Formula One arrives home for the ninth race of the season at the legendary Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire. The typical British infatuation with it’s unpredictable weather patterns for early summer appear to have been quashed whilst we bask in glorious hot temperetures that are set to last for the entire weekend.
As always, support for the home drivers of double world champion Lewis Hamilton, 2009 world champion Jenson Button and rookie debutant Will Stevens will be exceptional with flags, merchandise and team colours on full display. The most passionate motor sport crowd in the world will also cheer on any other driver that puts on a fine display and drivers will be aware of this so will need to raise the bar.
Situated on an old World War II air base, this circuit has seen F1 action almost since the dawn of time. On the 2nd October 1948 the circuit with it’s rope fences, pig pens and field of crops in the middle of it welcomed an enormous crowd of 100 000 people to view its first race before the first F1 Grand Prix of the modern world championship was hosted in 1950, the rest is history.
Nobody can deny this circuit its rich history. Who can forget the first.. and subsequently last time a reigning British Monarch attended a grand prix in the 1950’s as King George VI watched Giuseppe Farina win in the Alfa Romeo? Who can forget the heartbreak when Graham Hill stalled his BRM at the start of the 1960 grand prix rendering him last, to race to the lead then spin out before the end?
Nobody will forget the crowd invading the circuit during Nigel Mansell’s victory lap in 1992, shaking his hands, kissing his car and singing at the top of their voices with Union Jacks held aloft. That was singularly, not only one of the greatest moments in F1 but in all sporting history. If you’ve never seen it you must check out the footage online…breathtaking and enough to stir the heart of any motor sport fan.
British grand prix 2015 statistics
Track: Silverstone circuit: Permanent circuit
Race start time: 1pm UK time Sunday
Track length: 5.891 km
Tyre allocation: Medium (white) and Hard (orange)
DRS Zones: Two with separate detection spots (Between turns 5/6 and turns 14/15)
Lap record: Mark Webber – 1:33.401 (Red Bull, 2013)
2014 pole: Nico Rosberg – 1:35.766
What to look out for this weekend
F1 continues to draw criticism enmass from fans, media and the teams/drivers themselves. The reasons are well known (the spectacle, the competitiveness, the noise, equality of finance etc etc) but regardless the F1 circus rolls on and there are plenty of exciting things to look out for this weekend.
The Circuit at Silverstone ecapsulates an aura of perfect Britishness. The sleepy village in the beautiful Northamptonshire countryside looks like something out of an early 20th century period drama whilst the circuit itself, which remains pretty much unchanged since World War II, is typically British. The addition of famous corners that have provided the inspiration for tracks such as Istanbul and Circuit of the Americas reflect how this circuit and it’s subtle changes over the decades remains one of the greatest and a famous landmark in its own right.
The airfield that stood before it was built to stem the tide of war and the track that followed was based entirely on what was abandoned immediately after it. The British obsession with motor sport and the need to go faster and become the fastest ensured that once the bombers and fighter planes moved out, the racing cars and men who’d lived through 6 years of war and endless years of rationing and “making do” moved in. This very British expectation of “making do” ensured that the track was merely marked out a little clearer so that drivers knew where they were going.
With the exception of a basic paddock, slight track layout adaptations car parking, commentary box and later a helipad, the circuit remained pretty much unchanged for the best part of half a century which again, is typically British. The track has evolved into a more sophisticated layout since the basic design of 1950 but it has moved with the times whilst retaining its character. Britain boasts many of the worlds most famous landmarks and like Silverstone, those have remained relatively unchanged in the hundreds or thousands of years they’ve been in existence. Big Ben, The tower of London, HMS Victory and even stone henge are relics from the past that will always remain the same. Why? Because they are important artefacts Britain’s heritage but they also have a deep meaning and like Silverstone are buried deep in every Brits psyche.
When you visit Silverstone you can envisage the planes taking off and landing, the dashing, winking, moustachioed Graham Hill and his rowing club racing helmet he wore and Nigel Mansell giving Ayrton Senna a lift atop his yellow, white and blue Williams to the cheers and applause of an elated crowd. History oozes from its tarmac.
Although steeped In history, in 2010 the circuit enjoyed a fairly ambitious revamp. The traditional aspect has been preserved but the new layout has enhanced the circuit whilst the new facilities are very impressive. The idea to move the start finish line from the old paddock area has also turned out to be a cunning move. The start on the pre 2010 layout was exciting because cars started on the curve of the exit of the Woodcote corner which led onto the uncertain and fast right of Copse which led into the infamous Maggots and Becketts chicanes which are monsters in their own right. Now, the cars line up on the grid and head down a short straight but turn right into a tricky fast corner called Abbey, then flat out into an immediate fast left into Farm then hard on the brakes then right in to the new Arena complex.
