Silverstone – the name brings so many images flashing before the eyes. Let me jot them down.
- lets see, there’s got to be some thunder
- and a bit of lightning
- and of course a cold rain shower
- aquaplaning cars tripping all over one another
- and… the image of a very expensive, Scarlet spinning top! Remember Massa in 2008? 5 spins in one race.. gotta be some kind of a record!
- On the odd occasion, a bright-n-sunny race
- oh.. and streakers!! yep! you read it right! There once was a man running down the Hangar straight [in a kilt. sorry]. Happened in 2003. True story.
On a serious note, there are the everlasting images etched in modern F1 history, of Nigel Mansell carrying Ayrton Senna back to the pits on his victory lap, Michael Schumacher running off track to crash at Stowe. That practically handed the 1999 title to Mika Hakkinen, Lewis Hamilton‘s total domination of 2008 [yes, yes, the same race when Massa was busy finding new ways to spin a Ferrari. Cut the man some slack...] But the highlight for me, is the sight of a string of cars, nose-to-tail, snaking their way through the Copse-Maggots-Becketts-Chapel sequence.
Built on an abandoned World War – II airfield, Silverstone has been one of the earliest homes of the British Grand Prix. In fact, the first race of the first Formula 1 championship was held here in 1950. Although Silverstone has been a regular host to the British Grand Prix, its monopoly over the event started in 1995. There was a brief time in 2008-09 when the possibility of Donnington park hosting the race was being considered among much controversy, but that was settled when Silverstone got the rights to host the next 17 British Grands Prix from 2009.
The Silverstone track layout has undergone a lot of changes over the years. The layout was stable through the late 90′s and 2000s, but it was changed again in 2010 and has remained the same since then, with a few modifications to the pit lane. It still manages to retain a distinct character and remains a challenging track for the drivers and the teams alike. Let’s take a stroll around the new and improved Silverstone race track. It’s a quintessential British race track, with quirky names for all corners, to try to keep up!
The start-finish straight moved from the dash joining Woodcote and Copse corners to the one linking Club and Abbey corners. The cars start off running downhill to Abbey. What used to be a left handed chicane is now a right hander leading into the Arena section. The right hander at Abbey links to the left hander at the Farm curve, forming a sweeping S-bend. On a dry day, Aerodynamic efficiency would matter through this section. The cars then pass the DRS detection point on their way into the tight left handed hairpin bend at the Village corner, named after the Silverstone village. This leads into the tighter right handed hairpin – ”The Loop’. The track opens up as we run uphill through fast left hander at Aintree, entering the DRS zone as we enter the turn. The short run up to Brooklands, christened the ‘Wellington straight’ serves as the DRS zone and brings us to the end of sector 1.
The cars come flying in through the DRS zone, and have to brake hard to stop in time for the twisting left handed Brooklands corner, taken in 2nd gear, 96kph. The track joins the old layout from this point onward, leading into the painfully slow 180 degree right hander at Luffield. The apex at Luffield is very deep into the corner, and tricky to hit. The road doubles up on itself around the exit. Pushing too hard or too early can catch one out, compromising the exit, even causing a spin. The exit becomes even more treacherous in the wet. Carrying good momentum out of Luffield governs the top speed through the awesomely fast Woodcote right hander, taken flat out as the cars accelerate up to 6th gear through the turn, reaching top speed down what used to be the old start-finish straight. It takes a brave soul to try and take the Copse corner flat out, but not much more than a slight lift off the throttle is enough in the modern formula one cars to negotiate this blindingly quick right hander at over 290kph in top gear.
As you would imagine with such high speed, there’s a very tiny margin of error. The slightest error can lead to an off track excursion through the gravel trap, and if very unlucky, into the tyre wall. In the wet though, multiple lines emerge due to the width of the track, and we could just see a couple of daring passes through Copse. The slingshot through Copse leads to the most challenging part of the track – the snaking run through Maggots [flat out 7th gear left], still flat out through a right kink at turn 11, dropping down the gears for the left hander at Becketts, still slowing to hit the apex at the right handed at turn 13, dashing up to Chapel, hitting the apex in 5th gear, 250kph, darting out onto the Hangar straight for a deep breath!
Sector 3 is relatively easier on the drivers as they speed down the hangar straight, reaching 300kph in top gear. Carrying good momentum through the Maggots-Becketts-Chapel complex can out one on for an overtaking attempt down the Hangar straight, and into the braking zone for Stowe. The right hander at Stowe is a tricky one to master. A lot of time can be made up through braking late, and having a good balanced setup here. The cars drop down to 4th gear 300kph at the apex, flicking up through the gears to 6th gear on the short straight, before braking hard for the 2nd gear left-right Vale chicane. The second apex is particularly tricky, as the exit tightens and twists into the left handed turn 18 before opening up onto the start-finish straight.
Sunday’s race will be run for 52 laps around this 5.891km long layout. Both of Friday’s practice sessions have been soaking wet, with Romain Grosjean and Lewis Hamilton topping one session each. The forecast for Saturday and Sunday is for more showers, so it does look like we’ll have a topsy-turvy race, full of aquaplaning cars, spins, crashes and lots of messy racing. Fernando Alonso‘s championship lead might just extend a little bit more, given his credentials in the wet, but Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Mark webber are solid competitors in wet conditions as well and if the rainmeister Michael Schumacher does manage to get a reliable and competitive car, we might just see him return to the podium yet again. It will be interesting to follow the fortunes of the Lotus cars here, as clearly they won’t enjoy the heat that has helped them so far. Grosjean is an unknown in the wet, and could just spring a happy surprise, but that’s what a great result for them is likely to be this weekend – a surprise. The Sauber seems to like the wet conditions, and Kobayashi may just rue his penalty. Look out for Sergio Perez to challenge for a major haul of points though.
As is the case in a wet race, it really is anybody’s race. Mechanical grip, traction and driver skill suddenly gain a lot more weight-age than the car’s aerodynamic packages and special components and a whole lot of other jargon. You just have to look back at Sebastian Vettel’s pole-to-flag run at Monza in the Toro Rosso for an example just how much more leveled the playing field becomes when it rains through a Grand Prix weekend. On the other hand, if the sun does end up showing its face on the day named after itself, we still may see a mixed field and quite some scraps owing to the fact that practically, none of the teams have had a chance to do any significant running in the dry this time around. So either way, it promises to be a win-win situation for the fans!