Rencken: Time for fast-tracking
FAST TRACK: Once an RAF wartime airfield, Silverstone in England is now one of the fastest F1 circuits on the calendar.
Author: DIETER RENCKEN
SILVERSTONE, England - It had to end sooner or later: Formula 1’s streak of a different winner every fortnight could not have continued and would in any event have cheapened the glory of winning: imagine if Marussia or HRT has been in line for victory in Brazil?
That only once before in its 60-year history has the sport enjoyed such a run, albeit maxing at five winners in as many races, proves just how equally matched are this year’s front runners.
BRITS THE FAVOURITES
Fernando Alonso broke the pattern a fortnight ago in Valencia by becoming the first repeat victor of the season but, given the quality of the field, it is almost impossible to call the winner of Sunday’s British GP at Silverstone. Statistically, he will be home grown: the 62 British rounds held to date have delivered 21 local winners for an average of better than one in three.
Thus McLaren’s duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button start as favourites but face stiff competition from this season’s line-up of winners - Ferrari’s championship leader (and 2011 Silverstone winner) Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber (both Red Bull Racing), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and Pastor Maldonado in the resurgent Williams.
That said, there are at least three other combinations aiming to open their 2012 victory score this weekend: Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean at Lotus, either of whom could have won at least one race this year but for fate, and Michael Schumacher, who reached the podium for Mercedes in Valencia.
Thus this edition of the series’ oldest race – back in July1950 Silverstone hosted the first World championship round – has at least 10 potential winners. Another unique winner this year would put the season very much on track to break 1982’s record which saw 11 different drivers take the flag. Remember, this 20-round championship only hits the halfway mark in Germany in a fortnight.
Silverstone, once a Second World War airfield, has changed hugely over the years and today runs to 5.891km, having been lengthened in 2010 through the addition of the Arena infield section.
Unusually, no major changes have been made to the circuit since 2011’s first race using the new pits/paddock facility (and moved start/finish area), just a straightened pits entry and pits lane speed limit which is 50m earlier. New stands have been added to cater for the 100 000+ crowd - which tells you all you need to know about the popularity of the venue, particularly as Valencia pulled only a third that on race day...
The circuit has 18 turns (8L/10R) and is fearsomely fast, with numerous challenging combinations and seven corners taken at more than 250km/h - only Spa-Francorchamps has more high-speed sections – while cars four times per lap reach more than 300km/h. Only one corner is taken at less than 100km/h.
The awesome Maggotts-Beckett-Chapel complex remains one of F1’s sternest challenges, with drivers exiting Copse before entering this sweeping, high-speed complex of four connecting bends. Average speeds through this section hover around 250km/h and are no lower than 190km/h at any one point.
OVERTAKING? NO PROBLEM!
Rapid changes of direction mean drivers are subjected to alternating g-forces of up to four in a very short time, punishing neck and shoulders and playing havoc with fluid levels in the cars.
Being an older circuit, the layout has shortish straights - the longest is only 800m - and is fairly bumpy, adding further to the challenge, particularly when the track is wet. The FIA has specified a single DRS zone (between turns 5 and 6, as in 2011) but overtaking has seldom been a problem at Silverstone.
Pace car periods are almost unknown: only one in five years compared to nine during the same period in Monaco.
According to sole rubber supplier Pirelli, Silverstone imposes the greatest lateral load on their tyres, with Copse, taken at almost 300km/h, generating lateral loads of five g. To cope with the stresses the Italian tyre company has specified its soft (yellow sidewalls) and hard (silver) compounds.
The combination has this year been used in the heat of Malaysia and on Barcelona’s extremely abrasive surface, which provides an idea of what can be expected during one of the fastest races on the calendar.
Webber’s 2011 pole averaged more than 235km/h.
Being Silverstone, rain is expected - particularly as the Men’s Final is ominously scheduled to be played that afternoon just 120km down the motorway in Wimbledon... Temperatures throughout the weekend are expected to be around 20C and intermittent rain is forecast on every afternoon, which should play havoc with set-up and strategies.
After eight rounds (of a record-setting 20) Spaniard Alonso leads the Drivers’ championship with 111 points to the 91 of Webber (Australia), with Hamilton third on 88. Reigning double champion - and runaway leader in Valencia before mechanical issues intervened - Vettel has 85, followed by the German’s compatriot Rosberg with 75. Thus a victory (25 points) separates the top four.
In the Constructors’ category, Red Bull Racing has so far walked it, having 176 points to the 137 of McLaren. Then comes a surprise: Lotus has 126 to the 122 of Ferrari, despite the latter having won two races and the former none. Of the Italian team’s total, Alonso has scored 111, team mate Felipe Massa only 10% of that, which proves how vital it is to have two consistently fast drivers when the field is as tight as this season.
Sunday’s 52-lap race will start at 1pm/2pm (local/SAST) with qualifying at the same times on Saturday.
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