Thursday race preview 17 Jul 2003
Hello and welcome to the start of Silverstone's British Grand Prix weekend. This 11th round of the 2003 FIA Formula One World Championship will see Ferrari, Williams and McLaren go up against each other again, as Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya continue their gripping four-way fight for the drivers' crown.
Ralf Schumacher's recent brace of victories for Williams, in the Grand Prix of Europe at the Nurburgring and in the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours, has brought the championship alive and moved Williams past McLaren in the chase after Ferrari. Two second places have also brought Montoya to the fore, in the wake of his brilliant win at Monaco.
The successes focused the spotlight firmly on Michelin, whose products have enjoyed an advantage over Bridgestone's for the past five races. However, both tyre manufacturers have been conducting intensive tests since Magny-Cours, and the outcome of their labours will start to become apparent this weekend. It will be crucial to the outcome of the title chase, because of the summer ban on testing which began on Monday July 14 and will effectively prevent anyone testing for the next two months.
Williams and McLaren went to Barcelona. Ferrari also went there, but conducted separate tests at Mugello and Fiorano too. In Spain the honours were very even. Alexander Wurz set the fastest time overall for McLaren in 1m 17.616s last Friday; Rubens Barrichello managed 1m 17.803s for Ferrari on the Thursday; and Ralf Schumacher recorded 1m 17.895s for Williams on the Wednesday. Olivier Beretta also tested for Michelin at Ladoux.
Points leader Michael Schumacher says he is feeling very confident for the future, despite the recent turn of events at Williams. "I am very optimistic about my chances at Silverstone because we did a very good test at the track last month," he said. "We will also have some new parts on the car, which is encouraging. I am sure we will be competitive there but I still fully expect the fight to be between the top three teams again."
Schumacher also said that he expected Silverstone to be one of the remaining tracks on the calendar that will suit his Ferrari F2003-GA.
The track requires medium to high downforce and has a similar surface to Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya. There's plenty of grip but it is quite abrasive, so tyre wear can be a factor. Copse corner is very quick, and so is the complex of high-speed curves comprising Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel. These demand absolute accuracy from the driver when placing the car here, and on the entry and exit of Stowe. These are the critical sectors of the track, together with Bridge corner.
High-speed stability is essential, so finding the right set-up is crucial. Just to complicate the issue, you also need good traction and mechanical grip for the slow-speed infield corners such as Abbey, Luffield and Priory and the first part of Woodcote.
Williams is also optimistic that its FW25s will go well. "The time and effort put in behind the scenes between races by everyone on the test team is a crucial element of our racing programme," said chief operations engineer Sam Michael. "Combined with the efforts made by our technical suppliers, we can hopefully maintain our current performance level and secure some more championship points. We are very much looking forward to Silverstone."
At McLaren, managing director Martin Whitmarsh says: "Following intensive tests in Barcelona we are looking forward to our home Grand Prix, where we believe we have the potential to challenge for victory. We are all working to try and achieve this objective."
Renault is also hopeful that the aerodynamic excellence of the newly-revised R23B will help Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso to leading positions. "In order to achieve the very high lateral accelerations and high-speed changes in direction in the first part of the circuit, Copse and the Becketts complex," engineer Pat Symonds says, "it is necessary to have a car with huge inherent stability." Renault believes it has a car that meets those requirements.
Elsewhere, Honda will be bringing the latest version of its RA003E V10 engine, which promises a significant jump in power, Sauber will have revised suspension and aerodynamics on its C23s, and Jordan is expected to make some significant set-up changes to its EJ13s.
Jordan is also setting up a party village for team fans, the Jordan Experience, at its factory just over the road from Silverstone's main entrance. Entry is free and the village will be open from Friday to Sunday.