What is phenomenal about Silverstone is that despite the revamp of 2010, the new area of the circuit has allowed the track to retain its unique and exciting layout, particularly its first handful of corners despite being moved. The new starting straight and series of corners are just as tricky and just as brilliant as the former. There is a sense that the track hasn’t changed at all, even though it has.
The fast and twisty chicanes of Maggots and Becketts are still there. When one thinks of a chicane on modern F1 circuits you think of super tight, super slow corners with Bright swathes of red and white paint and ugly, high bumps to ensure that if a driver runs over it, he surely breaks something or makes us wince with the agony it must cause. Not Maggots and Becketts. Drivers need to position themselves carefully on track, squint their eyes then hit the throttle and negotiate these corners as fast as possible. A bad line into these and a driver will lose a bunch of tenths and maybe even send their car sliding across the grass. With a flick left, right, left, right on the steering wheel and at over 185mph at it’s entry this set of corners are stunning.
The word “progress” has been used all too flippantly this season, mainly because the majority of the teams haven’t really made any progress despite empty promises. This isn’t simply down to the error of the teams but the constraints of the current technical regulations means that progress is hindered dramatically. Mclaren continue to give us empty promises of progress whilst the likes of Ferrari and Williams continue to be the talk of the town after Friday practice but no real progress aspires come race day. Red Bull are going backwards whilst the much improved Sauber and Toro Rosso cars appear to have become fairly stagnant.
Force India offer us hope this weekend of showing real progress. After enjoying a successful double points score in Austria, Force India will bring many new parts on what is being called a “B” list car. “B” meaning that it is not second rate but Force India (due to money constraints from last year) have raced the opening 8 grands prix with an upgraded 2014 machine. This weekend will see a debut of sorts of their 2015 charger but it’s not clear as to what degree this car will in fact be new. An educated guess may be that they will use the 2014 chassis but will have an abundance of new components. An innovative new nose design is expected. Whatever happens it will be great to see Force India continue the improvements they are making and close in on Red Bull in the constructors championship race.
Hamilton V Rosberg round 9
As always we can expect a duel between the two main protaganists in Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Last years race was exciting as Hamilton made a mistake on a drying circuit in Q3 and backed out of a faster lap allowing Rosberg to take pole. Hamilton chased him down calmly during the race until a gearbox failure forced Rosberg to retire, handing Hamilton the win. The sense last year was that Hamilton was catching Rosberg and the crowd were excited about an on track overtake but nevertheless the result was the right one. Hamilton must be a favourite for pole but with Rosberg in the ascendency and with the pressure of a home grand prix to bear, who will take it out of the two?
Mercedes reliability has been very good this year compared to last. With this, Rosberg’s resurgence and Hamilton’s raw speed lets hope for an epic wheel to wheel battle that will keep us on the edge of our seats.
Time is running out for Raikkonen but could he drive elsewhere?
2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen needs to up his game. With his contract up for renewal he has endured a hapless time of it in this new turbo era, struggling profusely to get any pace out of his car in 2014 and putting in a few lacklustre performances in 2015. It’s sad to admit that Kimi, one of the greatest F1 drivers of a generation is in this current position and faces the brutal reality that he may not have a drive at Ferrari next year. Every dog has its day? Ask any young F1 fan about their opinion of Kimi and they will say that they like his personality but that’s about it. Many of us ardent, middle aged, life long fans will never forget his gutsy performances during his Mclaren years where he looked as though he would and perhaps should have won a handful of titles.
Kimi has professed a desire to stay on in F1 and he is known to be a driver that really needs a car to be balanced, grippy and dangerously fast. With the “silly season” in full swing of who will drive where in 2016 it may be conceivable that Kimi may be part of a deal in a straight swap with Williams to lure Valteri Bottas to the prancing horse.
This idea has some backbone. Ferrari are surely looking at Bottas, then Hulkenberg then perhaps even Ricciardo to replace Kimi next year. If Kimi wants to stay in a competitive team in F1 then Williams are perhaps the best prospect due to their decent chassis and solid Mercedes engine. Another option could be a straight swap with Daniel Ricciardo to Red Bull. Red Bull are currently in turmoil at the moment but with a realistic possibility of luring Audi or another engine supplier in that could be enough to convince Kimi that it would be a good move.
Kimi also has to consider his age. By no means old but at 35 he is 18 years older that youngest F1 driver Max Verstappen who is 17 who is also by the way…very good. Along with other great rookies currently enjoying solid starts to their careers and with the endless queue of young talent at the door of F1, Kimi still needs to prove that he’s “worth it” and worth the wage of a former world champion that still has the passion, resolve and ability to fight for a title.
Kimi is a great driver. Upon his return to F1 with the Lotus team he managed to win a race for them. They weren’t particularly fast but the car was balanced, grippy with good all round speed. If a team can provide this then all they need is Kimi.
The recent in season test held at the Red Bull ring in Austria yielded some interesting developments. Poor weather held the teams back a little but most were able to enjoy a relatively stable test.
Hamilton declines to test.
The most notable question that was raised was why did Hamilton decline the opportunity to spend the second day in the car? This raised eyebrows for a number of reasons, the first and most obvious was that Hamilton had been well and truly beaten by Rosberg who is currently enjoying a resurgence. Despite this, Hamilton was reported as enjoying time off and preferring to attend the Glastonbury music festival and hang with the stars. There could be two elements to this. Hamilton either wanted to back away from the test and gather his thoughts after his defeat or he could be playing mind games. He could be luring Rosberg into a false sense of security by showing Rosberg that he felt confident enough not to bother with the test. He’s an adult, he can do as he chooses.
As ex-F1 driver Derek Warick put it, Rosberg is Hamilton’s main title rival who, despite gearbox failure at last years British Grand Prix, performed extremely well there. According to him, Hamilton should have been in the car during the test putting the mileage in. We will see whether this extra mileage has aided Rosberg this weekend and given him a potential advantage, it must have and the bookies may back Hamilton on paper but surely it’s a split descion in reality?
Alonso gets mileage
Fernando Alonso managed to put in 100 laps for Mclaren at the Austrian test and that is a huge improvement considering that they’ve been poor in qualifying, slow in race trim and down right unreliable. They will be hoping for a consistent race this weekend and with a bunch of updates predicted to be applied then both cars may finish this weekend although it’s not expected based on recent performances. The high speed circuit of Silverstone WILL NOT suit their current package and the cheers from the crowd may be the only salvation for the drivers and team.
Calls for closed cockpits
After the incredible accident between Alonso and Kimi during the Austrian grand prix, the focus on safety threw up discussions about closed cockpits on F1 cars once again. Always a point of huge debate there are many pro’s and con’s. The pro’s would be that it would immediately offer 100% better protection for the driver in the case of a serious accident, albeit protecting them from a head impact and it would also make the cars look incredible if you can imagine a fighter jet on wheels! Aside from aesthetics the aerodynamic advantage may make the cars faster and easier to handle, particularly around high speed corners.
The con’s outweigh the pro’s, particularly on the grounds of safety and expense. OK, we’ve all seen F1 drivers sustain head injuries. Tom Pryce at South Africa 1977, Felipe Massa at Hungary 2009, Jules Bianchi at Suzuka 2014 and the tragic accident that is believed to have led to the death of Marussia test driver Maria DeVillota in 2012. I make a point here of stating that these accidents were particularly tragic and i don’t use these examples lightly out of full respect but in almost every case where a driver has sustained a head injury there has been a freakish element to it.
Tom Pryce was killed after hitting a marshall at 170mph on track. The 18kg fire extinguisher the marshall was carrying hit Pryce in the head killing him immediately. Felipe Massa was chasing Rubens Barrichello when a spring simply fell of Barrichello’s car and hit him in the head knocking him unconcious. Jules Bianchi aquaplaned underneath a tractor/crane at moderate speed whilst it was recovering a stricken Sauber on track in apalling wet conditions and De Villota’s throttle reportedly stuck open and caused her to crash into the back of a parked lorry with a tailgate at head level, blinding her in one eye and causing neurological injuries.
Debates such as this are not easy or indeed morally comfortable to go into in great depth in F1. Tragic accidents detailed above may be freakish but they DO happen and that has to be considered. On the flip side, If F1 cars had always been fitted with closed cockpits as if it was the norm, then drivers such as Pryce would have probably survived but Niki Lauda, who was trapped inside in a burning car in 1976 certainly wouldn’t have because nobody could have gotten him out in time.
Closed cockpits wouldn’t be realistic or deemed safe just yet. Visibility would be restricted for the driver and wet conditions would be worse. The addition of a closed cockpit would come at enormous expense. The cost of redesigning a cockpit to cater for it coupled with a functioning windscreen wiper, demisters, and a jet fighter style “exploding canopy” in the case of emergency would be too high and too much of a consideration. The most fearful consideration for closed cockpits are what if a driver is trapped in a car that has turned upside down?
Closed cockpits shouldn’t be ruled out but it may be more sensible to foresee the addition of some kind of super strong “pole” that would stem from either side of the chassis and reach up to the sides of the drivers head but not enclosing it. A driver cannot turn his head much whist strapped to his seat and wearing a HANS device so this may be a viable option. The debate will continue.
Enjoy the race
The last two grand prix have been very good here at Silverstone. If you’re attending this weekend then leave early to avoid queues, take sun cream and rain coats…you never know!