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What to Watch for - Great Britain

05 Jul 2015

From Red Bull and Williams' looming showdown to Lewis Hamilton fighting history, and from track limits to the likeliest strategies, we break down the key themes to look for in Sunday’s race at Silverstone…

Raikkonen primed to prove doubters wrong

It’s fair to say that this season hasn’t been the easiest for Kimi Raikkonen. The enigmatic Finn has struggled for results relative to team mate Sebastian Vettel and arrived in Silverstone with fresh rumours swirling about who might be in line to take his Ferrari seat next year.

What Raikkonen desperately needed was a good weekend in Great Britain – and so far he’s got it. 

Quicker than Vettel in all three practice sessions, Raikkonen then out-qualified the German for only the second time this season on Saturday, though he was quick to point out that “starting one position better than Seb doesn’t make my any happier.”

With Ferrari and Williams predicted to be very evenly matched in the race (see above), his hopes could well hinge on making up places at the start. If he does that, then a podium is very much on the cards.

With Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene declaring that the 2007 world champion’s future is still ‘in his own hands’, Raikkonen is now not only driving for maximum points - he’s driving to silence his critics and secure his F1 future.

Can Hamilton finally convert pole into victory at Silverstone? 

It remains an odd quirk that, from his two previous pole positions at Silverstone, Hamilton’s highest finish is third - and from his two previous victories, his highest starting position was fourth. On Sunday, in front of a fervent home crowd, he’ll be going all out to reset the trend.

History suggests he will have his work cut out. The last polesitter to triumph at Silverstone was Sebastian Vettel in 2009, while in the past decade, it has only been done twice. Part of the cause lies with how immensely challenging Silverstone is - as Vettel said following that triumph, “with its fast corners... to stay focused all the time during the race is not easy!” Fortune has also played its part, with Hamilton’s victory here last year owing something to Nico Rosberg hitting technical problems while leading. With Rosberg breathing down his neck, and history counting against him, Hamilton will have to hope his luck holds and his habit of breaking records continues if he is to finally convert pole into victory on home turf.

FIA to continue hard line approach to track limit offenders

On Saturday morning FIA race director Charlie Whiting got tough, issuing a ‘zero tolerance’ directive stating that any driver exceeding track limits at Turn 9 (Copse) during qualifying would have their lap times deleted. 

Barely six minutes into Q1 Whiting proved true to his word, wiping Nico Hulkenberg’s first flying effort off the board after the German put all four wheels over the white line on exit. A slew of similar penalties followed (11 in total), with Grosjean and Sainz also falling foul for straying off track at Club corner. 

Whiting has promised to be similarly strict with penalties in the race, saying “any driver who appears to have gained a clear and lasting advantage by leaving the track at Turn 9, or who repeatedly leaves the track at this corner, will be reported to the stewards.”

Whether this threat - which is likely to carry a time penalty - will be enough to change driver behaviour or not is unclear, but one thing’s for sure: you can expect the drivers to be watching each other’s behaviour just as closely as the FIA are. Remember last year’s race? Sebastian Vettel had more than one or two things to say about Fernando Alonso’s driving lines over race radio as he battled the Spaniard for position. 

Intra-team battles the order of the day...

Behind Mercedes’ front-row lockout, Williams booked third and fourth, Ferrari fifth and sixth - while Red Bull would have been seventh and eighth but for Ricciardo’s final flyer being deleted. And the symmetry doesn’t end there: Sauber will share the eighth row of the grid, McLaren the ninth, and Marussia the 10th. If qualifying is a reliable guide, intra-team battles will be a major feature of Sunday’s race.

That could set up some fascinating fights. Massa and Bottas, for example, were split by a minuscule 0.064s - while there were just two-hundredths of a second to choose between Ericsson and Nasr. Such tiny margins suggest some incredibly close battles are in prospect - and with overtaking very much possible at Silverstone, that could make for a barnstorming Grand Prix.

…but Ferrari versus Williams could be the highlight

In amongst all the potential battles, perhaps the most exciting is the looming scrap between Williams and Ferrari.

This is about more than just what happens on track: Williams’ recent resurgence means Ferrari’s position in the constructors’ championship could also be under threat. Against that backdrop, it was the Scuderia who made the brightest start to the weekend - but, as has been the case in recent weeks, momentum swung in Williams’ direction on Saturday. In Ferrari’s favour is an apparent advantage over long runs, at least according to Friday's form - but Williams have the advantage of track position, something they have managed to use to beat Ferrari in several recent races, including last time out in Austria. Will Ferrari be able to surge forward - or will Williams keep them at bay, and in doing so close in on second in the team standings?

Depending on the weather, most drivers will almost certainly only stop once

Over the years the notoriously fickle British weather has had a huge influence on proceedings at Silverstone, and Sunday is expected to be no different, though unusually it’s excessive sunshine rather than excessive rainfall that could make all the difference. 

“Generally, [tyre] wear and degradation is higher with higher temperatures,” explains Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery, “but tyres can also be affected by cooler conditions than expected, because they slide more when they are outside their optimal working range.”

“[But] if the weather stays as it is, we’re looking at a one-stopper for most drivers.”

According to Pirelli, the ideal one-stopper for the 52-lap Grand Prix would be to start on the medium tyre (which all of the top ten have to do), then change to the hard around lap 23. But don’t be surprised if some of those towards the back of the grid try to do the reverse, especially if the weather is particularly warm as this is when the hot tyre comes into its own.  

If degredation does prove to be unusualy high, it’s not impossible that some teams could switch to a two-stop strategy. In that event expect them to take on more mediums around lap 17 and then hards around lap 34. 

Whatever occurs, speeds have been such this weekend that we can expect one of the quickest-ever races around the current circuit configuration.

Which Toro Rosso will we see?

There’s no doubt that Toro Rosso were the surprise package of Friday, with Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz not only setting blistering single lap pace, but also impressing over longer runs. Verstappen even went so far as to say that only Mercedes looked quicker in race simulation trim. 

The rookie duo gave credence to that bold claim in FP3, setting the fifth and sixth best times, but when qualifying rolled around barely two hours later it was a real mixed bag for the Italian squad with technical director James Key ultimately describing the session as ‘scrappy’ and ‘disappointing'.

“Max was reporting a problem with the rear of his car and a loss of grip, which we need to investigate tonight as we couldn’t see anything on the data immediately,” explained Key. “Carlos on the other hand got through to Q3 well. “Unfortunately he didn’t quite make enough progress in the last lap, as we think it would’ve been possible for him to end up in an even higher position. So, all in all, not the best of sessions, but our high-fuel level pace on Friday was good, so we just need to do our best in the race tomorrow and fight for points.”

Verstappen subsequently suggested on Twitter that the team had sourced his qualifying problem, but the question remains: which Toro Rosso will we see on Sunday? The team that impressed in practice or the one that underwhelmed in qualifying?

 

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