Formula 1 may have been off the track for the last three weeks but it has not been off the back pages. The Mercedes tyre test scandal has come to a head with the team suspended from the upcoming young drivers test. We’ve also seen new venues linked to the sport with both Mexico and Qatar making moves to enter the fray in coming years.
For now however, thankfully, the topic of conversation can turn to what happens on the race track and not in courtrooms and boardrooms. Silverstone is one of the best races of the year with a hugely enthusiastic and knowledgeable fan base flooding to the historic circuit and creating a truly unique atmosphere.
The history of Silverstone has granted it a special place in the hearts of Formula 1 fans around the world and with its future secured for the foreseeable future the only aspect that needs attention this weekend is the racing and it should be great weekend.
The Silverstone Circuit
Silverstone is one of the longest tracks on the calendar but it is also one of the fastest and most challenging tracks that drivers face all season. Even though it has seen a series of updates over the last 60 years Silverstone still presents the same challenges to modern drivers as it did for the likes of Fangio, Stewart and Senna.
For Jenson Button the history of the track plays a key role in why he loves it so much:
“Any driver’s home race is a special thing,” said the 2009 world champion. “Racing at Silverstone means so much to me: it’s the place where I grew up watching Formula 1 – I first came here in 1994 – and it’s also a race that means so much to grand prix racing’s history and heritage.
“It’s just unique: to race on the same track as Fangio, Clark, Stewart and Senna is cool, and you always feel the echoes of the past when you arrive at the circuit for the first time. Even though it’s almost changed beyond recognition since 1950, and is now one of the best grand prix facilities in the world, it’s still lost none of that special atmosphere. I love it.”
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. Red Bull’s Mark Webber has won twice in the past and the nature of the track clearly suits his driving style but far more importantly it also reminds the Australian of why he became a racing driver:
“It’s an old school circuit, fast and flowing,” said the 2012 race winner. “It’s very demanding on the driver in terms of accuracy, and the car also. You can really let the car go around there and feel like you’re a Formula 1 driver.”
The race is a home race for Button and with Webber living just down the road it is clearly a special race for him but for almost every driver on the grid this is a special venue. Both Lotus drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, echoed their rivals thoughts on the track by saying:
“Silverstone is all about long sweeping high-speed corners and high downforce levels,” said Raikkonen. “It’s one of the fastest circuits on the calendar; it’s very challenging and the flowing corners are pretty good fun to drive. Hopefully our new parts will help us; particularly in the faster corners. If that’s the case, it could be a good weekend.”
For Frenchman Grosjean what makes Silverstone special is that it is the only race where members of the factory are able to get to the track for their only time during the season:
“Silverstone is challenging, but it has a good feel,” said the 2011 GP2 champion. “It’s one of the quickest tracks of the year, with legendary corners like the Magotts, Becketts, Chapel complex. It’s quite a feeling going through there and I can’t wait to feel that sensation once more. It’s also a special Grand Prix for the team as the factory is very close to the track. It’s always nice to see not only the race team, but also some of the many people from the factory who come to see us in action. “
Silverstone doesn’t place any great stress on the brakes, cooling or gearbox but with so many high speed corners it does place a strain on engines. With over 66% of the lap spent at full throttle it is one of the tougher tests for the powerplant.
However as Remi Taffin, Renault Sport’s head of track operations, explains there are also some unique challenges presented by the high speed corners:
“Even with the addition of the new slow loop, Silverstone remains one of the toughest challenges for the engine,” said the Frenchman. “A touch over 66% of the lap is spent at full throttle in qualifying and the average speed is well over 200kph. However it is the high speed corners that also challenge the RS27, particularly the sweeping Maggotts-Beckett-Chapel complex. Average speeds through this section are around 250kph and no lower than 190kph at any one point, with huge lateral forces put through the car. The oil and fuel systems therefore have to be resilient as the fluids are squashed from side to side, while the engine needs to be smooth to maintain the speed.”
Silverstone tailor made for Red Bull
On a circuit with so many high speed corners it is hardly a surprise to see so many Adrian Newey designed cars in the list of past winners, 14 since 1991, and his recent form is ominous to say the least.
Since Red Bull made themselves known as a front running team in 2009 they have won three times at Silverstone and has not failed to have both cars start in the top four. Mark Webber claimed two wins, 2010 and 2012, with Vettel winning in 2009. Only Fernando Alonso’s stunning success in 2011 broke their stranglehold on the track but given their recent form it is hard to look past the Milton Keynes based team winning once again this weekend.
Vettel has not had the best history at Silverstone but the triple world champion has still stood on the rostrum for the last two years. He has generally struggled to match Webber around the track but after winning in Canada the German will be exceptionally motivated to drive home his championship advantage.
