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Great Britain - What to Watch for...

06 Jul 2014

From Lewis Hamilton’s hopes potentially hinging on a good start to Ferrari and Williams looking to stage recovery drives of their own, and from Jenson Button’s desire for a maiden podium on home soil to the consequences of the ever-changing Silverstone weather, we preview the key themes to look out for in Sunday’s 2014 Formula 1 Santander British Grand Prix…

Hamilton in need of another rapid start

At the last race in Austria, Lewis Hamilton made almost immediate amends for a disappointing qualifying performance by jumping from ninth to fourth by the end of a stunning first lap. He’s going to need a similarly impressive opening on home turf if he harbours any hope of beating Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg after another disappointing Q3.

If Hamilton gets caught up in traffic in the early stages, polesitter Rosberg could very well run and hide, and the Briton knows this. Therefore Hamilton needs to close up on Rosberg’s gearbox as quickly as possible and then hope that he can find a way past the German - something he couldn’t manage in Austria. And with Rosberg having strategy priority by virtue of his higher qualifying position, it’s likely that any pass will have to happen on the track.

In the immediate aftermath of his qualifying error, Hamilton vowed to try to reward his home fans in the race. They’ll be hoping that, as in 2008, he can produce a bit of magic and get himself right back in the hunt for the title. At the very worst he needs another solid recovery drive.

Ferrari and Williams to come through the field

With weather conditions changing by the second, timing was everything in qualifying. Unfortunately for Ferrari and Williams, they sent their cars out momentarily too late in Q1 and paid the ultimate price - an early bath from Q1. But from their misfortune comes the mouth-watering prospect of Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa carving their way back through the field towards the front where, on pace alone, they almost certainly would have qualified.

It won’t be easy, but Ferrari and Williams have lots of fresh tyres for the race and Silverstone does present several overtaking opportunities. The low-speed Brooklands corner (Turn 6) is the most obvious place to attempt a pass, coming at the end of the DRS zone on the Wellington Straight, but we’ve seen drivers successfully overtaking into Copse (Turn 9), Stowe (Turn 15), Vale (Turn 16) and Village (Turn 3) in the past.

Button aiming for maiden home podium

Jenson Button has started 14 races at Silverstone - more than any driver on the grid - and yet he’s never finished on the podium at his home race. In fact, his best result in Britain is fourth (2004, 2010) - surprisingly disappointing given his pedigree and some of the machinery he’s had as his disposal over the years.

But after sealing a well-earned third place on the grid in Saturday’s mixed-weather qualifying session the popular Briton has a great chance to score strongly. In dry conditions Button is likely to struggle to hold onto third place, but if the weather remains changeable, the McLaren driver has proven time and time again that he is one of the best in the business at finding grip in wet/dry conditions.

He certainly won’t be lacking in motivation on race day either - after the last round in Austria McLaren boss Ron Dennis suggested the team needed a little more from the 2009 world champion, and he’ll be drawing on his emotions too. This weekend Button is wearing a pink helmet in honour of his late father, John, who passed away earlier this year, whilst hundreds of fans are expected to wear pink clothing to the track tomorrow as part of the #pinkforpapa charity campaign.

Vettel reasserting himself over Ricciardo

Sebastian Vettel may have four world titles under his belt, but he arrived at Silverstone 23 points behind Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo in the standings having been out-qualified 6-2 by the Australian.

Vettel improved his statistics somewhat by beating Ricciardo on Saturday, but what he needs more than ever is to outrace him on Sunday. He has finished behind Ricciardo at every race in which the duo have both finished this season and that’s simply not good enough for the ultra-competitive German.

The good news for Vettel is that the aerodynamically efficient RB10 has looked much more at home on Silverstone’s sweeping curves than it did in Austria, and that has helped negate Red Bull’s power disadvantage. The world champion has also won at Silverstone before - in 2009 - and barring a mechanical failure he would probably have won at the British track last year too. If he can get away cleanly at the start, a third podium position is definitely in the offing.

Weather could bring added drama to proceedings

The weather played havoc with the grid order during qualifying on Saturday, and there’s every chance that it could do the same on race day. The forecast is for sunny spells over Silverstone on Sunday afternoon, but as anyone who has ever been to the circuit can attest, weather forecasts are not always entirely accurate in this flat, windswept part of Northamptonshire.

A smattering of showers - which are predicted to be in the area - would certainly liven up proceedings and level out the playing field, and would be especially helpful to the Renault runners who are lacking in horsepower.

Bianchi in with a shout of more points

Having scored their first points ever in Monaco, Marussia’s solid season continued at Silverstone on Saturday as they recorded their best ever qualifying result - 12th for Jules Bianchi and 13th for Max Chilton.

Sadly for Chilton, he’ll drop down the order after an unscheduled gearbox change and the subsequent five-place grid drop, but Bianchi has shown that he’s more than capable of mixing it with the midfield runners given half the chance.

In reality, despite his lofty grid slot a points finish seems a little optimistic for the Frenchman, especially given the fact that several faster, more aerodynamically-efficient cars are starting behind him. But having said all that, if the aforementioned mixed weather returns, Bianchi has every chance of causing another upset.

A two-stop strategy is theoretically the fastest way to go

According to Pirelli, the best way to approach the 52-lap race is with a two-stop strategy, starting on the medium tyres (as the majority of the top ten have to) and then stopping around lap 23 for more mediums and then again on lap 45 for short stint on the hards.

Degradation is relatively low at Silverstone, meaning that some drivers may attempt a one-stopper, although the penalty for staying out too long on a set of tyres could be significant given the lap length.

And who knows, if temperatures are high on race day we could see some teams forced into a three-stop strategy (medium-medium-medium-hard), although as Pirelli rightly point out, this would leave drivers vulnerable to feeding into traffic during the closing stages of the race.