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It’s going to be hot, sticky and fast at Silverstone this weekend, and that’s just the tyres.
A combination of unusually hot British Grand Prix weather, DRS changes and tyre degradation could throw up some surprises as the Northamptonshire circuit hosts the third of F1’s ‘triple header’ races.
If you’re heading to the race, I hope you’re in a stand with its back to the sun, or you’ll be sweating and squinting all afternoon. And if you’re going on a general admission ticket, wear sunglasses and the biggest F1 cap you own.
Fast corners – properly fast corners
Silverstone flows beautifully, and the Maggots-Becketts-Chapel complex is a thing of wonder, a technical challenge loved by drivers and spectators alike where we get to see just how quickly F1 cars can change direction at speed.
But this year a couple of other corners will be worth watching closely, as they are likely to separate the front-runners from the also-rans.
A third DRS zone has been added on the start-finish straight and that means that cars could go flat-out through the first couple of turns, Abbey and Farm.
The thing is, Abbey is already a pretty tricky corner and the only cars likely to be able to take it flat are those running higher downforce levels – and that’s going to be those at the front of the field, because everyone else will be trading downforce for speed, on what is a high-speed circuit.
Something similar could happen at Copse (turn 9).
This could have a couple of outcomes: Mercedes, Ferrari and, possibly, Red Bull get a couple of tenths advantage every lap. And/or the lead cars cook their tyres…
F1 … gripping stuff
This weekend’s tyres are the Hard, Medium and Soft options and, under normal circumstances, the Mediums and Softs would more than last the required distance (the Hards are better suited to becoming planters or coffee tables).
But the predicted high temperatures could change all that. Silverstone’s fast corners already put a lot of energy into the tyres; factor in the ambient heat and, for the top teams, the stresses caused by taking Abbey and Copse flat-out, and the rubber could start to suffer.
If the rears go off, cars will get twitchy in high-traction sections such as turns 3 and 4. If the fronts start to complain, the whole lap will get scabby – Silverstone is not a circuit that forgives understeer.
However, Pirelli are bringing the ‘diet’ version of their tyres, the ones with 0.4mm less tread depth – doesn’t sound much but that adds up to 1kg less weight on each car – and those tyres are far less susceptible to blistering than the standard rubber.
One other thing: there’s been resurfacing work at Silverstone and that could make the track even quicker – if the tyres can take it.
It all points to Mercedes … doesn’t it?
On the face of it, yes, this should be a Mercedes weekend – they’ve won here the last five years.
And it should be a Lewis Hamilton weekend too – he is responsible for the last four of those Merc victories, as he tends to make his home advantage pay dividends.
Although they had mechanical woes last weekend, Merc insist they were pretty minor (a fuel pump clip fell off on Hamilton’s car, while Valtteri Bottas was sidelined by a power steering hydraulics failure).
Mercedes’ recent engine and aero upgrades seem to have delivered the goods, and if they get reliability sorted, you wouldn’t bet against them.
However, Ferrari have brought some aero upgrades of their own to Silverstone – long slots along the sides of their floors, and sexy new curves on the bodywork over the exhausts, like Merc have been using.
If Mercedes drop the ball again – though after last weekend’s strategy horror, they’re going to be hyper-focussed – Ferrari should be ready to pounce.
Mind you, we thought that last week and it turned out that Max Verstappen’s Red Bull was the car that delivered the goods reliably.
Talking of Red Bull, their handling and aero prowess will be a big plus at Silverstone, which is just as well because their Renault engine’s relative weakness is a major drawback at a fast circuit like this.
Calling all McLaren and Williams fans
Your boys need you this weekend. While a home race is usually a chance to bask in a little local love and, perhaps, the glory of a few more points than might otherwise be expected, neither McLaren nor Williams will be expecting a happy weekend.
Both teams are running underpowered cars, both teams have aero problems and both teams are shadows of their former selves.
It’s not a recipe for a perfect weekend of F1.
Factor in McLaren’s latest blood-letting, with Race Director Eric Boullier quitting this week, and these one-time behemoths need all the support they can get.
It’s going to be a memorable weekend…
Of course, we’ve had the now traditional warning that F1 racing at Silverstone is not long for this world but the truth is, no one knows how things will pan out in the next couple of years.
The F1 business model has changed and races that, on the face of it, don’t bring in Ecclestone-esque profits for the sport’s owners may still be valuable in terms of global branding exercises for both F1 and sponsors.
This weekend, that’s going to be forgotten by most of us. Saturday will be about avoiding sunburn, and resisting the temptation to do a runner during Q2 to find somewhere to watch the football.
Sunday will be about calamine lotion on the Saturday sunburn and, hopefully, lap records tumbling as long as the tyres can take it.
To coin a phrase, F1’s coming home.