Can Schumacher halt Alonso's title charge at Silverstone?
The teams have hardly had time to celebrate or lick their wounds after Monaco, though the majority have been out testing in Barcelona last week. Ferrari proved very quick there, with Renault in hot pursuit, and that is likely to be the order at Silverstone too as the British Grand Prix moves forward in the calendar to avoid a clash with the world cup.
The British teams may enjoy a slight advantage initially as they have all tested here recently; Renault and McLaren in particular were very quick a few weeks back. Ferrari havent been here for a while, but the Bridgestone-shod 248 F1 looks a strong package anywhere this season so dont write off the challenge of the red cars. After his misadventures in Monte Carlo, Michael Schumacher will be particularly keen to get his championship challenge back on track. Now that Fernando Alonso has a 21-point lead and can effectively afford to be beaten in a few races so long as he finishes second to Schumacher, Michael will be relying heavily on team mate Felipe Massa to start taking that place and pushing Alonso to third. Like his team leader, the Brazilian has some amends to make after crashing in qualifying in the Principality.
Alonso goes into the race exuding confidence, intent on winning his third consecutive 2006 round. I am feeling very confident ahead of this race, he admits. We had a good test at Silverstone and we know that the characteristics of the circuit are good for the R26, so there is no reason to think we won't be fighting at the front. There is no point making big predictions, saying we will definitely win. Ferrari will be very strong, McLaren maybe as well if they can maintain their speed from Monaco. It will not be an easy weekend, but I certainly think we can be fighting for the win.
Our Michelin tyres were very good when we tested in Silverstone a couple of months ago, and I am very confident that they will be strongest this weekend. But we have to run, to wait and see the conditions, before we make too many predictions. At the last races, we have seen the balance of power shift between the first day of practice and the race itself, so we will have to see how the track evolves, and what the tyre performance is like on Sunday afternoon.
In common with the other drivers who tested at Silverstone in April, Alonso believes that the famous track has changed since 2005. The circuit is certainly very different now with the V8 engines, to how it was last year with the V10. We have a lot of high-speed corners at Silverstone, and even though this year's cars have less power, there is more grip thanks to the softer tyres. That means we are much quicker in the corners, and a lot of the first part of the lap is now nearly flat out. Certainly, this is the biggest difference we have felt so far between the V8 and V10 engines. That makes the circuit tougher physically - with so many high-speed corners, and quite a bumpy surface, Silverstone is difficult for the drivers to cope with. Then, of course, it is a question of fun. It is always a nice feeling to be attacking high-speed corners right on the limit!
McLaren have won 30 percent of their British Grands Prix, including last years event courtesy of Juan Pablo Montoya. Kimi Raikkonen might mentally have written off his chances of the title this year, but the Finn loves Silverstone and desperately wants victory here. "The British Grand Prix is one I really want to win, he says, as with Monaco it is another of the legendary races on a great track, and of course a home race for the team. Overtaking is possible, so pole position is not so important as in Monaco. I think there will be some different strategies come race day. When we were testing here in late April, the lap times were quicker than in 2005 because we are faster through the corners this year, most of the time has been found in the mid-corner performance. This is partly because the smaller V8 engines allow new aero opportunities and also improved Michelin performance from last year. Where this had the most effect was at Copse, which is even quicker now than before, as it has always been one of the fastest we race through. You have to be flat through the right-hander, otherwise you lose a lot of time, however because it is now quicker than before you have to be very precise, it has made the corner more of a challenge."
Honda should also be strong here, though 2005 front row man Jenson Button has cautioned his hungry fans not to expect too much of him this weekend. Silverstone will be the Englishmans 108th race, but though he would dearly love to break his duck at home his manner suggests he does not expect to. He is another one anxious to forget his race in Monte Carlo, where handling problems kept his Honda RA106 well down the field.
Elsewhere, Williams want a strong result after their Monaco disappointment, on the circuit that yielded their first (1979) and 100th (1997) victories. BMW Sauber are looking for an upswing, as are Red Bull Racing on the track closest to their base. This is also David Coulthards home race, of course, and the Scot is up for another good result after scoring the teams first-ever podium finish in Monaco.
Toyota may bring their TF106B, Toro Rosso hope for some points after missing them in Monaco, Midland will be racing at home and also feel they should have scored last time out, and Super Aguri will also be racing on home soil as their base is not too far away in Leafield. They had originally hoped to debut their new SA06 here, but that has been provisionally put back to Magny-Cours in July.