By Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
The British Silverstone Circuit will host round nine of the 2011 FIA (Federation Internationale de L’Automobile) Formula One World Championship. The completely renewed circuit recently opened the new pit and paddock complex, the Silverstone Wing, and with this state-of-the-art building the circuit hopes to stay on the Formula One calendar for many years to come.
Teams will have to say goodbye to the old pit lane, the new pit lane is now located between Club and Abbey, and the start/finish line is situated on the new Wellington Straight. HRT driver Vitantonio Liuzzi describes the circuit: “Silverstone is a great technical circuit that gives a lot of adrenaline to the drivers; I love the first sector which is made up of high speed corners. You really sense something special when racing here because the passion and heart of the British crowd is huge”.
Silverstone is the home race for eight Formula One teams as Force India, Team Lotus, McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull Racing, Lotus Renault, Marussia Virgin and Williams all have factories in the UK, some of them located close to the circuit.
FIA ban on off-throttle diffusers
From the British Grand Prix on, the FIA has banned the so-called “off-throttle blown diffusers”, but that doesn’t mean teams will not run blown diffusers at Silverstone, as only the “off-throttle” and “hot blowing” part is banned. Williams’ Sam Michael, “Blowing the diffuser during braking is no longer allowed, that doesn't mean that we won't run a blown diffuser, as the gains are still there when exiting the corner on throttle.”
Lotus Renault’s James Allison explains the FIA ban: “When the driver lifts his foot fully off the throttle pedal, then the ECU maps must be set up so that the engine [to all intents and purposes] closes the throttle -- previously it was possible to configure the engine maps to leave the throttle open and reduce the engine power by other means. Furthermore, when the driver lifts fully off the throttle, the ECU maps must be configured to cut off the fuel supply to the engine -- this is intended to prevent so called “hot blowing” where the energy of the exhaust gas is increased by combustion.”
The big question is of course how this will affect the teams who until now heavily relied on the off-throttle version for their down force into corners. Since engine supplier Renault and Red Bull and Lotus Renault have pioneered the technique, it is tempting to claim they will suffer the most time-wise. Red Bull’s Adrian Newey is adamant his team will be hit the most by the ban, “I think we will be quite heavily affected because our car was designed around the exhaust in as much as it was part of the design right from the outset.”
But make no mistake about it, Renault has their engineers working on finding the best engine mapping without the off-throttle exhaust blowing for the last two weeks, and know exactly how much time it will cost Red Bull, or any other Renault powered Formula One team. All the predictions, estimations and other messages that have been relayed to the media, are just another weapon in the battle for this year’s title. Renault or Red Bull are certainly not going to tell the world how much time they expect to lose, if they lose any time at all that is.
Lotus Renault team principal Eric Boullier didn’t want to make any predictions, “It's a complicated issue and difficult to state their exact impact just yet.” So, what does he do know? “What's certain is that we need to anticipate the changes to the regulations in the best way we can. It will definitely affect every single team, and it's up to us and our engineers to cope better than our competitors with the changes,” the Frenchman said.
There is no doubt its going to affect all of the top teams
But Allison also hinted the ban also brings other problems, “It is not easy to judge the effect of this change on our competitiveness. The loss for each blown floor car will come from two separate effects -- how much downforce will be lost and, in addition, how much will the loss of this downforce upset the balance of the car.”
McLaren’s Jonathan Neale about the ban, “There is no doubt its going to affect all of the top teams; it's definitely going to affect us, Red Bull have already said its definitely going to affect them, the key question is who is it going to affect most. I don't think we are really going to know that until Saturday afternoon.”
Will Red Bull Racing strike again?
Of course Red Bull’s rivals are hoping the new regulations regarding the diffuser will be the end of their domination, but as all Formula One teams, they have been working hard to find a fitting solution. Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko already warned the competition not to get their hopes up too high, “We expect to lose approximately 0.5 seconds per lap without the [off-throttle] blown diffuser. But we have made preparations to equalize this in terms of set-up and aero measures. We are optimistic that we will keep our performance level.”
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel is not at all worried about the diffuser ban, and instead talked about the race, and not about the diffuser. “The fans in Britain are special. They support their own people of course, but they really know so much about our sport and are really fair when it’s about acknowledging performance and achievement. This year the start and finish have been moved, so let’s see what effect that will have.”
He is also a fan of the high-speed circuit, “The extreme corner combinations on the track make it a real pleasure for the drivers. There are fast corners and often we have to react to the tricky weather conditions. Copse, Maggots, Becketts and Chapel are four of the best corners in Formula One.”
