George Russell on Silverstone: The Williams driver's guide to the British Grand Prix circuit
In this special feature from the British Grand Prix edition of the Official Formula 1 Magazine, Williams driver George Russell details his love of racing at Silverstone and shares his disappointment that fans won’t be there to cheer him on at his home race...
I’ve always loved Silverstone. It’s amazing to think the perimeter roads of an old RAF airfield have been pieced together to create such an incredible Grand Prix circuit. Something so mega was created from something so simple.
This year will we get the opportunity to race at my home track twice – a week apart – and the second event, the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix [on July 9], will celebrate seven decades of Formula 1, marking the first world championship race to be held there in 1950.
In the early days of the sport, drivers used to compete not only in F1, but in Formula 2 and touring cars, too. Back then, racing was incredibly pure and dangerous, and I’m sure it was just as exhilarating as today.
Silverstone was a quick circuit then and remains so. It’s got an amazing flow to it. It’s a circuit that I’ve always loved driving and is definitely one of the highlights of my season.
I first went to the track when I was 11 years old. At the time, I was racing in a championship called Formula Kart Stars. They had a stand and I was invited there on the weekend of the 2009 British Grand Prix.
My clearest memory is of standing on the outside of Copse corner, not in a grandstand, but on the bank near the fence. I remember the opening lap of the race and the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel leading Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn and the second Red Bull, driven by Mark Webber.
The noise as the pack roared past on the opening lap was crazy.
I don’t know if the circuit has just suited my driving style, or whether it’s because it’s my home race, but in my career I have always gone well there, winning in British Formula 4 and Formula 3, and taking two podiums last year in the Formula 2 Championship.
You have to be very disciplined with your driving. It’s easy to over-commit because you always want to get more out of the car. But because of its flowing nature, if you go one per cent over the limit you instantly compromise the following corners and that has a detrimental effect on your lap time.
For example, if you over-push the entry to the ultra-quick Maggotts and Becketts sequence, you are then compromised on the next two corners.
Equally, the tight right and left handers of Turns 3 and 4 [Village and The Loop] while much slower, have the same principle. If you are too fast in the first right-hander, you compromise your entry to the left. So it’s important not to over-drive on certain parts of the circuit.
If you really want to get a good lap time, you have got to be 99.9 per cent accurate. I’ve always been a driver who doesn’t necessarily go over the limit, so perhaps that’s why I tend to perform strongly at Silverstone.
My favourite section of the lap is from Copse to Stowe. That’s probably 40 seconds of lap time where you are virtually flat-out the whole way. It’s incredibly quick in a Formula 1 car.
Even in the race last year, we were flat through Copse. Maggots and Becketts are so quick on entry – it’s incredibly fun and there is a real buzz when you are on the limit and you just start to feel the car moving underneath you.
As you approach Stowe, you only touch the brakes depending on wind direction. If there is a tailwind then you have to, but with a headwind it’s just a lift of the throttle. But because you haven’t used the brakes properly since Luffield they are very cold and that can have a detrimental effect on the car.
In the junior categories, the quality of the brakes wasn’t as high as in F1, so you would often get a bit of ‘knock-off’ where the pads would slightly move away from the discs. What you would do to compensate is just dab them very slightly before entering the Vale section, to bring the pads to the discs before hitting them properly.
It’s important to have the brakes at a consistent temperature from left to right, and that corner is a really difficult braking zone. There is a little bump on entry, which you brake before in the junior categories, but after in F1.
What’s great about Silverstone is that it always offers up great opportunities to race despite its high speed. Normally, very quick tracks aren’t that good for racing but Silverstone absolutely is.
One of the best overtaking spots is at the end of the Wellington Straight into Brooklands. Because you are immediately into Luffield, there isn’t too much of a run to Copse and it’s unlikely someone will attempt to slipstream back past you. Hopefully you can put a gap between yourself and them into Maggotts.
But the great thing about Silverstone is that it always gives you an opportunity to repass someone because there are different lines to take. If someone passes you late on the brakes into Brooklands, you can actually cut back in and attempt to go around the outside at Luffield.
Likewise, if someone dives down the inside at Turn 3 you can get on the outside of Turn 4 to cut back and get a better exit. It’s the same at Stowe.
There’s no doubt that Silverstone is a very tough circuit physically, so it’s probably for the best that it wasn't the first race back, as the two Austrian races enabled us to get back into the groove. But I don’t prepare any differently for Silverstone.
I always go about my physical training to prepare for the hardest scenarios and ensure my neck is ready for the toughest challenge. We pull between 4-6G loading in so many of the corners.
I’d say Copse and Stowe are about 4G and Maggotts and Becketts are 5.5G. Last year, the cars that were running a bit less drag were taking the corners at 295kph at the apex, which is just absolutely bonkers.
The evolution of F1 over the past 70 years has been massive. From a technical point of view, it’s impressive how the sport has pushed the boundaries to reach the speeds we are able to achieve now. Formula 1 represents the best of the best and its possible to sometimes forget how far it has come and how incredible it is.
Silverstone is certainly a very special place for Williams. The team scored their first victory at the track with Clay Regazzoni in 1979 and there were many classic wins for Williams there in the 1980s and 1990s – particularly with Nigel Mansell at the wheel. For a very British and family-run team it’s a very special Grand Prix at the home of British motorsport.
Last year, Sir Frank came to the race and for me it was very special to race in my first British Grand Prix. Although the moment your helmet goes on you forget about that side of things and become purely focused on going as quickly as you can.
Prior to that, driving into the circuit and having all the home fans cheering you on – and being on the drivers’ parade, throwing merchandise into the stands – was such a buzz. It was an experience I will cherish for a long time. It will be really sad to not have any fans at the track this year.
The only upshot is that we’ll get the opportunity to race at Silverstone twice, and from a pure driving perspective, that will be great.
This story first appeared in Issue 5 of The Official Formula 1 Magazine. Your official guide to Silverstone is available to buy now - for a 20% discount use the code Silver20 at www.thef1magazine.com.