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Great Britain preview - will showers produce another thriller?

07 Jul 2016

Last year’s Grand Prix at Silverstone boasted no fewer than seven different race leaders as changing weather, and a rapid start from both Williams, produced a sensational race - and current forecasts suggest we could be in for something similar this weekend. Will that help anyone halt Mercedes’ bid for a fourth straight win here - or will the team still be fighting to deal with the fallout from Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s clash while fighting for the lead just four days ago in Austria?

How will Mercedes react to Spielberg?

The big talking point in the paddock in Austria, and again here in Silverstone, is whether Hamilton and Rosberg will force Mercedes’ hand. With neither driver likely to give ground on track, particularly in the heat of an incredibly close title fight, Mercedes have a dilemma on their hands.

Ultimately, this isn’t the sort of publicity Mercedes want. If Rosberg and Hamilton weren’t so hugely competitive, and so well matched, Mercedes would not employ them - but there is a line to be drawn, and it starts at the word contact.

Unfortunately for the team, it is a line that has been crossed three times already this year.

So what options do Mercedes have? Their head of motorsport Toto Wolff admitted all options would be on the table and up for discussion in the wake of Austria, including team orders.

"I was much easier about it [in Spain, where Hamilton and Rosberg wiped each other out] because we had 29 races without any collision," Wolff says. "It was clear it was eventually going to happen, and it wiped out both cars. From my naive thinking I said to myself 'Okay, that's it, they've learned their lesson, it's not going to happen anymore'. But here we go, it happens again. So one option is to freeze the order at a certain stage in the race.

“I like to see them race, but if racing is not possible without contact, then that's the consequence."

Of course, set against this debate is the fact Rosberg and Hamilton’s title fight is back down to 11 points - hardly a comfortable margin for the former, and tantalising close to overturning for the latter. With Hamilton also chasing a third straight win here on home soil, it will be fascinating to see how the situation plays out over the weekend.

Will history favour Ferrari?

Recent races have been a huge disappointment for Ferrari. Continual upgrades to the SF16-H’s powertrain have failed to lift the team significantly - a new turbocharger made a small difference in Canada, but not in Baku, where it should have helped to make Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen more competitive down the long straight. Instead, both struggled with slow-corner traction.

In Austria the tight nature of the Red Bull Ring, with only nine corners, should also have helped to close them up with Mercedes, as Williams closed up in 2014. But still the red cars were trailing. Yes, Vettel was leading before his tyre issue on the pit straight on lap 27, but Rosberg was closing fast and had the gap down to 1.6s even though he had already made his first pit stop and the Ferrari driver had not.

Team boss Maurizio Arrivabene makes much of the search for the SF16-H’s sweet spot, of getting the car set-up perfectly, and it has become the mantra where once it was all about having a “perfect weekend”.

Ferrari do at least have previous form at Silverstone - in fact they have won more races at the British circuit than any other team (13 to McLaren’s 12). Can they make their knowledge of what makes a winning car at Silverstone count this weekend?

Can Ricciardo solve his race pace issues?

Has anything really gone right for poor Daniel Ricciardo since Spain, and the irresistible rise of new team mate Max Verstappen?

While the ‘Flying Dutchman’ has looked good ever since his disastrous run in Monaco, Ricciardo has struggled. And as Verstappen handled his tyres superbly and took a great second place in Austria, Ricciardo trailed home a distant fifth.

One of the suggestions is that Ricciardo may be focusing too much on a set-up that favours qualifying rather than race distance, and you can bet both he and Red Bull have been pouring through the data over the last few days to analyse whether that may be the magic bullet that turns his recent performances around.

“At the beginning [in Austria] we seemed to get passed before Turn 8 which is not normal,” was Ricciardo’s verdict on last weekend, “so that was a bit frustrating - but then once it settled we just weren’t quick. I was obviously trying to push on the tyre and then get what I could out of it. It seemed we could hold the pace, but then when everyone was improving and getting quicker and quicker, we were just getting slower and slower.

“I just want to understand why and look into it. If there are things I need to do better, then I will make sure to figure that out. I’m glad the Red Bull Ring and Silverstone are back-to-back. It’s always nice when you can get back into a race straight away so hopefully Silverstone is better.

“We’ve got a few days to work out why I wasn’t quick today, but I’m in the factory tomorrow so we’ve got time to look into it. But for now for sure it was disappointing.”

WATCH: Your guide to the Silverstone circuit

Showers on the horizon

Austria produced one of the most mixed grids in recent years as rain fell just before the start of Q3, with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Jenson Button in particular coming to the fore.

The good news for fans of uncertainty is that the trend could continue in Silverstone, where the famously changeable weather has become an ingrained part of the weekend for drivers and fans alike.

Current forecasts suggest a wet morning on Saturday, with rain likely to last until around 1300 local time - exactly the time qualifying is set to get underway. And on Sunday a similar forecast predicts a shower in the morning, and again at around 1300, when the lights are set to go out.

As we saw last year, mastering Silverstone in the wet is an immense challenge. The 130,000 fans set to descend on the circuit this year could be in for a treat.

Watch out for Leclerc’s FP1 run for Haas

As they prepare for their first British Grand Prix, after scoring points again in Austria last weekend, Haas will be giving upcoming Monegasque racer Charles Leclerc his first run in FP1 here on Friday.

The winner of 11 karting championships between 2005 and 2013, Leclerc went on to win in Formula Renault 2.0 in 2014 and the FIA Formula 3 EuroSeries last year. So far in 2016 he has dominated both GP3 feature races, in Barcelona and Spielberg.

The 18 year-old is one of the most exciting upcomers, and a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, hence his chance in Esteban Gutierrez’s Ferrari-powered Haas VF-16. He will also do further FP1 sessions in Hungary, Germany, Malaysia and Abu Dhabi.

“Charles Leclerc is highly regarded by Ferrari and his record speaks for itself,” says Haas team principal Guenther Steiner. “We’re happy to provide this opportunity and help develop the next generation of Formula One drivers. Credit also goes to Esteban for sharing his racecar and serving as a mentor to Charles.”

Like Max Verstappen’s outing in FP1 for Toro Rosso in Brazil in 2014, this could be the start of something big so keep an eye on Leclerc’s progress.

How aggressive will teams go on tyre strategy?

On the tyre front Pirelli have brought the hardest tyres in their range for Silverstone, for only the second time this year. These are the orange hard, the white medium - which is one of the mandatory sets along with hard - and the yellow soft - which is the most popular choice among the teams in terms of quantities chosen.

The choice was made because of the high-speed, high-energy demands of the Northamptonshire track. It is one of the circuits which take the most lateral energy out of the tyres, and with high levels of downforce too, the tyres face forces from all directions.

At least two pit stops per car are expected, due to high levels of tyre wear and degradation.

“With the majority of teams choosing mostly the softest compound available - a consistent trend we have seen all year - it’s clear that the intention of many drivers is to run quite an aggressive strategy, which on a track like Silverstone could result in multiple pit stops,” says motorsport director Paul Hembery. “As last year showed, the weather is also a typically British variable, which means that we are likely to be in for an unpredictable race.”

Interestingly, Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull have all made differing tyre nominations. Mercedes have gone for one set of hards, five mediums and seven softs for both drivers; Ferrari for two, three and eight, and Red Bull for two four and seven. Williams are the same as Mercedes, as are McLaren, Renault and Manor. Haas are the only team that have different choices for each driver, with two, four and seven and one, five and seven for Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez respectively.

Sunday's race will run over 52 laps of the 5.891 kilometre circuit, or 306.198 kilometres, and will start at 1300 hours local time, 1200 GMT.