Mark Webber on the other hand will simply be looking to kick start his season. The Australian has been unable to match Vettel this year but returning to the scene of his most recent victory might be the catalyst for him. His victory last year was one that any of the sports greats would have been proud of, his stunning overtaking move on Alonso capped a superb performance, but he will need to be at his best to repeat that victory. On the other hand if Webber can maintain his four year podium streak at Silverstone it would be a successful weekend for the Red Bull driver.
Lotus unleash major upgrade
Kimi Raikkonen, the victor in 2007, will be looking to get his title assault back on track this weekend. The Lotus team will bring an extensive upgrade to Silverstone as outlined by Alan Premane, the team’s head of track operations:
“We have a tighter, figure-hugging bodywork package which should give some benefit; especially if the weather is quite cool at Silverstone,” said Premane. “There’s a new front wing, suspension profiles and suspension upgrades in addition to various other aero upgrades, which combine to give us what should be our biggest step forward of the year. This is a good thing, of course, but we’ll be running them in the context of all our rivals probably unveiling significant upgrade packs too. We conducted a couple of days of straight-line running after Canada with positive results and some of the fruits of this work should be seen in Silverstone.”
Finding performance benefit from the new parts will be crucial for Raikkonen’s title challenge. The Finn started the season as Vettel’s closest challenger but he has faltered in recent years with poor showings in Monaco and Montreal. The team struggled at both venues with the car struggling to operate in it’s correct working range on the temporary track surface with Premane admitting that the low energy nature of those venues making it difficult to generate grip. Silverstone however should not present such problems but it is crucial for the championship that Raikkonen starts to eat into the widening margin to Vettel in the standings, it now stands at 44 points having lost so much ground of late.
For Raikkonen however the season is still far from over and the Finn is motivated to turn things around this weekend:
“The last couple of races have been more a question of surviving not attacking and that’s not what anyone wants. That said, Monaco and Montreal are both street circuits; they’re quite different from a lot of tracks we visit and there are quite a lot of variables. You never know how you’re going to go at those two tracks but we do now and at least we got a few points.
“Silverstone is a more normal circuit and we’ve been OK at every other permanent circuit so far this year. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be back to the positions we should be with this package. We just have to be patient, do our very best over the entire weekend and step by step we can start catching the leaders.”
Raikkonen’s team boss, Eric Boullier, has been busy in the three week break with 35% of the team having been purchased by Infinity Racing Partners but the focus is clearly still on racing. The Frenchman stressed how successful the team has been of late and that their recent struggles have done nothing to affect their targets for 2013 and that the team are still focusing on the championship. He also spoke about his lead driver:
“Kimi’s a points scoring machine and it will be nice if he sets a new record, even if he says he’s not bothered by that sort of thing,” said Boullier. “Since his comeback with us he has been the most reliable driver on the grid for scoring points, and it’s interesting to reflect back to the doubt some people had about his return to Formula 1. He’s had some bad luck in the last two races, but I’m sure the drivers he’s competing with will also have some bad luck too.”
The team are saying the right things in the lead up to Silverstone but now they have to back up their talk with action on track. A repeat of their recent struggles could spell an early end to their title hopes.
Mercedes look to put test-gate behind them
Winning the Monaco Grand Prix must seem an age ago for Mercedes at the minute. The team has been embroiled in their testing scandal since the morning of that success and it is only now that it has been put to rest.
Suspension from the young driver test was the only logical penalty from the case but it has painted the team and Formula 1 in a negative light and now Mercedes need to focus on improving their car and challenging for more race wins. It will be interesting to see how the new tyres improve the fortunes of the team with it likely that the core tyre temperatures will be reduced and Mercedes therefore likely to be in a better position with tyre management in future.
Red Bull’s Christian Horner has barely needed a reason to beat the drum against tyres this year and once the penalty was revealed he told Reuters:
“What is slightly confusing is the leniency of the penalty,” he said. “The problem with the penalty such as the one Mercedes have been given is that it is not a particularly strong deterrent to break the sporting regulations. I should think it was met with a huge sigh of relief at [Mercedes base] Brackley.”
The team has kept a low profile since the announcement but they will have no hiding places this weekend.
On track Nico Rosberg has held the ascendancy over Lewis Hamilton for the last couple of months and the German is driving as well as ever at present and adding his recent success will be his motivation ahead of this weekend’s race. His reputation is improving with every session as for the first time in his career he is partnered with a known commodity. Rosberg is relaxed and letting his driving do the talking and he will be exceptionally motivated to get the better of Hamilton again this weekend in front of his teammate’s home crowd.
Force India and McLaren look to move forward
McLaren’s technical partnership with Force India has seen the smaller squad flourish and now inflict pain on McLaren. The Woking based squad are enduring their worst season since 1995, their first with Mercedes, and it shows little sign of abating.
