Formula 1 has had a turbulent week following Maria de Villota’s testing crash that shocked the paddock. However with Silverstone playing host to the British Grand Prix the focus will once again be on the racing action.
The Silverstone Circuit
Silverstone played host to the first ever Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1950 and while the track has undergone a series of updates since then it has consistently maintained the challenges of the original layout.
With fast, flowing corners drivers and cars are tested to the limit and it is for this reason that so many drivers view Silverstone as one of their favorites. When asked before the race for his thoughts on the track Heikki Kovalainen echoed the thoughts of many of his peers:
"Silverstone is a great track to race at, both because it's one of our two home races and because it's a proper driver's track,” said the Finn. “Even with the changes that have been made over the years it is still what F1 is all about - high speed corners that really push the performance of the car. The classic corners from Copse and Maggots to Beckets is right up there with some of the best corners on the calendar.”
For half the lap, from the exit of Luffield all the way to Vale, drivers hardly touch the brake as they speed through the challenging series of corners.
The strain placed on the cars throughout this section of the lap places a tremendous strain on the cars as Remi Taffin, Renault’s head of track operations, explains:
"Silverstone is a fantastic track that still tests the upper limits of the engine, even with the addition of the new slow loop,” said the Frenchman. “It counts as one of the power tracks of the season, with 66 per cent of the lap spent at full throttle in qualifying and 61 per cent in the race, plus an average speed of well over 200kph. We therefore work towards delivering correct gear ratios at the higher revs to get powerful acceleration and outright power on the long straights. However we still need to maintain driveability on the slower turns, notably through the new complex."
Schumacher looks to maintain momentum
Having claimed his first podium finish since returning to the sport three years Michael Schumacher will be hoping to maintain his momentum from the European Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver struggled for two years to readapt to Formula 1 but throughout the season so far he has been much more competitive. His form relative to his teammate, Nico Rosberg, has improved immensely this year and having been in contention for numerous podium finishes this year he should be able to use his first podium finish as a springboard to further success.
For Schumacher it is clear that this weekend is a pivotal race; in the lead-up to race Ross Brawn conceded that the seven times world champion’s future will be decided in the next month, so a strong showing at Sivlerstone and Hockenheim could prove crucial in his decision about whether to continue racing.
Having set the fastest time in Monaco qualifying and now having stood on the rostrum again it is clear that Schumacher still has the speed to be a contender in Formula 1 and in all likelihood any decision made to retain him will come down to his motivation to remain in the sport.
Grosjean and Raikkonen look to join winners circle
Romain Grosjean’s career renaissance has been gathering momentum throughout the current campaign and the Frenchman is now a potential race winner at any venue.
His blend of speed and bravery has led to some early lap mishaps in some races this year but when he reigns in his wild side he has shown terrific consistency to take a brace of podiums.
An alternator failure in Valencia robbed him of the chance of winning his first Grand Prix but he is consistently making progress and this weekend’s race could be a good opportunity for him.
“I think we head to Silverstone with more confidence,” commented Grosjean. “We understand a few more things with the car. It was good to have a really hot weekend all the way through at Valencia as we were able to work on the car and really analyse things. Silverstone is very high speed; I'm confident we'll have strong pace and that should lead to a good race.”
The GP2 champion was victorious at Silverstone last year.
His teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, won at Silverstone en route to his 2007 championship success. The Finnish star has shown promise throughout the season but incidents such as Monaco, when he refused to take part in opening practice, shows that the same Raikkonen enigma remains in place.
His speed is never in doubt but his motivation has always been questionable for people outside of his inner circle.
Raikkonen’s apparently lax attitude makes it easy to under-estimate his desire to win but while he has never had enthusiasm for promotional work once he is behind the wheel he has always been electrifying.
Silverstone has played a key role in his career with the former champion having stood on the rostrum five times in F1. Apart from that he made his name in the British Formula Renault championship and instantly left at ease with the former airfield:
“When I first raced there it was my real favourite,” said Raikkonen. “It's so fast and demanding which makes it very challenging. The corners really flow and it's all about long, sweeping high-speed corners and high downforce levels. Somehow it has been a good circuit for me since the very beginning. It will be interesting to see how the new section changes a lap, but I'm sure I'll learn it very quickly.”
The Lotus is one of the kindest to its tyres on the grid and the ability to maintain the performance in the Pirelli tyres will be key if they are to have a chance of winning races this season.
The weather in Silverstone will play a key role but if it is dry and warm the Lotus are sure to be to the fore. If it is wet both Riakkonen and Grosjean have shown their prowess in treacherous conditions already this season.
Can Button bounce back on home soil?
Since winning the opening race of the season in Melbourne Jenson Button has had a nightmare season with the former world champion struggling to even qualify in the top ten at some races.
