Great Britain preview - predictions blowing in the wind 07 Jul 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 Neweys 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 its all about participating, but thats absolute rubbish, he says, dismissing the notion that taking part is what matters. I want to be competitive and to win, its 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 FIAs ban on off-throttle blown diffusers will adversely affect Red Bull, and that it will play to McLarens strengths. Compared to the others I have the feeling that there is greater potential for them to lose more. Ive 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 theres 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 Bulls rivals are all pinning their hopes on it trimming their acknowledged aerodynamic advantage, and after trying McLarens 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 Bulls 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 wont suffer in comparison with rivals. "Its 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.
Its 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 its about acknowledging performance and achievement. This year the start and finish have been moved, so lets 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 years 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 its the same this time around. Im 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° Italias 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. Its going to be one of the highlights of the season and a very busy weekend. Silverstone is not a track where Ive 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. Its 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, theres 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 cant wait to feel that buzz again this year. My target is hopefully to make the top 10 in qualifying. Weve 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 Rossos third driver, the very highly rated Daniel Ricciardo, becomes Australias second Grand Prix driver in place of Narain Karthikeyan. He knows Silverstone well, and says: Its 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 its 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 Silverstones 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 dont 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 its certainly going to be different. Its going to be quite significant in terms of strategy as theres 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 tyres durability and the soft tyres 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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