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British Grand Prix Preview

Thursday 27th June 2013

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British Grand Prix Preview

British Grand Prix Preview

The British Grand Prix arrives after one of those unhealthy three-week gaps that Bernie Ecclestone has woven so expertly into the F1 calendar. Then, just a week later, it'll be the German Grand Prix followed by another big gap.

The hot topic of the weekend, after Mark Webber's Thursday announcement, is of course testing. After a short silence following the International Tribunal ruling on Mercedes' Barcelona test, Red Bull are turning up the volume of their criticism about the Mercedes penalty being too lenient.

In response, Ross Brawn is pointing out the fraudulent use of 'filming days' as tests. The idea of filming days is for teams to be able to go to their nearest circuit to show the car in action for promotional purposes. "Teams have been doing filming days at Idiada (the purpose-built Spanish test track) - can you explain that one to me?" said Brawn. "The whole issue of testing has slipped over the years and now needs correcting, and we all need to have a clear picture for the benefit of everyone."

To show the increased sensitivity about how unofficial tests are now being viewed, McLaren were at pains to point out that they were using one of their 'straightline/constant radius' test allocations for work at Idiada on Tuesday in an effort to show some-improved performance at Silverstone.

With the World Motosports Council backing a return to limited post-race testing (to limit costs) next season hopefully this will put an end to all the backbiting, but expect it to dominate topics of conversation this weekend, with Christian Horner ramping up how much Mercedes have gained from their 1000km jaunt.

Like Barcelona, Silverstone has many fast flowing corners that put a lot of stress on the tyre and it has been a good hunting ground for Red Bull, and to a certain extent Ferrari, over the last few years. So the big question is - what are the tyres going to do?

Pirelli's Paul Hembery: "We've brought the two hardest compounds to the British Grand Prix because of that (fast-flowing nature). The tyres have a new bonding process connecting the tread to the steel belt, which is designed to eliminate the isolated delamination issues: the actual construction of the tyre won't change, as the teams weren't able to reach a unanimous agreement about this."

Intriguingly Paul added: "However, we do still have that possibility on stand-by should it be required in future." Does that mean the new tyres are manufactured or have they just developed a prototype ready to be put into production...?

And the number of stops, Paul? "Last year we saw a two-stop strategy in dry conditions after two wet days but this year the compounds are softer, so if it stays dry we could have between three and four stops. We should be in a position to make a more precise forecast after free practice.

Mark Webber won the race last year, and in 2010, and he regards it as a home circuit as he not only lives in the UK, he's probably raced around Silverstone more than any other circuit. He would be a very popular winner not least because it would put more balance back into the championship race. Mark also needs to do well because he missed out on his other banker, Monaco.*Since writing this we've learnt that this will be Mark's final British GP and so added reason to cheer on the big guy.

Team-mate Sebastian Vettel is a fan of the track. "Only Suzuka can be compared to Silverstone - no other track on the calendar has such a sequence of superfast corners like Silverstone does. Copse Corner, Maggots, Becketts and Chapel are amongst the four best corners in Formula One - they belong together. You have to catch the first one perfectly, otherwise the rhythm is off for all of them and at the end, Chapel is so insanely fast. If you have driven properly in the previous three corners and the car is well tuned then you can drive through full throttle. You go through at roughly 270km/h, really amazing!" The importance of the exit speed is that you are then onto the long Hangar straight.

Last year Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton had a dreadful race for McLaren and there is little prospect that Button is going to be stood on the podium unless we have rain. From the forecasts right now it looks as though we're only going to get some of that on Friday. Lewis Hamilton has another great opportunity to snatch pole, but the tyre wear is going to be crucial to his race chances. In Barcelona he went from the front row to twelfth, while Rosberg slipped from pole to sixth. Having had the benefit of 1000km around Barcelona afterwards, the team, and Lewis (who will have done his homework on Rosberg's less frictional cornering style) will certainly do better than that at Silverstone.

And of course, if it's a three- or four-stopping race, as Paul Hembery anticipates, then the light-on-their-tyres Lotus cars should be a factor. Lotus engineer Alan Permaine has been critical of Pirelli (that's a turn of events in 2013) for making unduly conservative choices for recent races - i.e. going for harder compounds than they did last year. But as Pirelli were quite clear that all the compounds in 2013 would be softer than their 2012 versions, this is just another form of lobbying.

The grumble meister, Kimi Raikkonen, needs to reboot his championship campaign and Silverstone represents his best opportunity to use his car's tyre advantage. Fernando Alonso has won the race in the past and Ferrari will be keen to see him qualify higher than his familiar fifth or sixth, knowing that he can move forward in the race. The Ferraris were mighty around the high-speed Barcelona, so Silverstone should be no different. Though probably fewer Asturian flags at the side of the track.

Force India should also be looking to grab some serious points and continue their lead over McLaren, while Williams would just like to grab any points they can get their hands on. Should McLaren fail to make serious headway against the teams in front of them over the next two weekends then there's likely to be a restructuring of effort to favour the 2014 car, with their 2013 ambition limited to 5th place.

Silverstone is usually the time of year when the 'silly season' rumour mill about driver moves for 2014 swings into action, but such is the volume of stories on tyres, on testing, on financial agreements and on 2014 regs, that it's relatively quiet on that front.* A bit like Sam Bird's schedule for next week...

FH

*written before the Webbo announcement

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