Will exhaust changes hurt Red Bull? British GP Preview

The British Grand Prix hosted the first Formula 1 race in 1950 and on Sunday it will host the first race since the ban on hot blowing diffusers. The rear end of the Red Bull has long been viewed as one of the key technical advantages that the Adrian Newey designed RB7 enjoys and many fans are hoping that the ban will cost the team a significant portion of their advantage, which prior to Silverstone has been approximately half a second per lap.

The team will lose some time but Red Bull are still expected to set the pace at Silverstone but for their rivals, McLaren and Ferrari, it is crucial that this is the race where the they start clawing back the title lead of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull.

 The Silverstone Grand Prix circuit

Silverstone is one of the few remaining “driver’s circuits” on the Formula 1 calendar. Silverstone has constantly evolved since Formula 1’s inaugural Grand Prix but the “home of motorsport” has always kept one crucial element consistent since 1950: speed. With high speed corners and four fast straights Silverstone is still one of the fastest circuits visited by Formula 1 and the challenge presented means that it is met with near universal praise from drivers.

ForceIndia’s Adrian Sutil’s view of the circuit is typical amongst the drivers:

”Silverstone is a great circuit. I like the high-speed section through Copse, Maggots and Becketts, which feels very nice to drive. It’s definitely a place where you feel the performance of an F1 car. They changed the circuit last year and I have to say I enjoy the new layout just as much as the old one. The new turns one and two make up a really quick right-left chicane and it’s taken almost flat in qualifying.”

This year’s race will see the new Silverstone Wing-the new £28million pit and paddock complex-used by Formula 1 for the first time. The complex is sensational and places Silverstone firmly at the forefront of the motorsport once again. The facility is one of the best in the world and after almost a decade of Silverstone being under threat from other venues it is a key component in cementing its place on the calendar for years to come.

While the drivers rave about the track team principals also know the importance of racing so close to their factories. Ross Brawn, Mercedes team boss, was keen to discuss this element of the weekend:

“Silverstone is always a special weekend for our team,” said the Englishman. “With the home of the British Grand Prix being located so close to our factory in Brackley and to Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines in Brixworth. It’s a great opportunity for our staff and their families to see the cars in action so close to home. Having visited the new pit and paddock complex earlier this year, combined with the layout changes implemented in 2010, I believe Silverstone is now really a venue to be proud of.”

Mercedes can also be proud of their record at the circuit with podiums for the last three years in their various guises. Nico Rosberg, third last year, will be keen to get his season back on track with another strong result at the Northamptonshire circuit:

“I finished third last year and I hope to have another good result,” commented the German. “Especially because so many of the people working at Brackley and Brixworth will be there with their families. We will have a few new updates, and I’m curious to see how this will affect my car. Hopefully we can close the gap to the top a little bit.”

 Setup for Silverstone

With so many high speed corners stability is the defining characteristic that drives setup at Silverstone. Corners like the opening Abbey Curve, Copse, Becketts and Stowe require total commitment from the driver and a stable car.

When drivers are threading the eye of a needle at Becketts it is crucial that the car is planted and that they have total confidence in the grip generated. The Becketts complex is one of the most spectacular areas to see a Formula 1 car in full flight with drivers entering the first left hander at 190mph and exiting at 140mph. Any slight mistake here will push a driver off line and cost him time down the Hanger straight into Stowe.

The downforce required for the cars is actually quite high and with so many fast corners overtaking can be exceptionally difficult at Silverstone. As a result the DRS deployment should play a key role. Unlike inCanadaandValenciathere will only be on DRS deployment area, coming out of the loop and onto the Wellington Straight.

Strategy for this weekend

With this being the first year of the new pit and paddock complex there is no hard data to lean on heading into the Silverstone weekend. Total pit stop times are expected to take 20s but interestingly the pit lane entrance is considerably shorter than driving around the last corner and as a result drivers will get to the timing loop quicker through pit lane. As a result it is not inconceivable that a driver could attempt to make a pit stop on the last lap in an attempt to cut the timing beam first due to the pit lane setup.

When the new configuration was used for the first time, in FIA GTs, this was a real concern of the teams who felt that it was a loophole that could easily be exploited if cars were in close proximity to one another as the race neared its conclusion.

If such an incident did occur it would not be the first time that the pit lane determined the victor at Silverstone, Michael Schumacher took a drive through penalty on the last lap in 1998.

