Great Britain preview - Red Bull and Ferrari to take centre stage? 05 Jul 2012
Red Bull and Ferrari start as favourites for the 2012 Formula 1 Santander British Grand Prix, the former winning the 2009 and 2010 races with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, the latter dominating last year with Fernando Alonso.
Ferrari won the last round in Valencia, but Red Bulls latest upgrade appeared to have made a huge difference to the RB8 before its alternator overheated behind the safety car, and historically the Northamptonshire track has been a very happy hunting ground for Adrian Neweys cars. Ferrari say that their own form in England is hard to predict.
Even after the track was amended for the 2011 race, it didn't lose its magic, Vettel says. For me as a driver it is one of the best and interesting tracks of all. The atmosphere is great, British fans enthusiastically support their countrymen, but at the same time theyre very objective and fair in judging the performance of the non-British drivers. On top of that they are experts about F1. The track is demanding for a driver and provides everything a driver likes, including the unpredictable weather which is possible in July in Silverstone.
Webber, the polesitter last year, is equally upbeat about his second home race.
Im really looking forward to the British Grand Prix and racing in front of a sell-out crowd thats passionate about F1. Many of them will be there to cheer on the Brits, so theres some irony in the fact that Silverstone is actually the local track for both the Aussie F1 drivers on the grid; Daniel Ricciardo and I are based in Buckinghamshire! Its a great time of the year for British sport, with Wimbledon on at present and the Olympic Games just around the corner. Im sure the British Grand Prix wont disappoint; were going to Silverstone with one goal in mind and thats to win!
What are the chances of a home victory for Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button? Both are pinning their hopes on a significant upgrade to the McLaren MP4-27, and sporting director Sam Michael doesnt expect Red Bull to have such a big advantage here as they had in Valencia.
"It probably has got some circuit-specific nature to it," he says. "Valencia hasn't been a track that we have traditionally been very good at and if you look forward to Silverstone this weekend, it definitely fits more in line with where the McLaren car strengths are.
"However, they did take a step forward but I don't think it's as big as the pace that Sebastian showed in that first stint and we will be looking to correct that at Silverstone. If we look back to Barcelona, we were almost six tenths in front of them on the grid before we took the penalty, so looking at the type of track that Silverstone is, we're hoping for a repeat of that."
"Silverstone is more than just my home race, Hamilton says, its a giant of a circuit, a real racer's track. Every year we go there it's a mega experience with the support you get from the fans. Although I've won the race before, I'd love to win it again. Expectations are always high, because everyone is there waving the flag for you. I get this incredible boost of energy from that."
On recent form, he is the more likely of the two to challenge for the win, something that isnt lost on Button who has been struggling with tyre performance recently. The British Grand Prix is a big gap in my trophy cabinet, he admits. Its the one I would love to win, the one thats missing. Ive never been on the podium there!
After three troubled races, he would like nothing better than to pull himself back into contention by regaining his form and scoring that elusive home win.
"Everyone wants to win their home Grand Prix, and Silverstone is so special to any British driver, he says. All the spectators with their flags and rocket red caps... The support you get from them is unbelievable.
Lotus are based not far away and can also regard this as a home event, and both Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen have been knocking on the door of Victory Lane recently. The first win cannot be far away. Likewise, Mercedes are just down the road at Brackley, and Michael Schumacher knows Silverstone quite well having won there three times.
Williams have already been back on to the top step of the podium in 2012, courtesy of Pastor Maldonado in Spain, and they would love to emulate their first-ever win, here in 1979 with Clay Regazzoni. Their test driver Valtteri Bottas is expected to get another FP1 outing in place of Bruno Senna on Friday.
Paul di Resta will also be in strong form for his home race. Silverstone is a great venue, and a place where you can really appreciate what a Formula One car is capable of, especially the aerodynamic grip and the change of direction, he says. Everybody talks about the speed of Maggots and Becketts because there really is nothing else like them on any other track in the world. When youre running with low fuel on a qualifying lap with new tyres it gives you a real buzz, but you need to hook them up just right to get the lap time.
I also enjoy the new section of the track and every year we go back there it gets better and better. The new layout has definitely created some more overtaking opportunities, especially with the introduction of DRS, and its great fun to drive, while being very demanding on the tyres at the same time.
Di Resta's Force India team mate, Nico Hulkenberg, will step aside for tester Jules Bianchi in Friday's opening practice session.
Elsewhere among the midfield contenders, two drivers come into this weekend carrying grid penalties for the race. At Sauber, Kamui Kobayashi will drop five places thanks to his Valencia clash with Felipe Massa, while at Toro Rosso Jean-Eric Vergne will drop ten places following his coming together with Heikki Kovalainen in Spain.
Further down the order, Caterham were boosted by their upturn in form in Valencia, and have even more upgrades on the CT01, including a new exhaust system, while Marussia will also have a major upgrade on their MR01. Meanwhile, at HRT tester Dani Clos will get another Friday practice outing, stepping into Narain Karthikeyans car for the opening session.
Silverstone is rightly regarded as a serious challenge, with its high-speed corners and high G loadings, and the relatively abrasive surface may well exacerbate the problem teams already have making Pirellis 2012 tyres last, though the weather may well add a further dimension to that conundrum.
The signs are that there will be showers on Thursday and Saturday, and heavier rain on Friday and Sunday. The ambient temperature will spike around 21 degrees Celsius on Thursday, dropping to 17-18 for the rest of the weekend. As well as the high speeds, Silverstone is often characterised by a wide variety of climatic conditions over the race weekend, so ambient temperatures between 15 to 30 degrees centigrade are possible.
During free practice on Friday the teams will have the opportunity to test a new hard P Zero compound that is under development for the future, as well as the standard P Zero Silver hard compound and P Zero Yellow soft compound that theyll have available for the rest of the race weekend. Because of the likelihood of rain, the Cinturato Green intermediates and Cinturato Blue wets are also likely to see a lot of use.
Pirellis motorsport director Paul Hembery says: Its one of the most iconic circuits on the Formula One calendar, precisely because it is so demanding for the drivers, cars and tyres. This is why we have chosen to test a new experimental hard compound here during free practice, which we may use in the future. The new tyre has a slightly wider working range, which should make it easier for the teams to get the tyres into the right operating temperature window. But with the championship so finely balanced, our priority is to ensure that no one team is handed any particular advantage. We want to keep the performance of the tyres at the highest level for as long as possible, so this is a valuable opportunity for ourselves and all the teams to gather more information about the potential effect of a new compound, and gain some data for the future.
Silverstone is a very high-energy circuit that can see some unpredictable weather conditions, so a strong performance from the tyres and an effective strategy are vital ingredients in a successful race outcome.
The track has changed very little since 2011. The pit entry has been straightened and the pit-lane speed limit begins 50 metres earlier. Theres a single DRS zone at Silverstone. The detection point is just before Village (Turn Three), whilst the activation point is shortly after Turn Four (The Loop). Drivers will therefore have the wing open through the left-hander of Turn Five (Aintree) and then along the Wellington Straight.
The race will run over 52 laps of the 5.891-kilometre (3.660-mile) circuit, or 306.747 kilometres (190.606 miles). It starts at 1300 hours local time, which is an hour ahead of GMT.
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