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Great Britain preview - Hamilton chasing home glory

03 Jul 2014

Lewis Hamilton will be the focus of thousands of ardent spectators at Silverstone this weekend, many of whom will be cheering him on as he tries to reduce the points deficit to Mercedes team mate and world championship leader Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg won here last year, but only after easy leader Hamilton had been one of the first to experience dramatic tyre issues. And the one thing that Hamilton really doesn’t want to do this time out is to finish behind the German for the fourth race in succession.

“It was great to get another one-two finish for the team in Austria and I'm so proud of all the hard work everyone is putting in to keep us at the front this season,” the 2008 winner says. “Of course, it wasn't the result I wanted personally and it was disappointing not to be able to capitalise on my pace when it was clearly there. But in the end, coming back to second place was positive in terms of damage limitation.

“Silverstone is obviously a special race for me and the support I have there is just incredible. The British fans are the absolute best in the world and it's really humbling to see thousands of people out there cheering you on - no matter what the weather or the result. I won the race in the wet in 2008, which was just the best feeling. I think the gap was around 60 seconds at the end, and I'd lapped everyone up to third place which was just unreal. I could never have hoped or dreamed for a race like that - especially at my home Grand Prix. That has to be one of the best moments of my career. I loved raising that gold trophy in front of the home crowds and I'm determined to get my hands on it again this year.”

Rosberg, meanwhile, reminds us that Silverstone is also one of Mercedes’ two home races since the factories in Brackley and Brixworth are close by.

“Austria was not easy for us overall, so I was delighted to come away with the win and even more so for the team to have both cars at the front. The atmosphere at the circuit was really great and, being so close to Germany, it almost felt like a home race. Silverstone is another special one for me, as I managed to win there last season. It was actually very close to my birthday and I had a really cool experience after the race. There's usually a fan festival with rock bands and all sorts after the track action finishes, which is something I go to almost every year. This time, I was up on stage doing a quick interview and the whole crowd started singing Happy Birthday to me, which was very cool! The British fans are absolutely fantastic. So I enjoy going to Silverstone personally, but really this one is all about the team and many of them will be there with their families and friends across the weekend. I want to put on a good show and get the best result possible out of it for them.”

Much will depend not just on power but also on driveability, how that power and torque is delivered, and aerodynamics. In at least three of those departments the Mercedes-powered cars would appear to have the edge, and though Red Bull as usual have excellent aero performance, Renault’s recent weaknesses could hurt them here.

Silverstone has relatively low grip and is bumpy in places, but also has numerous fast bends which demand aerodynamic efficiency. It’s kind on brakes (which will be good news for Mercedes) and engines, though hard on fuel consumption, and despite the fact that the majority of corners are high speed, there are numerous passing places.

The other team in form recently has been Williams, and besides being a home race for them too and the 35th anniversary of their first victory, their big news is that Felipe Massa will be making his 200th Grand Prix start, and development driver Susie Wolff will drive the FW36 on Friday morning. The 31-year-old Scot has been training intensely for this big opportunity, and is as well prepared as she could ever be.

“Silverstone is a very interesting circuit,” says Williams’ head of vehicle performance Rob Smedley. “It poses a real challenge to the engineers and drivers as we have to set the cars up for such high-speed corners as Abbey, Copse and the Maggotts-Becketts complex. The car does have to be set up differently from other high-speed circuits. The layout has high power and drag sensitivity which should suit our car this season. Depending on the temperature we can suffer from rear tyre graining, however, the hard tyre we have for the weekend could also suffer from low-temperature issues which we will have to manage. The weather always plays a huge part in the weekend as it can change from session to session. The circuit is old-school in terms of spectators as the layout allows the fans to get a good view, which makes for a great atmosphere.”

It’s no secret that there is an element of strain to Red Bull and Renault’s relationship right now, and after the disappointment of Austria Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel are determined to make up lost ground. The tyre warming problems that they encountered in Spielberg shouldn’t be as much of a problem here, and while the Renault power unit lacks straight-line punch, the RB10’s aero strengths will come into play.

Don’t rule out a stronger performance by Ferrari, either, all their much-discussed shortcomings notwithstanding. Fernando Alonso recently expressed the opinion that Mercedes have been playing with their competition, and that their margin of superiority would be even more than it looks if they could keep up their pace throughout a race, but his F14 T is at least reliable and he personally can never be discounted, especially after his sneaky victory over Red Bull here in 2011.

It’s home ground for Force India too, with the factory right opposite the circuit entrance. And Silverstone should suit the VJM07 well, as reserve driver Daniel Juncadella makes his first F1 Friday practice appearance. McLaren, another home team, may struggle with their aerodynamics. And it will be another emotional race for Jenson Button, who hopes to see thousands of fans wearing pink tee-shirts in memory of his late father John who died in January.

“For any driver, your home Grand Prix is massively important - but, like Monza and Monaco, Silverstone is special for everyone,” Button says. “The fast corners of the Grand Prix circuit aren’t necessarily going to suit our package, but we’re bringing improvements to the car all the time, and we’re now seeing some really positive correlation between the tunnel and the track, which is encouraging for our ongoing development programme.

“On a personal note, this race is going to be a special one for me because it was always such an important race for my dad. I’ll be wearing a special pink helmet for the race weekend, and I’m hoping people will enter into the spirit of supporting the #pinkforpapa effort to wear something pink on Sunday to honour his memory. He won’t be there this year, but he’ll always be with us in spirit - I hope he brings me some extra luck on Sunday.”

Down at the back, Caterham head into the event with new owners, Tony Fernandes having sold the team to a consortium of Swiss and Middle Eastern investors, advised by former HRT and Midland team principal Colin Kolles. He and former F1 driver Christijan Albers will oversee Robin Frijns, the squad’s test and reserve driver, as he makes his second FP1 outing of the year, replacing Kamui Kobayashi for the opening session.

With last year’s spectacular Silverstone failures a distant memory, Pirelli are bringing their orange-marked hard and white-marked medium tyres for the race that imposes the highest lateral loading of the season. It’s something of a home event for the Italian manufacturer, too, as their logistics hub and centre of excellence is based down the road in Didcot.

“Silverstone is one of the truly great venues of the year, which is steeped in history and always thrilling for the drivers and fans because of the high speeds involved,” says their motorsport director Paul Hembery. “British fans are among the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic of the year: it’s absolutely fantastic to see them out in full force, whatever the weather. And the weather is always a talking point in Silverstone of course; in the past we’ve seen everything from bright sunshine to torrential rain. As a result, the ability to make quick strategy decisions based on real-time conditions is always very important, as you can’t necessarily rely on previous data. We’ve brought our two hardest tyres, which should be well suited to the conditions.”

Forecasts for the weekend suggest generally favourable weather, with some sunshine combined with possible showers on Saturday and Sunday, and ambient temperature highs of around 20 degrees Celsius.

Sunday’s 2014 Formula 1 Santander British Grand Prix will run over 52 laps of the 5.891-kilometre (3.660 mile) circuit, or 306.198 kilometres (190.271 miles), with the track essentially unchanged since 2013, retaining two DRS zones. The first is on the Wellington Straight with detection just prior to Turn 3 (Village), whilst the second is on the Hangar Straight, with detection immediately before Turn 11.

The race will start at 1300 hours local time, which is one hour ahead of GMT.