Silverstone: the birthplace of the Formula 1 World Championship and the cradle of modern British motorsport. It goes without saying that everybody within the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team has a special place in their hearts for the Santander ...
Silverstone: the birthplace of the Formula 1 World Championship and the cradle of modern British motorsport. It goes without saying that everybody within the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team has a special place in their hearts for the Santander British Grand Prix.
As one of the team's two 'home' grands prix (the other takes place at Hockenheim on July 20), this race welcomes many of our colleagues from our two facilities in Woking and Brixworth, the home of Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines. As such, it is one of the busiest events on the team's calendar.
The team arrives at the circuit fresh from three days' testing at Silverstone: both Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen sampled numerous aerodynamic and mechanical upgrades and the team is upbeat about the improvements made to the MP4-23's overall competitiveness.
The Santander British Grand Prix is your home race - does that make it different for you?
"There's something about racing in your home country that definitely affects you. You can't really say what it is, but there's something about the familiarity of your surroundings and the constant support of the crowd that gives you a boost throughout the whole weekend. It's not something you experience anywhere else but it does make you that bit more determined to succeed."
Nigel Mansell used to talk about the home crowd being worth 'one second per lap' - does people power make a difference?
"I don't know about it being worth a second per lap, but being at your home grand prix does give an extra boost to your confidence because you know you're getting more support. And it seems to make you perform better. Last year at Silverstone, I found the support was just immense and definitely made the weekend a lot easier to get through."
What about the track itself?
"It's one of the best circuits on the calendar - a real driver's circuit. It's super-fast - the first half of the circuit doesn't require any braking at all, just little lifts and shifts down through the gears. In fact, you need to watch the brake temperatures don't drop too low because you're not using them for much of the lap. Where else can you experience that? Formula 1 just wouldn't be the same without Silverstone - it's become a British phenomenon."
And, of course, winning at home must be a particular ambition for you?
"Of course, winning your home race is something that every driver wants to achieve. People talk of winning the 'big four': Silverstone, Monaco, Monza and Spa, but it's more straightforward for me. I want to win the first race of the season, I want to win Monte Carlo - which I did for the first time this year - and I want to win my home grand prix. Those are my goals and I'm ready for the challenge at Silverstone this weekend."
What's the key to a good lap around Silverstone?
"The car's high-speed balance needs to be spot-on. You need to have enough confidence to attack the faster corners; the high-speed change of direction needs to be positive but shouldn't be too sharp or too understeery. And in qualifying, the tyres start to degrade towards the end of the lap so you have to be careful through the slow stuff at the end of the lap. It's a unique challenge."
The team has made several improvements to the car in recent tests - does the MP4-23 feel better to drive?
"Yes, the improvements we had in France were a very good step forward and you could feel that the car had more grip and better balance. At the Silverstone test, we have introduced further upgrades which we hope to race at the Santander British Grand Prix. The team is currently pushing very hard and it's encouraging when you can actually feel the improvements making the car go faster. We're all optimistic of making a step forward for the race."
Is the team determined to bounce back after two relatively disappointing races?
"Definitely. We've had some difficult things happen to us in qualifying and the races but everyone within the team just continues to push themselves hard. We've got a good car and we all know we can do it. Everybody still believes in themselves, we just need to make sure we do a better job, myself included."
Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula 1, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes After a few difficult races, is there an additional pressure to get a strong result next weekend?
"Dealing with a disappointing result is an inevitable part of the ebb and flow of a championship assault. As a team, we exist to win - and when we aren't winning we're tough on ourselves. We're aware that we've under-performed recently but there are no bigger critics than ourselves. And with both Lewis and Heikki, we're convinced we've got the right blend of youth and enthusiasm to tackle the challenge of winning races and challenging for the championship."
Is the team encouraged by the changes it has recently made to the MP4-23?
"Very much so. Both Lewis and Heikki came away from the Silverstone test feeling very optimistic about the changes we've made. We've been particularly aggressive in our development strategy, bringing new aero parts to the French Grand Prix, making further revisions ahead of the Silverstone test and planning even more upgrades for future races. The pace of development between the top teams will almost certainly prove crucial to the outcome of this year's world championship and we've always recognised the importance of relentless, strategic development."
What sort of car works best around Silverstone?
"There are two main characteristics: the high-speed corners that typify the first half of the track require a good overall aerodynamic balance that enables the drivers to feel comfortable and confident with the car. But the last third of the lap is much slower and tighter and is more reliant on mechanical grip than aero performance. It's a fantastic challenge for drivers and engineers."
Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
The British Grand Prix marks the end of the first half of the season - what's your half-term report on Vodafone McLaren Mercedes?
"It's mixed. Clearly, we've have several opportunities to score more than the 58 points we currently have in the Constructors' Championship. Our highlights have been Lewis's two grand prix victories in Melbourne and Monte Carlo - the most prestigious race of the year. But there's still everything to play for in the next 10 races."
Does the team face an uphill struggle in the second half of the season?
"I see it differently: in the first eight races, it was possible to achieve an average finishing position of third and still lead the championship. Current leader Felipe Massa had two no-scores in the opening two races but still came back strongly. And Heikki would probably have doubled his current score if he hadn't been hit by misfortune - the Safety Car in Melbourne, the crash in Barcelona and the starting problem in Monaco, none of which were his fault. And in the two most recent races, Lewis had the pace to score a lot more than zero points. These first eight races have been hard fought and provided us with four different winners and four different overall leaders. It's been fantastic sport. We've been able to win championships from this position in the past and we still believe we have every possibility of taking the title battle right to the wire."
What does the Santander British Grand Prix mean for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes?
"Silverstone is the first of two consecutive home races. Great Britain as well as Germany are enormously important markets for our title partner Vodafone and for Mercedes-Benz. The race in Silverstone is sold out, which we feel our team and particularly Lewis Hamilton have something to do with. I have great respect for the circuit and for the drivers' performance at Silverstone. The layout is unique, only in Monza and Spa are the average speeds higher than at Silverstone. Of course, many of our colleagues at McLaren in Woking and Mercedes-Benz HPE in Brixworth, some with their relatives, will be there to keep their fingers crossed for the race team. All of them would certainly prefer a victory even more than a pay rise and everybody in the team works hard for this chance."
SANTANDER BRITISH GRAND PRIX INFORMATION
Circuit length 5.141km/3.194 miles
Race distance 308.355km/191.604miles
Number of corners 17
Inaugural Grand Prix 1950