His team colleague Mark Webber, who won the race last year and shouted the by now legendary words over the radio, “Not bad for a number two driver!”, is equally confident ahead of the race. “The British Grand Prix is obviously one of the highlights of the calendar as Silverstone is an extremely prestigious venue,” the Australian said.
Webber about the recent overhaul of Silverstone, “There has been a lot of work done there in the past year including the new pit complex which looks great. As proved in previous seasons, the characteristics of the circuit have suited us well. The test will remain if it’s the same this time around. I’m looking to get a top result for everyone down the road at the base in Milton Keynes.” Team principal Christian Horner thinks Webber is certainly a candidate for the win, “Mark's got a great track record at Silverstone, he's always been very, very quick there.”
Ferrari and the point of no return
For some teams the British Grand Prix will decide whether they will continue to work on their 2011 car, or forget about this season and concentrate on the 2012 contender. Sebastian Vettel is 77 points ahead of his nearest rival Jenson Button, and Red Bull is 89 points ahead of McLaren in the Constructors’ Championship, which for some drivers was the reason to state the championship has already been decided.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso has pinned his hopes on a new update for Silverstone, but also warned ‘miracles cannot be done.’ Silverstone is a race where everything depends on updates for the car Alonso warned, “Right now, we are awaiting an important improvement to the car. If it arrives in the next few races we will be on fighting terms, but if everything continues to be the same, logically this is impossible.”
And the Spaniard added, “If we manage to be at the front, it means we have a very competitive car for what remains of the year, but if we are still so far behind, it will be difficult, and we will have to fight for partial Grands Prix victories: podiums, fastest laps and those types of more secondary things.”
Ferrari has already voiced their concerns about the tyre allocations, the team is especially struggling to find the right pace one the hard tyres, and although the Maranello-based team openly tried to influence Pirelli’s tyre choice, they will have to run on the hard tyres this weekend.
Felipe Massa is certain the hard tyres will cause problems for Ferrari, “I am not so optimistic with which tyres we are going to have there, because I have heard that maybe we are going to have medium and hard. If we have that, it can be a problem for us -- not just for us but for most of the teams maybe taking away Red Bull or even McLaren.”
“For us that means one more challenge,” said Alonso. “Anyway, the tyre choice is the same for everyone and there's no point discussing if the pair of compounds chosen is more suited to one team or another. It's up to the teams to adjust the cars to get the best out of the tyres both in terms of performance and life.”
But despite the gap to Red Bull and McLaren, Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo warned his team cannot give up on the 2011 championship. “We know the situation in both championships is very difficult, but I don't want to hear any talk of giving in: we must try to progress continuously and to fight for the win at every race, which is a must for Ferrari,” the Italian said. He dismissed rumors that Ferrari has already focused their attention to next year, “Obviously, we have also started talking about the 2012 car, which is normal for this time of year. I have faith in what Domenicali and his team are doing and I am convinced we will see the results of their work.”
Home sweet home
For most teams Silverstone will be their home Grand Prix, and certainly for the all-British McLaren team, winning this Grand Prix is on top of their list. Technical Director Neale told they will have several improvements for the car, “We've got a range of upgrades for the car, the aerodynamic package will be improved but I guess the technical landscape will be pretty much dominated by what happens to everybody's car with the changes to the technical regulations on engine loads.”
It’s going to be strange sitting on the grid with the prospect of going flat into Abbey
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said his team is ready for the changes, “As always, our engineers have been committed and resourceful in managing this mid-season change, and I’m optimistic that we’ll remain competitive and will hopefully be able to provide the many thousands of home fans with a good result next weekend.”
Button is also looking forward to his home race, “With a new start line, a new first corner and an all-new pit and paddock complex, the new facilities should be fantastic, and I think they’ll confirm Silverstone as one of the best circuits in the world. Still, it’s going to be strange sitting on the grid with the prospect of going flat into Abbey as the first corner!” And what about winning the race? “It would mean everything to me to be able to win my home grand prix – that would be my dream come true,” said Button.
The 2009 Champion had a minor jet ski accident last week and bruised his left knee, and therefore didn’t drive the McLaren Formula One car at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last weekend. But he is confident he will be fit before the race, “Just got a little niggly pain and it's not worth pushing it, I want to relax it for the Silverstone Grand Prix.”
