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Great Britain preview - predictions blowing in the wind 07 Jul 2011

Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB7.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 8 April 2011 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, European Grand Prix, Practice Day, Valencia, Spain, Friday, 24 June 2011 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, European Grand Prix, Race, Valencia, Spain, Sunday, 26 June 2011 The finish line.
British Grand Prix, Rd9, Silverstone, England, Preparations, Wednesday, 6 July 2011 Race action. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 11 July 2010 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, 21 May 2011 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Chinese Grand Prix, Preparations, Shanghai, China, Thursday, 14 April 2011 Fans.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 11 July 2010 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Hispania Racing F1 Team (HRT).
British Grand Prix, Rd9, Silverstone, England, Preparations, Wednesday, 6 July 2011 Pit lane exit.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, British Grand Prix Preparations, Silverstone, England, Wednesday, 6 July 2011 Pirelli tyres. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, European Grand Prix, Practice Day, Valencia, Spain, Friday, 24 June 2011 The Red Arrows display.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 11 July 2010 Start and finish straight and the Wing.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, British Grand Prix Preparations, Silverstone, England, Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Red Bull have dominated the last two British Grands Prix, with Sebastian Vettel running away in 2009 and Mark Webber doing likewise at Silverstone last year. Adrian Newey’s car seems to have an unbeatable aerodynamic advantage at the Northamptonshire track. But the highly knowledgeable crowd will be willing on McLaren, as Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton hunt for victory on home soil.

"Everyone wants to win their home Grand Prix, or at least be on the podium," Button says. "I've been close a couple of times, and last year was pretty close. It was disappointing not to get there after driving up from 14th on the grid. Because of the support we get, Silverstone is so special to any British driver.

“Last year the whole paddock, in the grandstands, people watching on banks, it was just full of rocket red caps. Seeing the support was unbelievable. So yeah, it would be nice to get a podium, but it's going to be tricky. We've got to focus on bringing some good improvements to the race to have a chance of that.

“I was in the factory on Wednesday, and drove the simulator, so hopefully we'll turn up with a good package. I'd love to have a good result in front of the home crowd. Winning would be out of this world, but even being on the podium would be special."

Hamilton, meanwhile, makes no bones about it. He will be going all-out in front of his countrymen, intent on turning around his troubled season. “People say it’s all about participating, but that’s absolute rubbish,” he says, dismissing the notion that taking part is what matters. “I want to be competitive and to win, it’s all I live for. Second place is less devastating, but third or fourth are a waste of an afternoon.”

He is one of several hoping that the FIA’s ban on off-throttle blown diffusers will adversely affect Red Bull, and that it will play to McLaren’s strengths. “Compared to the others I have the feeling that there is greater potential for them to lose more. I’ve followed the Red Bulls and we have to corner with lower gears than they do to keep the revs up and keep generating exhaust airflow over the diffuser. They use lower revs but they are still generating the downforce, so I still hope there’s potential that they will be hurt more by the ban than we are.”

The whole diffuser thing will be the big question of the weekend, as the new rules no longer permit teams to blow exhaust gases over their cars’ diffusers and floors when drivers lift off the throttle. This will mean not only a reduction in downforce and thus grip, but could promote braking instability on corner entry and understeer on the exit.

Naturally, Red Bull’s rivals are all pinning their hopes on it trimming their acknowledged aerodynamic advantage, and after trying McLaren’s changes last Wednesday in the simulator, Button suggests: “They make the car feel different, and whoever gets to grips with them will be strong at Silverstone. Whoever can change the set-up will get a chance at the podium.”

Meanwhile, Red Bull’s Helmut Marko says: "We expect to lose approximately 0.5 seconds per lap without the [off-throttle] blown diffuser. But we have made preparations to equalise this in terms of set-up and aero measures. We are optimistic that we will keep our performance level."

And Renault technical director James Allison says they are confident that their performance won’t suffer in comparison with rivals. "It’s not easy to judge the effect of this change on our competitiveness," he says. "The loss (of performance) will come from how much downforce will be lost and how much the loss of this downforce upsets the balance of the car.

“It’s possible that we will suffer less on the balance shift side of the equation because our forward exit exhausts produce their effect quite near the middle of the car. This means that as the exhaust blow waxes and wanes, it does not really disturb the aero balance of the car too much. With a rearward blower, the downforce from the exhaust is all generated at the rear axle.”

Neither world championship leader Vettel nor Red Bull team mate Webber are letting the ban disturb their equilibrium.

“The fans in Britain are special,” defending champion Vettel says. “They support their own people of course, but they really know so much about our sport and are really fair when it’s about acknowledging performance and achievement. This year the start and finish have been moved, so let’s see what effect that will have. The extreme corner combinations on the track make it a real pleasure for the drivers. There are fast corners and often we have to react to the tricky weather conditions. Copse, Maggots, Becketts and Chapel are four of the best corners in Formula One.”

