Where speed is king - Toyota on the allure of Silverstone 30 Jun 2008
Silverstone is the original Formula One circuit, the place where the world championship was born in 1950, but history is just one aspect of this weekends British Grand Prix venue; for Toyotas drivers Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, speed is king. After Monza, Silverstone is the fastest track on the calendar, with an average speed of almost 230km/h on a flying lap and a top speed of over 300km/h at the end of the long Hangar Straight.
But, unlike Monza, Silverstone is more than just long straights separated by chicanes, and much of the high speed comes in the exhilarating sweeps of the first half of the lap, from the near-flat right-hander at Copse through the breathtaking Becketts complex to the Hangar Straight.
That mixture of speed and skill is a popular one among Formula One drivers, as Trulli explains: Silverstone is one of the older circuits we still have and the characteristic of the circuit is the high-speed corners. Becketts is an old-fashioned series of corners which is exciting for a driver because it is high speed and you really need to find the right line. You basically flow around the corners.
But as well as the fast sweeps of the opening sector, there is also the slow Luffield section of two second-gear left-handers at the end of a lap. This complex was added to Silverstone in 1990 and presents a challenge in terms of set-up, as the desire for top speed earlier in the lap must be balanced with the need for grip around these slower corners.
At Toyota, plenty of work has already been done to prepare the TF108 for those two sides of Silverstone's character, with three days of testing last week at the historic track. Nevertheless, Friday practice will provide a valuable opportunity to fine tune the delicate balance between top speed and downforce.
Head of aerodynamics Mark Gillan explains: You've got to be very careful that you don't give away downforce in the hunt for top speed. Overtaking is quite difficult so really you're trying to set the car up to be at its maximum pace for the whole lap so you shouldn't really search for top speed alone.
We very much take the opinion that you set the car up for maximum outright pace - meaning the quickest lap time - and do not concern yourself too much about the top speed, within reason of course.
Like all of the teams, Toyota spent three days at Silverstone last week, but even with a full test to prepare, it is almost impossible to arrive at any race track with an absolute certainty of what to expect, with factors such as the weather and track conditions changing on a day-by-day basis.
This is particularly true at Silverstone, which is prone to strong cross winds that can upset a car's aerodynamic balance. This is a characteristic inherited from the track's former use, as a World War II bomber base, when wide open space was an advantage for an airfield with three active runways.
Another unpopular feature of the local weather can be rain, although despite Britain's reputation for wet weather, only three times in the last 20 years has the British Grand Prix been a wet race.
But reputations are hard to shake off, and for many in Formula One racing, Silverstone is forever associated with grey skies and low temperatures. "The weather is always a question mark at Silverstone, says Glock. I was in England in May for a short trip and it rained every day. It can be tricky over a race weekend if you have changeable weather because you don't really know what's going to happen in the next hour or so.
Jokes about British weather, of course, have a long history, so they fit well with Silverstone and the British Grand Prix. On the very same grid where Trulli and Glock will line up on Sunday, legends such as Juan Manuel Fangio and Guiseppe Farina started the first-ever world championship Grand Prix back in 1950.
Since then, Britain is one of just two nations, the other being Italy, to have enjoyed an unbroken presence on the Formula One calendar. This rare distinction alone makes the British Grand Prix special but, according to Toyotas President John Howett, this is only one of several reasons to enjoy a visit to Silverstone.
Howett explains: "Silverstone's always a great place to go because you also have a crowd at Silverstone who really understand motorsport. They really appreciate the racing and also the technique behind the racing so it's great to go there.
"These great Grands Prix with huge heritage, such as the British or French Grands Prix, are very, very, important. There are a lot of sponsors who are looking at the big markets in Europe and therefore these Grands Prix are extremely important to them too."
With its own passionate history of motorsport stretching back over half a century, Toyota fits comfortably in such an environment. But the Japanese team are driven by a desire to make history so, come Sunday's race, speed will again be king.