Jenson Button, usually so optimistic, is once again doing his best to temper expectations ahead of his home Grand Prix. The former champion saying earlier in the week:
“The race in Montreal was disappointing,” said Button. “I still feel that it wasn’t a fully accurate reflection of where we are as a team – on a smoother track like Silverstone, I’m optimistic that we’ll fare better. Of course, I don’t want to raise everyone’s expectations: I think the fans know what to expect. For me, my goal will be to get the maximum from the package and to race as hard as I can – that’ll be a satisfactory outcome for me next weekend.”
Force India are based a stones throw from the front gates of Silverstone and Vijay Mallya said his team would be looking to defend their turf this weekend build on their strong start to the season which has seen Paul di Resta finish in the points at all but one race this season:
“Two exciting races in Monaco and Canada have set us up perfectly for this weekend’s event,” said the Indian. “We celebrated our 100th race in Canada and continued picking up points with both cars. That’s what we need to do if we are to hold on to fifth place in the championship. While I still believe that we are edging ever closer to the podium, we must also focus on consistency and play the long game in the championship, which means scoring points at every race.”
“With the way our car is working these tyres at the moment, we are looking really healthy,” said the Scot. “I believe this car is the best we’ve ever had and everyone in the team is working hard to squeeze even more performance from it. The key for Silverstone is to hopefully get three successful days in a row on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That’s what we did in Bahrain and it really paid off. If we can do it at Silverstone, then hopefully we can make a big impact on the race.”
Silverstone setup challenges
Balance and poise are key at Silverstone. Whereas most tracks are all about finding the balance between speed and grip the key at Silverstone is to find a setup that gives the driver the confidence to drive on the limit. With so many fast corners it is crucial that the driver knows exactly how the car will react to any change of direction. As a result high speed stability will be the defining characteristic of setup this weekend.
Sauber’s head of track engineering, Tom McCullough, talks through the difficulties for race engineers this weekend:
“Silverstone is one of the most challenging circuits, with a bias towards high speed corners and relatively short straights compared to the more modern circuits,” said McCullough. “The layout favours high-speed stability and a good change of direction, whereas the demand on the braking system is low. The track is also quite bumpy in some areas so the ride performance is important too.
“The abrasive tarmac and high-speed nature of the circuit result in it being hard on the tyres. Therefore, Pirelli has selected the two hardest tyre compounds in its range – medium and hard. Historically, overtaking has not been easy, but this year there is an additional DRS zone on the Hangar straight, which should help create a few more opportunities. The weather often plays a significant role during the weekend, so this needs to be monitored at all times.”
“Ambient conditions are typically cool which means good engine power and less chance of thermal degradation in the tyres. The track is relatively rough and tyre energy input is high, higher than Barcelona but much more evenly balanced across the left and right hand sides of the car and more towards the front. Longer range forecasts predict a dry and sunny weekend.”
A look at the rookies
Each of the rookies has plenty of experience of Silverstone and it should mean that they will all be up to speed quickly on Friday. Esteban Gutierrez had to defend himself again this weekend but the Mexican is looking forward to the race and hopefully he can build on some of his positives of recent races, fastest lap in Spain and a solid showing in Monaco:
“I’ve raced here in every year of my career and it’s one of the circuits I like the most,” said the Sauber driver. “The track has a lot of fast corners that you pass in split seconds. To feel the limit of the car at such high speed, for example in corners like Becketts, is something special. In GP3 Silverstone was the track where I scored the most points in one weekend, and I also have good memories of winning there in Formula BMW and GP2. Usually the weather presents a challenge there, so we can expect a bit of variety again.”
Silverstone has historically been one of Williams more successful venues, including claiming their first ever win in 1979, and Valtteri Bottas knows that this history will be a key element of the cupoming weekend:
“This is going to be a very special weekend for Williams, celebrating 600 races in front of our home fans at a track which has a lot of history for the team and is great fun to drive,” said the Finn. “Silverstone is a classic racers track – with some very high speed corners which require a lot of downforce in order to be quick through them. I drove in FP1 last year and at the Young Drivers Test so I have experience of driving a Formula One car at Silverstone which is always helpful in getting up to speed quickly. Normally the track is quite tough on the tyres with quite a bit of graining because the temperatures are cool and the track is very demanding. The weather never makes the circuit any easier due to the often rainy and cold conditions, but after our strong qualifying in Canada in wet conditions I’m confident we would handle this well.”
Bottas and Jules Bianchi have been the most impressive rookies thus far in 2013 but the Frenchman took the time to note that his teammate, Max Chilton, will be racing at home for the first time:
“I’m really looking forward to the team’s home race at Silverstone. I know from Monaco what it feels like to have achieved your dream of racing in Formula 1 and then be able to do just that in front of your home crowd, so it will be a nice weekend for Max. It is also an important weekend for the whole team and I too will be looking to achieve my objectives – to contribute to a good overall team result and keep up the fight with the cars around us.
“We will have a lot of our team members who don’t usually get to a race present and that is really important and nice for them, to be able to see us racing so close to our base. As for the track, I really like it, having raced here before in different formulae. It is one of the best tracks on the calendar in my opinion – very fast, challenging and technical. I’ve done some good preparation and now I can’t wait to start running on Friday.”
This will be Chilton’s first home Grand Prix and the Englishman is in good spirits about the upcoming race. He has taken his knocks so far this season, notably in Monaco for crashing into Pastor Maldonado, but he has improved and is getting closer to his teammate in recent races.
“The British Grand Prix is really special, and for so many reasons, so to be able to call it my home Grand Prix is pretty incredible and without doubt it will be the highlight of my debut season so far,” said Chilton. “It is also the team’s home race and Silverstone is just 18 miles from our base in Banbury, so we’re racing in our own backyard with fantastic support from our fans, our team and our partners right here on our doorstep. It doesn’t get much better than that, apart from bringing home a great result of course, which is what we’ll all be pushing for. I can’t wait.”
The weekend will be important for Marussia as they look to maintain their edge on Caterham in the Constructors’ Championship by virtue of a better finish so far in 2013. Caterham brought an upgrade to Spain with a new front wing and the team has been more competitive of late but given their resources and focus on 2014 it is unlikely that they will trouble the scorers this season so their chances of beating Marussia in the championship are bleak. Even so Giedo van der Garde, a surprise Q2 participant in Monaco, is looking foward to one of numerous home races for the squad:
“For us the British Grand Prix is a home race so it’s one everyone looks forward to,” said the Dutchman. “In fact I’m pretty lucky – we have Malaysia and Silverstone as home races for the team and, for me, Spa will also count as a home race as that’ll be where most Dutch fans go, so I get three chances a year to race in front of our biggest supporters!
“The track itself is obviously one we know really well. I’ve been racing there for many years, I won in 2008 in Formula Renault 3.5 but didn’t have so much luck in the last couple of years in GP2 so the aim is to turn that around, and get back to the progress we saw on track in Spain. We’ve spent a lot of time in the simulator at Leafield around Silverstone and, even with the changes they made to the F1 layout a couple of years ago, I’ve driven a lot of kilometres around there so there’s no surprises.”
Formula 1 revolves around Pirelli tyres
The “secret” tyre test with Mercedes has now thankfully been put to bed and Pirelli will be hoping to fade into the background this weekend with the focus instead on the racing. The Italian manufacturer will bring their two hardest tyre compounds to Silverstone in a bid to make sure that their new tyres, reverting to a 2012 esque steel belt, will not have any issues at this abrasive and demanding track.
With their future in the sport still under speculation Paul Hembery will likely face a busy weekend but the Englishman is, for the moment at least, focussed on his product ahead of this crucial race.
“Silverstone, with its very high average speeds and flowing series of corners, presents an extreme contrast to Canada three weeks ago – which was much more stop and start,” said the Pirelli motorsport czar. “Like Canada, it’s a circuit that takes a lot out of the tyres, but for very different reasons. We’ve brought the two hardest compounds to the British Grand Prix because of that, with a new bonding process connecting the tread to the steel belt, which is designed to eliminate the isolated delamination issues seen earlier this season.
“The actual construction of the tyre won’t change, as the teams weren’t able to reach a unanimous agreement about this: however we do still have that possibility on stand-by should it be required in future. During free practice at Silverstone we will have the same prototype hard tyre available that we tried out on Friday in Spain, aimed at even greater durability than our current hard. This is in order to give the teams the chance to test this new compound on a different track to collect more data.
“Of course another important factor at Silverstone is the notoriously variable British weather: it would be no big surprise to see the Cinturato Green intermediate and Cinturato Blue full wet brought into play at some point. For that reason, it’s quite hard to predict the number of pit stops on race day. Last year we saw a two-stop strategy in dry conditions after two wet days but this year the compounds are softer, so if it stays dry we could have between three and four stops.
“We should be in a position to make a more precise forecast after free practice. Finally, and most importantly, we would like to pass on our sincere condolences to Allan Simonsen’s family and friends following the terrible accident at Le Mans last weekend. We were Aston Martin Racing’s partners for many years, and we can only imagine what they must be going through now.”
Weather for this weekend
The fickle British summer means that a weather prediction is to be taken with a pinch of salt however with Saturday and Sunday forecast to be cloudy but dry there can be hope of a dry race. During the race drivers, engineers and fans will be keeping their eyes to the skies above Club Corner as this is where the prevailing wind will be carrying weather from.