• British Grand Prix Preview

Halfway through and it's all to play for

Laurence Edmondson July 8, 2010

The British Grand Prix marks the midpoint in the season and the competition at the front is closer now than at any point this year. The perceived wisdom is that Red Bull will have the upper hand through the fast sweeping corners of Silverstone, but with McLaren bringing a major update targeted specifically at closing the gap in that area, it's by no means a foregone conclusion. What's more McLaren has two British drivers desperate to win on home turf and there will be approximately 90,000 fans at the circuit on Sunday willing them on.

On Form

What a difference a race makes. Heading to Valencia, Sebastian Vettel had gone four grands prix without a win and was 5-3 down to team-mate Mark Webber in qualifying performances. The pressure was starting to show and for the first time in his short F1 career, cracks in his media-friendly facade were starting to show. However, one pole position and 57 laps in the lead at the Valencia street circuit later and he was back at his buoyant best. It was a crucial win for Vettel's title campaign and put him ahead of team-mate Mark Webber in the drivers' championship.

Out of Form

This wasn't how Michael Schumacher's comeback was supposed to pan out. By this stage he was meant to have overcome the initial wobble in form and be focused on podiums and possibly even wins. But after two finishes outside the points at the last two races, many are suspecting he might even call it a day at the end of the season. Things have been made considerably worse by the failure of Mercedes' recent blown diffuser upgrade, but that doesn't excuse the increasing gap between Schumacher and Rosberg in qualifying.

McLaren is hoping to catch Red Bull this weekend © Sutton Images
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One to Watch

All the focus this weekend is on McLaren's blown diffuser, a concept used during the 1980s in F1 but revived and refined at the start of the season by Red Bull. McLaren is hoping it will give it the edge over Red Bull, which will not be bringing any major updates to its car this weekend, but has also warned that the new exhaust system is still very much in the development stages. It's also worth keeping an eye on Williams, which will introduce its very own blown diffuser at Silverstone and seemed to have improved the car considerably in Valencia. Meanwhile, Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes will all refine their exhaust systems that debuted at the European Grand Prix.

Talking Points

Village Corner and The Loop
A new section of track has been added to the Silverstone circuit for this year's race in the hope of improving overtaking. However, fans shouldn't get too excited as it was originally designed with motorbikes and didn't provide a huge amount of action during the FIA GT1 meetingn May. The good news is that Silverstone has retained the super-fast Maggots, Becketts and Chapel complex and stuck with the tradition of naming corners rather than numbering them.

Button v Hamilton and Vettel v Webber
The intra-team battles at both McLaren and Red Bull are incredibly intense as we head into the second half of the season. Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton insist their rivalry is under control but under the pressure of the ultra-competitive title battle some commentators, including Damon Hill, have suggested that things might just boil over. We've already seen that happen at Red Bull, and although Vettel and Webber have patched things up, we haven't yet seen them in another wheel-to-wheel battle since it all went pear shaped in Istanbul.

Tyres
Silverstone is one of the toughest circuits on tyres on the calendar, but don't expect a repeat of the Canadian Grand Prix. In Montreal the teams couldn't get the tyres up to temperature because of the smooth surface and as a result the tyres grained. This weekend the combination of high-speed corners and abrasive tarmac means that temperature won't be a problem but general tyre wear might be. Bridgestone have brought the soft and hard compounds to combat this and as a result one-stopping will be the strategy of choice. The only variation we might see is some drivers opting for the hard over the soft in Q3, but it would be a very brave decision. Of course, a bit of typical British summer weather could throw all that out the window and force the drivers onto wets.

Blown diffusers
Just like the F-duct before it, the blown diffuser is F1's new must have. Red Bull perfected the system during winter testing but the intricacies of how it exactly works are still unknown to the wider F1 community - hence the five burly men standing at the back of the RB6 on the grid at each grand prix. Ferrari and Renault appeared to get a handle on it in Valencia while Mercedes struggled, although its problems are probably part of a wider issue with tyres. McLaren is having a crack at it this weekend and has already completed a number of straight-line tests in Spain to test its reliability. However, just in case, it is coming to Silverstone equipped with a Plan B.

Weekend Timings

  • Free practice 1 0900 GMT / 1000 Local
    Free practice 2 1300 GMT / 1400 Local
    Free practice 3 0900 GMT / 1000 Local
    Qualifying 1200 GMT / 1300 Local
    Race 1200 GMT / 1300 Local

Trivia

  • The name Silverstone derives from the Old English for "wooded area"
  • In the early years of the event spectators were not allowed in the circuit's infield area for fear they might damage the local farmer's crops
  • The circuit has seen many changes down the years. The last major alteration before this year's was in 1990 when Becketts was revised, a new section between Stowe and Club was added and a five-corner complex before Woodcote was built
  • Silverstone hosted the inaugural round of the Formula One world championship on May 13 1950. Giuseppe Farina won in an Alfa Romeo 158, with an average speed of 90.95mph

Fast Facts

  • Keke Rosberg averaged 160.938mph in a Williams when he set pole position at the 1985 British GP, making Silverstone the world's fastest GP circuit at the time
  • British drivers have won their home grand prix 21 times, more often than any other nation
  • The Maggots, Becketts, Chapel complex is one of the fastest corner sequences on the calendar and is entered at 185 mph, with drivers pulling 5G through Becketts
  • Jim Clark led John Surtees and Graham Hill in an all-British one-two-three at Silverstone in 1963

Circuit

Silverstone has long been a favourite among the drivers and the changes to the circuit are unlikely to change that. The high-speed corners have been retained and even added to with the new nearly-flat-out Abbey Corner turning right where it used to slow the drivers and turn left. Despite an extra 0.8 kilometres of track, the projected lap time is only about 4 seconds longer than in previous years. Overtaking will still be tough, but there is probably more chance now at Village corner than there ever was at the old Abbey. Stowe corner will still be a favourite passing spot for most drivers, but only if they can get close enough to the car in front down the long Hanger straight.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

Rain is not forecast this weekend, but this is Silverstone and it is renowned for having its own micro-climate irrespective of what's happening five miles down the road. Winds often play a factor and seasoned visitors will know to bring a rain coat no matter what the weather looks like in the morning. Anybody watching from the comfort of their own home will welcome rain as it always provides a much more interesting race.

Betting

Sebastian Vettel is the overwhelming favourite for this weekend's race on the back of his strong performance in Valencia and the widely-held belief that Red Bull will have the car most suited to the circuit. It's hard to argue against that, but by comparison, Mark Webber's odds of 4/1 are a tad long. Lewis Hamilton slots somewhere in between at 11/4, while Jenson Button could have been overlooked at 7/1.

ESPNF1 prediction

There is a lot of hype around McLaren's blown diffuser, but it's worth remembering that Red Bull has had the most complete package through high-speed corners for nearly two seasons now. Sebastian Vettel is the man on form and the news that Mark Webber will be using his team-mate's old chassis - which was problematic earlier in the season - only strengthens the German's chances.

Laurence Edmondson is an assistant editor on ESPNF1

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Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1 Laurence Edmondson grew up on a Sunday afternoon diet of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell and first stepped in the paddock as a Bridgestone competition finalist in 2005. He worked for ITV-F1 after graduating from university and has been ESPNF1's deputy editor since 2010