Apart from the unlikely possibility of the pit lane playing a crucial role in the outcome of the race the main determining factor for strategy will once again be related to tyres and the effects of fuel loads. The softer tyre should offer a benefit of over one second per lap which if drivers were to save a set for the final stint could offer a significant advantage when coupled with a 0.15s per lap penalty for each lap worth of fuel, 2.9kg, carried.

Don’t count on exhaust changes hurting Red Bull

This weekend sees the ban on “hot blowing” exhausts come fully into effect following the initial change in regulations brought in prior toValencia. Former Jordan, Stewart and Jaguar technical director, Gary Anderson, spoke about the regulation earlier in the week and the benefits that this area of development has given teams:

For many years teams have been keeping the throttles 100 per cent open during braking”, said the Irishman. “By reducing the fueling of the engine and retarding the ignition timing they have been able to achieve a situation where there is zero torque at the rear wheels.

This is a big bonus as it reduces the risk of locking the rears during downshifts while the engine RPM changes (due to the effects of the engine inertia). While this happens, the engine acts like a compressor, pumping air through and out of the exhaust system. When the exit is placed correctly this helps the efficiency of the diffuser. This has been accepted as a normal requirement and is called ‘cold blowing’.

Now the engineers have come up with ways of putting more fuel into the system during braking. Because of the reduced ignition timing this fuel gets washed though into the exhaust system before it ignites, resulting in more energy in the exhaust waste gasses.

This improves the efficiency of the diffuser even more and is known as ‘hot blowing’. It is this that has caused a rethink within the regulations.

The diffuser has been a constant thorn in the side of Formula 1’s regulators in recent years and this rule is their latest stand against development in this area of the car.

There has been much speculation as to what specific advantage Red Bull are gaining with their diffuser and while it is quite clear that this was a key area focussed on by Newey and his design team it is important to remember that the Englishman has historically taken a “big picture” view to car design and that his cars have generally been focussed on developing numerous areas to design a complete car rather than focussing on a single area of development. Anyone hoping for Red Bull to suddenly lose their one lap qualifying advantage will be sadly mistaken this weekend.

Even so it is likely that the squad will lose some time, just how much they will lose depends on who you believe. Mercedes chief Ross Brawn has said that the squad will lose over half a second with most teams believing that Red Bull will lose 0.3-0.4s. Gary Anderson on the other hand felt that somewhere in the region of 0.2s was a more realistic estimate. One way or another, the answers will be found when the cars hit the track on Friday morning.

What to expect from the front runners this weekend

McLaren know that this is a pivotal race for them. After struggling atValenciait is crucial that the team recovers their form and hits the ground running this weekend. The team are the joint most successful, along with Ferrari, in the history of Silverstone but with Jenson Button historically struggling at his home Grand Prix, the 2009 world champion is yet to stand on the rostrum, the brunt of expectation is likely to fall on Lewis Hamilton.

The Englishman has clearly struggled in recent races with a series of accidents but his past form at Silverstone, in both the wet and dry, should give the 2008 winner reason to be confident of putting his poor showings firmly behind him.

Red Bull though are sure to offer a stern test and as winners of the past two British Grand Prix, both from pole position, it is clear that the Milton Keyes based squad are sure to be strong again this weekend. The effects of the exhaust blown diffusers are still to be seen but such is their dominance that there is little reason to suspect it causing disruption to their qualifying dominance. It is in race trim that they could be vulnerable. McLaren and Ferrari have done well in recent races but received scant reward for their hard work, this weekend at Silverstone could provide them with a great opportunity to start closing in on the rampant Red Bulls.

Ferrari looked very fast during the dry sessions inMontrealand Fernando Alonso was well placed to challenge for the win before his accident with Button. InValenciathe Spaniard turned in a trademark performance to finish second but this weekend should be a great opportunity to take his first victory of the season. The Prancing Horse has not won at Silverstone since 2007 but with the progress that the team are making it is far from beyond the realms of possibility that they could become the most successful team at races held at Silverstone.

The trio of leading teams all have reason to be excited and while the championship battle is still firmly in Vettel’s favour there is still the possibility of another close battle this weekend.

Competitive midfield battle expected

The battle at the front will be fought out by Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari but the midfield fight looks set to be exceptionally competitive; Renault, ForceIndia, Toro Rosso and Williams all should be closely matched.

Williams, fresh from announcing an engine deal with Renault, are always fast at Silverstone. The team took their first ever victory here in 1979 with Clay Regazzoni at the wheel and in the form of Rubens Barrichello they have arguably the most accomplished Silverstone driver racing for them. The Brazilian has finished on the podium six times in his career and only qualified outside the top ten five times. With Williams bringing new parts this weekend the veteran should be well placed to spring a strong result. His team-mate, Pastor Maldonado, has won at Silverstone in the past and with his season gaining momentum he could also have a strong race.

The Force India factory is just a stones throw from the main entrance to Silverstone but while the team have great local knowledge their driver Paul di Resta has precious little. Despite this being his home race the Scot has not driven at Silverstone since 2003. He has performed well in 2011 and given a good account of himself but the pressure he will face this weekend is sure to be immense. His team-mate, Adrian Sutil, finished eighth last year.

Toro Rosso has historically struggled at Silverstone with both drivers also failing to perform in the past. Even so with Jamie Alguersuari coming toEnglandon the back of a career best finish atValenciathere is surely reason for optimism.

Another reason to believe that the team could do well is that there is no longer the pressure of being replaced hanging over each drivers head. Daniel Ricciardo, the Toro Rosso test driver, will make his Grand Prix debut for HRT this weekend. The Australian is very fast but with no testing time in the HRT it would be impressive if he can be any where near the pace of his team-mate Tonio Liuzzi. The Italian had his best race of 2010 at Silverstone with an 11th place finish.

Renault have not scored at point at Silverstone in three years but Nick Heidfeld has done well in the past at the circuit. The German though will have to play catch-up early in the weekend because he did not race here last season. His team-mate, Vitaly Petrov, struggled last year to a 13th place finish.

F1 2011 revolves on tyres

Tyres have consistently been the primary talking point from race to race throughout the season thus far and with Pirelli gaining ever more data it is clear that the excitement that has been generated in the opening races looks set to continue.

The last race, inValencia, was unanimously panned by fans and media alike and there is little chance of a repeat this weekend, the Pirelli tyres will ensure that the European Grand Prix is quickly forgotten about.

Pirelli will take the hard and soft tyre to Silverstone. This decision will once more give rise to a huge variance in lap times between tyres, sure to play a crucial role during qualifying once again.

Pirelli’s motorsport director, Paul Hembery, was keen to once more illustrate the key role that the Italian tyres will have on proceedings this weekend:

“Our tyre nomination for this race will give the teams the durability they need to cope with the demands of the circuit, thanks to the hard tyre, and also the speed with which they can demonstrate their pure performance, with the soft tyre,” said the Englishman. “How they use that combination will of course be the basis of the strategy: the teams that feel they have a significant performance advantage might choose to do a series of sprints on the PZero Yellow soft tyre, whereas other teams could conclude that they might be better off staying out for longer on the PZero Silver hard tyre.

“The choice of strategy will naturally have an effect on qualifying as well as the race,” continued Hembery. “So on Saturday we should already have a clear idea about what the teams are doing. Whichever tactic the teams choose, whether it’s multi-stopping or longer endurance runs, they should all end up fairly close together by the end of the race, which has been one of the most intriguing elements of Formula One so far this year. But of course it’s very hard to make accurate predictions, as Silverstone is one of the many circuits that we have never tested on. In Britain it can rain at any given moment too, which clearly throws all forms of strategy out of the window.”

Sauber’s technical director, James Key, gave his perspective on the challenges facing teams this weekend:

“We have to be careful with the hard tyre,” said the technical chief. “Because it does require a lot of warm up, although Silverstone should be as a circuit better depending on ambient conditions. With the soft tyre we are happy, it should be right as an option tyre for this circuit. Silverstone is typically quite heavy on tyres with the amount of loadings they get, and the surface of the track is quite rough and abrasive.”

Weather for the weekend

Rain is expected to play a key role in the weekend’s proceedings with Friday set to dawn dry before the clouds gather throughout the morning before raining for the majority of the afternoon.

The weekend however should be somewhat better with dry weather expected for FP3. Qualifying however could be hit by showers and as a result it will be crucial for teams to set fast times early in each session. If it does rain the warm weather, over 20C, should dry the circuit quickly and add another element of surprise to qualifying.

Race day is expected to be warm and dry for the most part with scattered showers possible during the race.

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