grid drop for coming together with Heikki Kovalainen.
With Silverstone’s long history, there are plenty of memorable races to choose from. Of the more recent events though, 2008’s race was a classic wet weather drive in treacherous and ever-changing conditions. With most of the field spinning, running wide and sliding off, Lewis Hamilton was in a class of his own, eventually winning by more than a minute. Only Kimi Raikkonen had briefly offered any resistance but a decision by Ferrari to not change his tyres when he came in for fuel was to prove costly.
Ones To Watch
The home fans will be predominantly cheering on the two McLaren drivers who will be dreaming of victory before their home crowd but there’s also Paul di Resta – and in this topsy-turvy season, it wouldn’t entirely be a surprise if the Force India led the British contingent home.
Food for Thought
Who do you think will win this weekend? Will Alonso extend his Championship lead or will the title battle take yet another twist?
Circuit Profile – Silverstone Circuit
2011 British Grand Prix – Alonso Wins British Thriller
The Changing Face of Silverstone
Photos: Williams F1/Glenn Dunbar/LAT Photographic, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, Lotus F1 Team/Andrew Ferraro/LAT Photographic, Red Bull Racing/Mark Thompson/Getty Images