Lewis Hamilton has great memories of Silverstone, “My victory at Silverstone in 2008 was one of the sweetest and most satisfying moments of my entire Formula One career -- and it’s a memory that I always carry with me.” But he is somewhat worried about the rule changes, “Going into this race, we’re facing some very stiff new interpretations of the regulations; while they’ll affect all teams, it will be interesting to see if the competitive order is changed as a result.”
Hamilton has been criticized for his driving style and recent race incidents, but is certainly not giving up on winning the title, although he after the race in Valencia hinted the championship ‘was finished’, he now is confident he still has a fighting chance. “I want to win. I'm here to win. It's all I care about, it's what I live for. Second feels less devastating but third or fourth are a waste of an afternoon.. Who knows what regulations are going to do? But we have a very strong team, and Mercedes Benz always have the best engines,” he explained.
More team Notes and Quotes
For Paul di Resta it will also be his home Grand Prix, but hasn’t got much experience with the new track. “Silverstone is not a track where I’ve raced at much in the past. My only race to date has been on the national circuit in a Formula Renault. So when I drove in free practice last year it was my first experience of the full Grand Prix circuit,” the Scot said. And he is looking forward to the race, Silverstone reported all tickets for Sunday have been sold out, “I remember last year that the atmosphere was just incredible. The British fans love Formula One, the grandstands are always packed and the whole place feels alive. I can’t wait to feel that buzz again this year.”
Mercedes GP has been struggling this year, and Norbert Haug knows they will not be fighting for the win this weekend. “Looking to our team's performance, we know that we are currently not in a position to challenge the top three teams and we cannot expect that situation to turn around at Silverstone. However, a lot of hard work is being done to improve our technical package and we all will focus on achieving a decent result,” the German said.
Seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher agrees, but remained optimistic, “We are in the process of developing further upgrades and new solutions which I am confident will help us to make a step forward again. The message for all of us is to put our heads down and work our way through, and as we are all sharing this attitude, I am sure we will get there.”
HRT team principal Colin Kolles was cautiously optimistic, “Silverstone is one of the classics; it is a circuit where you need a very efficient car and where downforce is crucial. We hope to have a reasonable weekend in terms of performance, even though we are lacking a lot of downforce.”
Lotus Renault driver Nick Heidfeld is despite the diffuser ban optimistic, “I think Silverstone will suit our car a lot better because at the other high speed circuits this year we have been relatively strong.” The German thinks the Pirellis will play an important role, “We will need to see how Pirelli’s choice of tyres [soft and hard] will affect the race -- so that’s going to be an interesting aspect.”
Marussia Virgin driver Timo Glock has raced many times at Silverstone. “It has always been one of the best circuits on the calendar -- a lot of fun with some very challenging corners. There’s usually a bit of English weather to throw into the mix - the cool and windy conditions can be quite unsettling for the cars through the long exposed straights, not to mention the rain which is coming for the weekend. It should be a great event on and off the track.”
Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi also likes the circuit, and thinks it will suit the Sauber as well, “Silverstone is a high speed track, so I expect us to be good at the British Grand Prix and in a position to fight for points. For me personally Silverstone is my favorite circuit of all, because I really love such high speed corners and also the crowd is very enthusiastic there. Last year it was there where I achieved my best result of the season when I finished sixth in the race. The weather is always difficult to predict, but it doesn’t worry me after we proved in Canada we can adapt to any track conditions.”
Silverstone Circuit - Great Britain
|Circuit||Silverstone Circuit, Great Bitain|
|Circuit length||5.891 km|
|Corners||18 turns (10 right and 8 left)|
|Longest straight||780 m|
|Total number of race laps||52|
|Total race distance||306.747 km|
|Estimated Top speed||310 km/h|
|Tyre wear||Medium to high|
|Tyre compounds||Hard [Prime] and Soft [Option]|
|Lap record||M. Schumacher - Ferrari - 1:18.739 (2004)|
|2010 Pole Position||Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull Racing - 1m29.615|
|2010 Race Winner||Mark Webber - Red Bull Racing - 1h24m38.200|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice sessions, 100 km/h during qualifying and race|
|FIA Stewards||Nigel Mansell (GB), Lars Osterlind (SWE), Nicolas Deschaux (F)|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice sessions; 100 km/h during qualifying and race|
Silverstone, Great Britain - three-day weather forecast
|Day||Forecast||Min Temperature||Max Temperature|
|Friday||Cloudy, heavy rain showers||12C||18C|
|Saturday||Cloudy, light rain showers||10C||20C|
|Sunday||Cloudy with sunny intervals, dry||11C||21C|
Pirelli tyre report
Silverstone, with its fast corners and long straights has undergone some changes, apart from the new paddock complex, parts of the circuit have been resurfaced and Pirelli has nominated the hard (silver) tyre compound as the Prime, and the soft (yellow) compound as the Option tyre. Pirelli will give all teams an extra set of medium tyres to test during the Friday practice sessions, but they have to be returned before Saturday’s free practice.
Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery, “Our tyre nomination for this race will give the teams the durability they need to cope with the demands of the circuit, thanks to the hard tyre, and also the speed with which they can demonstrate their pure performance, with the soft tyre.”
About the tyre strategy he said, “How they use that combination will of course be the basis of the strategy: the teams that feel they have a significant performance advantage might choose to do a series of sprints on the PZero Yellow soft tyre, whereas other teams could conclude that they might be better off staying out for longer on the PZero Silver hard tyre.” And added, “The choice of strategy will naturally have an effect on qualifying as well as the race, so on Saturday we should already have a clear idea about what the teams are doing.”
The FIA have announced the DRS setup for Silverstone, and have after evaluating the idea of two zones, opted for one single DRS zone. The detection zone, where a driver has to be less than one second behind the car he wants to overtake, is situated 25 meters before Turn 3, and the activation zone, where a driver can activate the wing, starts 45 meters after Turn 4 and will run along the complete Wellington Straight.
FIA Race Director Charlie whiting also announced he will take a closer look at the new pit lane entry, as some drivers have suggested they will be entering the pit lane at great speed. “The new pits are the biggest difference, and the entry and exit bring new challenges,” he said. “The entry is shorter than staying on the circuit, so we will have to ensure that drivers don’t use these changes to the pits to their advantage. As for the exit, this is now quite a steep uphill into an extremely fast corner, so it’s certainly going to be different.”
Daniel Ricciardo - The new kid in town
Daniel Ricciardo will make his full race debut this weekend, the 22-year old was originally Toro Rosso test and reserve driver, but the Italian team has struck a deal with HRT and Ricciardo will replace Narain Karthikeyan at Silverstone. Although the details of the arrangement are unknown, one thing is certain: Red Bull and Toro Rosso are confident the youngster has a great Formula One future ahead, and decided he has to learn the ropes at HRT.
”I am very happy with the deal. I didn’t think I would be racing an Formula One car this season so for Red Bull to have found me a seat is awesome and I’m grateful to have this opportunity and the support from both teams,” the talented Australian said. And what is his goal this season? “My aim is to finish as many races as I can and get the experience under my belt. I think this is most important for me as a young driver, experience is priceless.” But he is already looking for more, “Of course, I would also love to bring the car and the team further up the grid and have some successful races.”
About the Spanish HRT outfit he commented, “I am sure they have improved since their debut season last year and this improvement seems like it’s going in the right direction. I think they are doing as well as they could be. I don’t recall any team coming into Formula One and proving to be dominant immediately, it takes time. For the Silverstone weekend I think my first aim is to finish, physically and mentally this will be a good reward and all part of the learning process”.
The favorites for the race
No matter what Red Bull say about the diffuser ban, the RB7 is always fast on high-speed circuits where the aerodynamics play an important role. However, pole position at Silverstone has never been a guarantee for success; during the last 16 races, the pole sitter was only able to win the race on four occasions, and Vettel has been on pole during the last two British Grands Prix.
McLaren duo Button and Hamilton will be poised to win this race. “Everyone wants to win their home Grand Prix, or at least be on the podium,” Button said. “I've been close a couple of times, and last year was pretty close.”
What the effect of the off throttle diffuser ban will be is almost impossible to predict, but one should not expect a complete reshuffling of the Formula One field, nor will Red Bull qualify in 12th or 14th position. All teams have had two weeks to adapt their car to the new regulations, and the engineers are resourceful enough to compensate the loss of downforce caused by the ban. Apart from the DRS zone, there are plenty of overtaking opportunities at Silverstone, and the British Grand Prix has traditionally been an exiting race.
Rain has been forecasted for Friday and Saturday, and if the predictions are right, it should be dry during the race on Sunday, but then again, you never know, the weather can change quickly, and teams could be forced to rethink their race strategy.
But one thing will be new: the start and finish line has been moved to the new pit and paddock area, and it will be interesting to see how drivers will deal with the new circumstances. Last year Copse Corner was still Turn 1, with the new circuit lay-out all drivers will be heading to Turn 1 again, but this time they will be heading for Abbey and Farm Curve.