2 July 2015
The battle of Britain
Silverstone beckons. This inauspicious Northamptonshire airfield has been the Home of British motor racing since 1950. What a home! Brave the rain, wind and the mud and you’re likely to be rewarded with high-drama at this high-speed circuit. The new Silverstone, first used for the 2010 British Grand Prix, retained many of the best features of the old venue (with the exception of the wonderful flat-out right-hander, Bridge Corner), probably because Hermann Tilke had no input into the circuit redesign. After the fast right-left sweep that follows the start/finish straight, the drivers brake hard for a tight 75mph right-hand turn, which is immediately followed by a 55mph left-hand hairpin and then swiftly on to the Wellington Straight. This is the first real overtaking opportunity: look out for DRS-assisted passes on the 200mph straight or under braking for Turn 6.
The cars are then channeled into the old slow-speed Luffield complex at the beginning of the middle sector. Then they race away through the super-fast Woodcote and Copse corners. I stood at Copse in 2008 and watched Lewis Hamilton blitz the rest of the field in the rain. That was a Senna-esque performance by the Briton! The loud pedal stays to the metal on the approach to the high-speed left-right-left-right of Maggots and Becketts. Good high-speed balance to counteract understeer and cope with the fast directional change is critical to a quick time through here and for Sector 2 overall. It’s a brilliant piece of track to watch the cars at full pelt, but overtaking opportunities are slim pickings.
After Becketts, the cars blast down the Hanger Straight. Get a good exit out of Becketts to stay close to the car ahead for a DRS-assisted overtake on the straight or failing that dive down the inside under braking for Stowe Corner. I’ve sat at Stowe many times over the years and seen some cracking moves! And there’s a half-chance of an overtake for anyone bold on the brakes down the inside of the left-hander after the Vale.
The weather is set to be in the low- to mid-20 degree centigrade range. Happily, there’s almost no chance of rain! However, light winds are forecast for Saturday in particular. This will affect car balance, especially through the high-speed stuff. Any runners whose cars lack a stable aerodynamic platform or good balance are more likely to struggle for grip.
Pirelli has brought its Medium and Hard compounds to Silverstone. The fast, sweeping corners of Copse, Maggots and Becketts in particular put the highest lateral loads through the tyres of the season. Moreover, the combination of the abrasive surface on the older parts of the circuit and the grippier asphalt on the new sections of track, especially in Sector 1, will increase tyre temperature and thermal degradation. Added to this is the effect of high wing levels pushing the tyres into the track for maximum aerodynamic grip. These combined forces put serious stress on the tyres, which requires more durable compounds. This punishment means that a two-stop strategy is likely to be chosen by most runners. However, given how well Pirelli’s Supersoft and Soft compounds held up in Montreal and Spielberg, a few daring drivers might go for a one-stop strategy. That would leave them quite exposed in the closing laps, however, and at Silverstone, passing is possible.
The other technical factor of note is the high rate of fuel consumption at Silverstone. This is a direct result of two-thirds of the lap being spent on full throttle, not to mention the approximately 40 seconds spent on full beans from the exit of Luffield to the end of the Hanger Straight. No doubt we’ll hear some more tedious lift and coast orders from the pit wall to the drivers as the need to manage fuel during the race kicks in.
Three races in one…
Mercedes surely has this race covered. The W06 Hybrid offers the best combination of power and downforce to take on Silverstone. And the last time this tyre combination was used – at the Spanish Grand Prix – race winner Rosberg beat the highest-placed non-Mercedes finisher (Sebastian Vettel) by 45 seconds. The only question is whether it will be Hamilton or Rosberg on the top step, reliability permitting of course. I recognise the case for either driver in fact. Hamilton has been the faster of the two on balance this season. He will be racing in front of his home crowd. And Mercedes has reportedly fixed the power unit/clutch problem that ruined his start in Austria. Rosberg on the other hand won in Spain the last time the Medium and Hard compounds were used and he enjoys some momentum from his most recent results. It’s a tough call, but I’ll hang my hat on Hamilton for the win.
The battle for third will be fought between Ferrari and Williams once again, as it was in Canada and Austria. Vettel would certainly have grabbed third place in Austria had he not been delayed in the pits. However, I think Williams will have the edge round Silverstone. The FW37 is excellent in the high-speed corners due to its good balance and it can blast down the straights with the best of them aided by its Mercedes powertrain and low-drag chassis. Williams’ performance trajectory is upwards so expect another good result for Bottas and Massa, but they’ll still have to fight Ferrari hard.
The third race to watch in the British Grand Prix will probably involve some combination of Force India, Toro Rosso, Lotus, Red Bull and Sauber (I fear McLaren will endure another difficult weekend due to a lack of horsepower and a high rate of fuel consumption). Force India and Lotus have the right motor for Silverstone while the former are set to introduce an aerodynamic upgrade to their car featuring a new nose. This season’s Force India suffers from a lack of downforce, which doesn’t bode well for Silverstone, but if their upgrade can deliver more downforce then Perez and Hulkenberg may just have a chance of fighting off Lotus and Toro Rosso. The Lotus is also lacking in downforce but the Toro Rosso is a tidy car that is making the best of a bad powertrain. Watch out for Sainz and Verstappen again. I expect them to give the midfielders, including Red Bull, a run for their money. Whoever triumphs in this duel in the race will have won a closely-fought battle, that’s for sure.
I will be in the stands this weekend. If you have tickets, have a great time!