Tuesday 25 June 2013

Silverstone Preview: F1's coming home

I'd like to think that I'm not one who is driven by patriotism. Not in F1 anyway, wherein nationalities mean next to nothing to me. But even I readily acknowledge that there is something very special about the British Grand Prix.

Crowds at Silverstone are always
large and enthusiastic
Credit: Richard Smith / CC
The Grand Prix at Silverstone very much feels like F1's home gig, and this is for a number of reasons.

This includes that eight of the 11 F1 teams are based in Britain, and seven of them are based in the area, as are a myriad of companies that supply them, in this sport's equivalent of silicon valley.

It's also in part because it was in Britain, and indeed at Silverstone, that it all started for F1 back in 1950. And the airfield track, despite inevitable changes in the meantime, retains much of its old character: rapid and challenging, with many flowing turns. And such characteristics, and that they are increasingly rare ones, ensure its popularity among the drivers.

But it's also special because of those who populate the spectator areas during the weekend. Very few rounds can match the British Grand Prix for the number, enthusiasm and knowledge of those who pay to watch. Many are there primarily to support the British drivers of course, but the atmosphere is almost always respectful at least. And in an age wherein such core support has had its back turned on it by the F1 itinerary, to be replaced more and more by rounds that owe more to the host Government's desire to 'brand' the country and boost its tourism rather than to local motorsport passion, Silverstone's atmosphere is increasingly welcome. Eddie Cheever, in the dark but recent days when the race looked to be under threat, summed it up: 'not having a British Grand Prix is like the Pope not going to the Vatican'.

Thankfully the absurd threat to the race's future has now receded, the contract to keep the race at Silverstone all the way to 2027 is in place, and in the past three years the venue has undergone its most extensive revision since its early days. A large track detour has been added: turning Abbey into a fast right-left sweep, adding a slow technical right-left at the arena section, then bringing the old 'club circuit' straight into use. In 2011 the start line was moved to between Club and Abbey, in deference to the new 'wing' pit and paddock complex there. While the move gave the track a strange, out of context feel (almost like the paddock's been picked up and moved away from where everyone else is) it also meant that no longer can Bernie claim that Silverstone is the sport's straggler facility.

Long, fast corners usually mean happy days for Red Bull, and indeed the Milton Keynes squad has a formidable record here, having won in three of the last four visits (and finished second and third in the other). And it could be one of these weekends that come along every so often in which Mark Webber finds something special, as his pedigree is strong at Silverstone, being responsible for two of those three Red Bull wins.

Will it be a weekend wherein Mark Webber steps up?
Credit: Morio / CC
As is usually the case though, for Red Bull as for everyone else, tyres will have a pivotal impact on the weekend's proceedings. In short, it seems that if everyone can push on the tyres then the Bulls are hard to stop, but if managing wear becomes acute then they can be hauled in. Red Bull will be glad that Pirelli has gone for a conservative selection: the medium and hard compounds, which can be compared with the soft and hard selected last year. Further, the forecasts suggest the weather will be cool (though no rain is expected), which will further gladden the Milton Keynes team. On the other hand, the Silverstone track surface is fairly low on grip, and as a result of this and the long quick corners tyre degradation is usually pretty high.

While for most of the F1 circus Silverstone is the home fixture, for Ferrari more than most it's the away day, and therefore the event is one that the team takes particular pleasure in triumphing in. And Ferrari also has done pretty well around Silverstone recently: Fernando Alonso won here two years ago and led most of the way last year only to be reined in by Webber late on. And this year the F138 has tended to be strong on circuits with long corners like Silverstone has - see its two wins at China and Spain. Alonso noted too after Canada that the long Silverstone lap with its corner characteristics means Ferrari's usual tyre warm up problems for a qualifying lap will be less of a problem than usual. As for the bigger picture of the championship, you rather feel Alonso needs to get one over on Sebastian Vettel sometime soon.

This is the fourth time this season that the medium and hard tyre compound combination has been used - after Malaysia, Bahrain and Spain, all of which like Silverstone have long corners (though unlike Silverstone track temperatures were high). These races don't give us a consistent picture however, as two were won by Vettel, and in Bahrain the win was crushing, but in Spain Vettel sank to a distant fourth as Alonso won at canter after tyre wear became extreme (the picture for Ferrari is clouded by the Scuderia treading on its own tail in Bahrain and Malaysia also). So who is likely to come out on top between the blues and the reds? All in, I'd say that Red Bull is again the favourite.

Mercedes is another whose weekend will likely be determined by tyre wear, and like Red Bull it'll be the less the better for the team, in fact to an even greater degree. And for Merc the record at the three rounds mentioned is even more mixed than is the case for Red Bull, featuring strong one, a disastrous one, and one wherein one car did pretty well and the other sank like a brick in a swimming pool.

Can Kimi Raikkonen bounce back?
Credit: Morio / CC
It'll likely be an important weekend for Lotus too. After Kimi Raikkonen's decisive victory in the season-opening Melbourne round the team's slide away from competitiveness has seemed fairly consistent, to the point that it barely featured in Canada (Kimi was lapped indeed). This weekend it arrives armed with a major set of upgrades, which could define the season's mid part and therefore its championship chances. The Enstone team won't like the tyre selection (and indeed it's said as much), but will like the Silverstone track which should suit the E21 well. As with Ferrari, its usual bugbear of struggling to get tyre warm up for a qualifying lap will be less of an impediment.

Therefore, the British Grand Prix may be special on track as well as with everything around it.


  1. For Lotus and Pirelli their relationship will sour even further as teams will now have access to test an ever harder compound during FP1, which is salt on the wounds in the context of Pirelli bringer a firm compounds to Silverstone. Red Bull are probably content since harder tires allow them to drive their cars faster.

    For the British Grand Prix, hard tyres is good news for Lewis since it means that he is less likely to fall backwards like he did in Spain. A podium for him on a dry sunday would definitely add to the tally of British drivers being successful on home turf. Here is a buildup by the top class of british drivers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhMBJD_0AQ4

    My prediction is a 1-2 finish for Red Bull.

    1. Hi Darren. Yes, I think Lotus has good reason to be peeved with Pirelli right now. It seems pretty clear that the conservative compound selections is at least in part in response to the various politicking about the tyres (and the Hungary selection looks *very* conservative). In my view, it's punishing Lotus for doing a good job.

      As for Mercedes, the medium and hard selection will help the team a bit, but it doesn't necessarily guarantee success. Remember the same compounds were available in Spain...