F1: British Grand Prix preview

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarThursday, July 3rd, 2008

 
 

No pressure, Lewis… just thousands and thousands of fans poised to descend on Northamptonshire to see Hamilton defy the form-book, Ferrari, his recent difficulties and the nay-sayers to pull a fantastic win out of the hat.

It would be unfair to compare this feat to the chances of Andy Murray beating Rafael Nadal. But it can’t be denied that both McLarens will have their work cut out on a track whose long, flowing curves have always brought the best out of Ferrari.

Hamilton did put in a stellar performance on the final day of the recent Silverstone testing session – but this should not be overstated. Testing is not the same as competitive racing, especially if two teams are working on different programmes, as McLaren and Ferrari reportedly were.

All in all, we’d say that everyone really needs to keep a level head about this. We’re pretty sure the Italian team has a bit more speed up its sleeve – and certainly won’t be afraid to use it.

Meanwhile, will David Coulthard announce this is his last British Grand Prix as a driver? (Edit: yes) And will Jenson Button actually be able to hang onto his Honda drive until June next year? The spotlight is well and truly on them at the moment, almost as much as it is on young Lewis.

In McLaren’s race preview, he says he will be looking for an Andy Murray effect: “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.

“[Silverstone is] 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… where else can you experience that? Formula 1 just wouldn’t be the same without Silverstone – it’s become a British phenomenon.

“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.”

Team principal Ron Dennis, speaking to the BBC’s Newsbeat, said: “We’re a very resilient team and there’s an inevitability that things are going to happen that don’t exactly fall the way that you would like them to be.

“Most people don’t really appreciate how difficult the drivers’ workload is. It’s one of those things. You’ve got to put it behind you and focus on the next race.

“Confidence in motor sport is a weakness, it’s not a strength. What we try to do is the best job everywhere and we’ll go to Silverstone and do the best job we can.

“It won’t mean that it’s any less than what we put into the last event or last year’s Silverstone. It’ll just be the same effort, same commitment to be the best and if you’re the best you win.”

He said that the ability to learn as you go through life is an ability that everyone needs – and Lewis Hamilton was no exception.

“He puts a lot of effort into understanding the car better, working closer with the team and maintaining the same balanced approach to his motor racing and his life as a whole.

“Inevitably the learning curve for him is steeper now than it will be in two or three years time. But he’s really risen to the challenge and he’s a very complete individual and a very complete racing driver and it’s a pleasure to work with him.”

Meanwhile, Honda is putting an optimistic face its recent miserable performance. Its team preview reads: “Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello know Silverstone well, having contested much of their racing in the junior formulas in the UK.

“They have regularly finished in the points here and the most emphatic of Rubens’ nine wins took place at the track in 2003, when he overtook Kimi Raikkonen to win the race by five seconds.”

Its technical overview of the circuit points out that Silverstone is generally a very fast track with fast, sweeping bends at the start of the lap require a lot of confidence from the drivers.

“They tend to set up their cars for Copse, Becketts and Stowe while doing the best they can through the slow complex of corners at the end of the lap.

“As at any track, there is more lap time to be lost and found through the slow corners, particularly at Club, the Abbey chicane and the final complex, where traction is all-important. As a result of the slow-speed grip needed through these slower sections, the cars run slightly more downforce than at Magny Cours, the last race on the calendar, and that places an emphasis on aerodynamic efficiency.”

The team predicts that there are several sections of the track where the absence of traction control this year will frustrate the drivers, for instance the exit of Club, Priory and Brooklands.

“The asphalt is quite smooth, except for a couple of bumpy sections midway through the lap. Notably, the braking point for Vale is very bumpy so a few cars may be swapping ends early in the weekend as drivers work out their braking points.”

Button said: “The British Grand Prix is always a very special weekend for me and I’m excited about racing there again in front of the British crowd.

“Whatever position you are in and regardless of the performance of your car, the fans are always so supportive and the atmosphere from the grandstands over the weekend is fantastic.

“Silverstone is one of my all-time favourite circuits and I particularly love the section of the track around Becketts. The change of direction is amazing as is the speed that the cars carry through there. It’s one of the best complexes in F1 and a great place to watch the race.”

Let’s hope he gets to go back next year.

Team principal Ross Brawn added that he expected to see an improvement in the performance of the RA108 at Silverstone, expecially when compared to the recent French Grand Prix.

He said: “We have a number of new performance parts on the car in the areas of chassis, aerodynamics and engine, which should allow us to be on the pace with our current competitors in the midfield.

“Our drivers are looking forward to the challenge of the weekend and both rate this track as one of their favourites. Rubens has a great history here and always performs very well at Silverstone, and Jenson is extremely motivated to do well at his home race.”

For Red Bull, David Coulthard said: “The first half of the season has been a mixed bag for the team mainly through my results, as Mark has had his best season to date.

“I had a couple of wobbles in qualifying earlier in the year and that has resulted in being on the wrong piece of race track at the wrong time and getting involved in incidents. The only weekend where I had an incident all by myself was in Monaco, but that was off the back of having no running on the Thursday because of reliability issues.

“Without trying to give the impression of ‘poor me’ making excuses, I’ve definitely had the non-Red Bull end of the stick!”

But he said that, on the positive side, he had been in the top ten several times and had a podium finish in Canada.

“There have also been three ninth place finishes, which doesn’t sound very sexy, but in all those races, I was less than ten seconds away from seventh, which shows just how competitive it is in that midfield.

“I am genuinely optimistic for the second half of the year, but it’s going to be incredibly tight with Toyota, Renault and Williams.

“Having said that, my one day of testing at Silverstone did not go too well, so my preparation for the British Grand Prix has definitely been hampered, because the high speed nature of the track means it helps to get your eye in by doing plenty of laps.

“We’re on the back foot, but the team has the strength to bounce back and have a good weekend.”

Team principal Christian Horner added: “So far, coming up to the British Grand Prix, we have had one hundred per cent mechanical reliability in all the races, which is remarkable compared to last year.

“We have already scored as many points in a half season as we did in the entirety of 2007 and we have secured our first podium of the year as well as scoring in seven of the eight races to date.

“It’s a positive start and we are on target to meet our objective of finishing the year in fourth spot in the Constructors’, but there’s still a long way to go. With that in mind, there are still developments due on the car to increase performance as we feel we can get closer to McLaren and BMW.”

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