F1: Silverstone 2014, British Grand Prix preview image

“The key to a quick lap around Silverstone is a car that remains stable during direction changes, and one that is aerodynamically stable, because most of the lap is spent at high speed where aerodynamic loads dominate” – Pat Symonds

An old fashioned track, with a British fragrance, breathing racing history. The place where the first ever Formula 1 race took place, the place where a year later Enzo Ferrari “killed his mother” (Alfa) with Froilán González at the wheel, where in 1969 Stewart and Rindt showcased the best duel of their time… where in 1998 Schumacher won on the pit lane and where, last year, drivers experienced the senseless and random explosions of tyres. With the usual English weather and the special English fans, the airfield track always have something offer, to keep up with its 6 decades and a half reputation.

The circuit

Silverstone is a real driver’s track, said the drivers themselves. With probably the fastest combination of right and left handers, it demands a fluid driving style and the driver ability to go through these fast sections without damaging the tyres too much.

Rebuilt in 2010, at 5981 meters it is one of the long tracks. We will have a total of 306,198 kilometers run in 52 laps. Unlike the previous two races (Montreal and Red Bull Ring) brakes are used here only for about 8% of the track length, removing any worries about the cooling of the cars. On the other hand, the low level use of the brakes will provide a challenge for powering the MGU-K. Especially since the optimal use of the ERS is vital here, as drivers will spend 66% of a lap in full throttle, the fuel consumption being close to Monza. In theory, Mercedes powered cars should be all powerful here.

The combination of high and medium speed turns will result in the use of a medium to high drag setup for the wings while the default gears setup will produce rather low top speeds, topping 310-312 km/h with DRS on.

Pirelli took the conservative road, with medium and hard compounds, remembering last year’s disaster. Side forces exerted on the tyres, particularly in Woodcote, Copse and Abbey turns will add to the pressure. Combined with the smooth tarmac, we can expect the standard two stops strategy. The simulations data suggests that the first pitstop window could be around laps 10-15 and the second around 29-35. Based on Spain and Malaysia, the medium compound will be around 0.4s per lap quicker than the hard one. Lower temperatures will ease on tyre wear. It’s expected that the first ten drivers will run the first two stints on medium tyres, leaving the hard tyre for the last stint. Of course, you can expect other strategies to work – the medium compound on the last stint could lead to better grip (since the fuel tank will be emptier at the end of the race). A pitstop is evaluated at around 25s, one of the longest pitstop duration this year.

The run-off areas built after the 2010 makeup would reduce the possibility of a Safety Car. Unless rain could play a role into it.

Favorites and outsiders

It’s becoming a stereotype to mention Mercedes AMG as the certain winners. Silverstone will actually exacerbate on the qualities of the outstanding W05. The best Power unit of the field will be at home on the many acceleration areas and the drag level needed for the several 260-270km/h turns will generate more confidence for the drivers. Maybe just the brakes setup needed for loading the MGU-K could slow down the supreme machine of the moment.

And so we come to the sensitive Mercedes drivers issue. Alain Prost recently said: “Hamilton is a bit quicker, but Rosberg is the complete package overall.” It’s normal for the Professor to like Nico better but the Silverstone track might prove too much even for Rosberg. Hamilton’s ability to handle an unstable rear when about to turn added to the more fluent turning style, will offer more speed per lap to the British driver. Lewis is also thriftier on fuel consumption, keeping the speed. Unless he makes unwanted errors like in qualifying in Austria, Hamilton proved to be faster and more offensive in wheel to wheel fights. And the English fans are waiting for a new 1987. The faster and more spectacular driver won then… but the title went to its more pragmatic team mate.

Red Bull RB10 will feel at ease in the Maggots-Becketts-Chapel section, probably in Stowe and Woodcote too, but the inferior Renault engine power is not complementing the splendid chassis designed by Adrian Newey. Red Bull Racing has a good track record here, with 3 wins in the last 5 races, the ones that got away are due to pitstop errors or bad reliability. If Daniel Ricciardo shows the same stunning speed on the quick turns as his predecessor he will again have the upper hand on Vettel. Technical and adaptability issues struck the world champion and his counterintuitive style will be hard to put at play here. But he has his ace in the sleeve: lightning steering reflexes, better than any other driver in the field. Theoretically, the only chance for Red Bull is gremlins for the Mercedes engines.

Recently, Williams proved to be close followers of the Mercedes team in terms of raw speed. But that was on low drag tracks, that put a veil over the lack of downforce provided by the Grove chassis. At Silverstone, expect to see FW36’s feebleness, even if counterbalanced by the Mercedes power unit and the aggressive gears and braking setup. Massa and Bottas are both late brakers, turning in a bit later than ideally, but superbly balancing the car in the corner.

And so we get to Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard has no rivals regarding the lap consistency and pace. At Barcelona, the F14T Ferrari was very slow on corners and we should not expect it to deliver better in the UK. Raikkonen could get much closer to Alonso here as the track configuration will help him act less brutal on cornering in order to get his front tyres into temperature. Kimi has a very smooth throttle control and this will help him fight a team mate of the like of Michael Schumacher (without the German’s natural speed).

Other teams that will count in for points will be Force India and McLaren. The dedicated tyres department and Sergio Perez’s conservative tyre approach will help VJ Mallya’s team get the edge over their Woking rivals. Hulkenberg’s harshness on the rear tyres combined with the low tyre degradation will provide speed for him too. At McLaren we find a war between generations: an immature Magnussen in most cases, but brilliant in his day and a more consistent Jenson Button playing at home. Max Chilton is playing at home too, but what are his hopes?


A final factor, that can prove to be crucial at Silverstone, is the ambiguous weather. The forecast is for the low twenties during the weekend but rain is never far away here. Lewis Hamilton proved to be brilliant on a dump track in 2008, but changing conditions are difficult even for the most gifted drivers. The rain can cancel any power advantage for the Mercedes unit. The people on Fleet Street expect Hamilton to revive 1992, turning to be a new Nigel Mansell. “Our Nige” was also a spectacular and attacking driver, a gladiator of close combat. But unlike Hamilton, his team mate was a regular number two, at 38 years of age…

By Berndt