“The British Grand Prix is obviously one of the highlights of the calendar as Silverstone is an extremely prestigious venue,” says last year’s victor Webber. “There has been a lot of work done there in the past year including the new pit complex which looks great. As proved in previous seasons, the characteristics of the circuit have suited us well. The test will remain if it’s the same this time around. I’m looking to get a top result for everyone down the road at the base in Milton Keynes.”

Ferrari have been making a lot of progress of late, with strong performances in Monaco, Canada and Valencia, though there is disappointment that Pirelli have opted for their hard and soft tyre compounds for the weekend as the 150° Italia has in the past lacked pace on the hard rubber.

"For us that means one more challenge,” driver Fernando Alonso says philosophically. “Anyway, the tyre choice is the same for everyone and there's no point discussing if the pair of compounds chosen is more suited to one team or another. It's up to the teams to adjust the cars to get the best out of the tyres both in terms of performance and life."

Even without that, Silverstone is likely to be a tough race for Ferrari, as its characteristics are less well suited to the 150° Italia’s strengths. "We are moving forward, as could be seen in the last three races, but now we must also confirm the progress seen at Monaco, Montreal and Valencia on a track with completely different characteristics, which is definitely more suited to our main rivals," Alonso adds. "At Silverstone, you need a lot of aerodynamic downforce and this is area where we are lagging behind.”

Elsewhere, Scotsman Paul di Resta will be racing an F1 car at home for the first time and is determined to repeat his feat earlier in the season of bringing his Force India home in the points.

“Coming to Silverstone as a Formula One driver will feel very special,” the 25 year-old rookie says. “It’s going to be one of the highlights of the season and a very busy weekend. Silverstone is not a track where I’ve raced at much in the past.

“My only race to date has been on the national circuit in a Formula Renault. So when I drove in free practice last year it was my first experience of the full Grand Prix circuit. It’s a great lap and a place where you can really feel a Formula One car excel through the quick corners. And this year, with the new layout, there’s a high-speed end of the lap so it will be interesting to see how the tyres hold on in qualifying.

“I remember last year that the atmosphere was just incredible. The British fans love Formula One, the grandstands are always packed and the whole place feels alive. I can’t wait to feel that buzz again this year. My target is hopefully to make the top 10 in qualifying. We’ve been there or thereabouts for the last few races and we need to be there if we want to fight for points.”

Meanwhile, down at HRT Tonio Liuzzi will be kept on his mettle as Toro Rosso’s third driver, the very highly rated Daniel Ricciardo, becomes Australia’s second Grand Prix driver in place of Narain Karthikeyan. He knows Silverstone well, and says: “It’s also close to my home so I will probably sleep in my own bed this weekend. It will feel a bit more comfortable, let's say. It is not Australia, but it’s the next best thing!”

Silverstone will use the new track layout introduced for the 2010 race, but now that the new Silverstone Wing pit and paddock complex is fully operational for the first time at an F1 race, Abbey will be the first corner instead of Copse. The changes to Silverstone’s layout were very well received last year and created a 5.891-kilometre (3.660 mile) track that is now one of the longest and fastest on the calendar.

“The new pits are the biggest difference, and the entry and exit bring new challenges,” explains FIA race director Charlie Whiting. “The entry is shorter than staying on the circuit, so we will have to ensure that drivers don’t use these changes to the pits to their advantage. As for the exit, this is now quite a steep uphill into an extremely fast corner, so it’s certainly going to be different. It’s going to be quite significant in terms of strategy as there’s not too much cost in changing tyres.”

The high speeds, high G forces and a relatively abrasive surface present a unique challenge to Pirelli as well as the drivers and engineers. The tyre manufacturer hopes the hard tyre’s durability and the soft tyre’s speed will see the teams follow a variety of routes in their quest to find the best strategy.

With regards to DRS, after the doubles of Canada and Montreal, we return to a single zone at Silverstone. The detection point is just prior to Village (Turn Three), with the activation point shortly after Turn Four. This means drivers will have the wing open through the left-hand kink of Turn Five and then along the Wellington Straight.

The weather, meanwhile, could be a little unsettled early in the event, but race day should be good. There is a small chance of showers on Thursday, when the ambient temperature should be around 18 degrees Celsius. That is expected to hold throughout the weekend, with light rain on Friday, showers again possible on Saturday afternoon during qualifying, and then partial cloud and dry conditions for the race.

The race will run over 52 laps of the circuit, or 306.227 kilometres (190.289 miles). It starts at 1300 hours local time, which is an hour ahead of GMT.

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