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The British Grand Prix preview - crunch time for Hamilton? 03 Jul 2008

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes and pole sitter Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 24 May 2008 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.08 
Formula One Testing, Silverstone, England, Day Two, Wednesday, 25 June 2008 A sign for directions
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, British Grand Prix, Wednesday Preparations, Silverstone, England, 02 July 2008 New engine cover on the car of Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1 VJM01. Formula One Testing, Silverstone, England, Day Three, Thursday 26 June 2008. Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda RA108. Formula One Testing, Silverstone, England, Day Three, Thursday 26 June 2008.

Ferrari and McLaren go head-to-head at Silverstone this weekend in a race that may well prove crucial in the world championship campaign of local hero Lewis Hamilton. The fast Northamptonshire track has recently favoured Ferrari, but McLaren have been happy all season with their MP4-23’s behaviour in high-speed corners and, following last week’s test of new aerodynamic parts - notably a new front wing - specifically for this race, Hamilton was even happier after lapping in 1m 19.1s. That’s eight-tenths of a second faster than his 2007 pole position time, despite the ban on traction control and automated engine braking.

"The test was really encouraging," Hamilton said as he prepares to try and reduce his 10-point deficit to series leader Felipe Massa. “The changes we've made in the last few tests have really improved the car. I haven't back-to-backed the new parts so I don't have a benchmark, but the car feels strong around here and I can't wait to be racing in front of my home crowd again."

Ten thousand spectators attended the test, and Hamilton said he could already feel then the lift he will get from his fans this weekend: "Driving into Silverstone felt really cool - I couldn't believe how many fans were at the track so early in the morning; they're pretty special, the most dedicated F1 supporters in the world.

"At lunchtime I couldn't believe the amount of people that were waiting outside my garage - it was insane! And while I couldn't say hi to all of them, their support always gives me a special lift at this place."

Ferrari, meanwhile, are very strong and were very quick in the test courtesy of Massa. Team mate Kimi Raikkonen, who will use up his ‘complimentary’ engine change at Silverstone following his exhaust problems in France, says that he expects the F2008 to be quick this weekend: “I hope it will be. McLaren are always strong here, and I'm expecting that this weekend. I think it's going to be quite close between us and I don't see the other teams being close enough for the win, but with them (McLaren) it is going to be a tight fight.”

Regarding their title battle, he adds: “It helps for sure if you are consistent. If you are not fast enough then you still need to try and win the races, and get there. If you can score points in every race, then you are always going to be in a strong position.”

BMW Sauber hope to bounce back after their disappointing showing in France.

"Silverstone has a great history and is a very nice track,” said former points leader Robert Kubica. “It is very important to have good downforce here, especially in the high-speed first sector. Later on in the lap the track has some low-speed corners. From a driver's perspective, the circuit is a good mix that makes a lot of different demands. Wind conditions are always a big factor, and they can have quite an effect on the car in the first sector. Furthermore, British weather is always unpredictable, but I have been to races in Silverstone three or four times and never had rain. So let's wait and see."

Honda have engine, chassis and aerodynamic modifications for the RA108s that local hero Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello will run. Force India will also be presenting a new look with a heavy revamp of the VJM01 which features new sidepods, barge boards, diffuser, front wing, engine cover, inerter damper and suspension modifications.

Bridgestone have brought along their medium and hard tyre compounds this weekend. As far as set-up goes, although Silverstone is very quick, it requires around 80 percent of maximum available downforce. Drivers need a lot of confidence to tackle the swift Copse and the series of very fast sweepers that follow through Becketts and Maggots and then Stowe. But then come the slower Club, the Abbey chicane and the final complex, and it is in the latter that the lack of traction control made itself most felt in the recent tests.

The greatest challenge, however, lies in that first section. “It is almost like being on the straight, except that you feel the G forces on one side of your neck and then on the other,” Kubica says of the change of direction at Maggots and Becketts.