In Valencia Button went to extreme measures to try and improve his performance. Using Lewis Hamilton’s settings in the previous race showed just how much difficulty he is having in understanding the McLaren.
With Hamilton employing a style at polar opposites to his teammate it was an illustration of the lengths that Button has been forced to go to as he tries to regain his competitive standing. Racing in front of his home crowd has always inspired Button, even in his rookie campaign he scored points for Williams at Silverstone, and it will take a wave of patriotism from his compatriots to push Button towards the front again.
Even with his struggles this year Button is looking forward to racing at hime:
"I'm really looking forward to the British Grand Prix,” said the 2009 world champion. “We've been making progress in a lot of areas and while I wasn't able to show that in terms of the result at Valencia - mainly because I got boxed in at the start, then wasn't very lucky with the Safety Car – our strategy was fine and the car improved throughout the race.
“I always enjoy racing at home because the atmosphere is unbeatable, and while the race itself hasn't always been too kind to me, I come here every year knowing I can count on the support of the many thousands of fans. Formula 1 is all about evolution, about looking to the future, and Silverstone has demonstrated its adaptability all through the years. It's part of the fabric of F1, and still one of the world's greatest motor racing circuits."
Button will have to be able to demonstrate a similar ability to adapt given his recent struggles.
Maldonado vows not to change
Williams driver, Pastor Maldonado, has seen his reputation change immensely throughout the campaign.
Having been seen as nothing more than a pay-driver at the start of the season he showed in Barcelona the speed and consistency which are the hallmarks of a great driver. His maturity in Spain as he claimed his first victory was in stark contrast to the rashness and immaturity he showed last time out in Valencia.
Having been the guilty party in a late race crash with Lewis Hamilton, while battling him for the podium, Maldonado refused to accept the blame for the crash and in the lead up to this weekend he has vowed that he will not curb his aggressive side.
His season has been one of highs and lows and with only two points finishes he has clearly not been able to translate his speed into the results that his performances have deserved.
Silverstone should suit the Williams, it plays to the same strengths as Barcelona, and the Venezuelan will need to be at his best if his Valencia indiscression is to be forgotten about as quickly as possible.
Silverstone setup struggles
The fast, flowing second half of the lap is in stark contrast to the slower and twisty opening sector. This presents the teams with a challenge as they look for a car that can change direction easily but also that allows a driver to be pinpoint accurate in the slower corners.
Giampaolo Dall'Ara, Sauber’s head of track engineering, discussed these challenges ahead of the weekend:
"The Silverstone circuit is very different from the last two tracks we've been racing on, said the Italian. “It has some challenging high speed corners and requires a set-up which is optimised with regard to aerodynamics as well as changes of direction. Silverstone has the charm of some of the older tracks with a surface that is not perfect and quite bumpy in some places. It also offers some real challenges for the drivers.”
“The straights are not very long, therefore we can afford to run quite a lot of downforce. The DRS zone is in the same place as last year, in the section that was built a couple of years ago. Its length is quite limited which means overtaking is not so easy. We will be running the soft and the hard tyre compounds, which I expect to suit this track nicely, and also warming-up should not be an issue. An important factor in Silverstone is always the weather, an aspect we need to take into consideration when preparing for the race weekend, and something which we might to need to adapt to during the race.”
Formula 1 revolves around Pirelli tyres…
As ever the performance and durability of the Pirelli tyres will play a key role in this weekend’s proceedings.
With the weather set to play a key role in proceedings the wet weather tyres might be used extensively throughout the weekend. Even so Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s motorsport director, is looking forward to experimenting with a new hard compound tyre:
"Silverstone is one of the most iconic circuits on the Formula One calendar, precisely because it is so demanding for the drivers, cars and tyres,” said the Englishman. “This is why we have chosen to test a new experimental hard compound here during free practice, which we may use in the future.
"The new tyre has a slightly wider working range, which should make it easier for the teams to get the tyres into the right operating temperature window. But with the championship so finely balanced, our priority is to ensure that no one team is handed any particular advantage.
"We want to keep the performance of the tyres at the highest level for as long as possible, so this is a valuable opportunity for ourselves and all the teams to gather more information about the potential effect of a new compound, and gain some data for the future. Silverstone is a very high-energy circuit that can see some unpredictable weather conditions, so a strong performance from the tyres and an effective strategy are vital ingredients in a successful race outcome."
Weather for this weekend
As ever the weather is fickle at Silverstone and all that you can do is prepare for any eventuality.
At Silverstone the weather always comes from over Club Corner and teams will be keeping a keen eye on that area of the track. Generally what ever you can see in the sky in that direction will be over the track within the next ten minutes.
At the recent MotoGP the weekend saw heavy showers and stunning sunshine, often within the same hour, and a similar forecast is to be expected for this weekend.
Local forecasts expect temperatures in the high teens with the constant threat of rain in the air.