Weathering the storm at Silverstone

Weathering the storm at Silverstone

There's no rest for the wicked as F1 moves swiftly along from France to the UK and the ever-popular British Grand Prix. Well, popular with everyone except Bernie Ecclestone, who seems perpetually intent on getting rid of Silverstone. As happens ...

There's no rest for the wicked as F1 moves swiftly along from France to the UK and the ever-popular British Grand Prix. Well, popular with everyone except Bernie Ecclestone, who seems perpetually intent on getting rid of Silverstone. As happens every year the future of Silverstone on the F1 calendar is uncertain but so far the Northamptonshire circuit has managed to keep its place.

Silverstone paddock.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Silverstone is a fairly stand-alone track there's no other during the season that has similar characteristics. It has a lot of fast corners with high-speed changes of direction, fast straights and a slower, tighter infield, all of which requires a compromise between downforce and drag. It's a challenge that the drivers relish and after testing there recently the engineers should be up to the set-up task.

"Maggots-Becketts-Chapel is perhaps one of the finest combinations in the entire F1 calendar," said BMW Sauber technical director Willy Rampf. "To set a fast lap time here you need a car with an excellent aerodynamic balance. The track surface is pretty rough and, together with the high cornering speeds, this puts a lot of stress on the tyres. Accordingly the tyre compounds are relatively hard."

Of course, we can't talk about Silverstone without mentioning the weather, always one of the main topics of conversation among us Brits (no, I don't know why). Built on an old airfield, the circuit has its own microclimate that even the most weather-obsessed have a hard time predicting. Practically the whole of June it rained in the UK -- if nothing else we can expect race day conditions to be contrary.

Ferrari's Rob Smedley, Felipe Massa's race engineer, explained that the wind is as much a factor as the rain. "It can make life tricky as, on top of the obvious lack of grip in the wet, you can also get quite high cross winds in the high speed corners that can put you in trouble in terms of how difficult the car is to drive. This can push you to change set-up and even strategies of how you run the car."

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes, MP4-22.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Many of the teams can claim Silverstone as a 'home' race and there are four Brits on the grid this year. Anthony Davidson (Super Aguri), David Coulthard (Red Bull) and Jenson Button (Honda) will no doubt have their supporters but it's McLaren's championship leader Lewis Hamilton who is claiming most of the limelight. A British race, a British team and a British driver: it's not hard to guess who the favourite is.

"I still think that we will be extremely competitive (at Silverstone)," Hamilton said after France. "I know that the team is working very, very hard back at the factory to keep on improving. I know when we go to the next race we will be even quicker. I'm feeling fairly confident. As long as we continue with the reliability that we have, the consistency, then I don't see why we won't be able to fight for the win."

France saw Ferrari firmly trounce McLaren with a one-two finish from Kimi Raikkonen and Massa but can the reds do it again? McLaren reckons its own off-form weekend made Ferrari look better than it actually was -- Raikkonen conceded that the gap between the two teams was probably not representative at Magny Cours but he believes Ferrari will be up for the fight at Silverstone.

"We had a very good test here two weeks ago," said the Finn. "If we manage to bring all the latest developments on the track, then I think that Ferrari will be even more competitive than in Magny-Cours… We are heading in the right direction as far as the development of the car is concerned; and I have a real good feeling with it, too. I can't wait to get back on the track and stepping once again on the podium!"

Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber F1 Team, F1.07.
Photo by xpb.cc.

BMW Sauber is holding steady as the third force to be reckoned with, yet again filling the spaces behind the top two teams with fourth and fifth in France, courtesy of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld respectively. Heidfeld suffered from back pain when testing at Silverstone and found the track "extraordinarily bumpy" but despite a recurrence of the pain on Friday at Magny Cours, the German now seems fit and well.

Button finally put Honda on the scorecard with one point in France but, while it must have been a relief, he's not expecting to score a great deal more at home. "We took a step forward with the performance of our car at the French Grand Prix last weekend, so we are now making progress and I hope that we can have a good race at Silverstone and be challenging for a point or two," he commented.

Look out for your own face on the Red Bull cars if you were one of the fans who donated to the "Faces For Charity" scheme. The team will run a one-off livery this weekend made up of photos uploaded to a website then turned into artwork and transfered to the bodywork of David Coulthard and Mark Webber's vehicles. The scheme is in support of the Wings For Life charity, which supports research into a cure for paralysis caused by back injuries.

Meanwhile, as the championship battle forges head, Ferrari and McLaren have all this alleged espionage business hanging over their heads. Seeing as it is Silverstone next on the schedule perhaps British super-spy James Bond could be drafted in to sort things out? A few ejector seats and rocket boosters could liven up the race no end.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , David Coulthard , Nick Heidfeld , Kimi Raikkonen , Anthony Davidson , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Robert Kubica , Bernie Ecclestone
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren