Atlas F1 The British GP Preview

Silverstone, Towcester, England by Ewan Tytler, U.S.A.

Leaving the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola we cross the English channel to a converted airfield in Northamptonshire that is the current home of the British Grand Prix: Silverstone.

At 5.140 Km, Silverstone is a long and fast circuit. Silverstone has gone through nine different layouts in 50 years and was radically changed in 1991, with the addition of the Priory-to-Luffield complex. Despite these changes, Stowe corner, at the end of the Hanger straight, and Club corner, at the end of the Vale straight, provide the best overtaking spots on this circuit.

Williams driver Ralf Schumacher summarised the challenges of the Northamptonshire circuit by saying, "For me, Silverstone is one of the most exciting and demanding race-tracks in the F1 calendar. The combination of high, medium and low speed corners makes it challenging to find a good set up. Copse and Becketts are high speed combinations where you require a well balanced aerodynamic set up. Each of these corners requires a smooth approach and maximum revs in an effort to take the speed onto the following straights. On the other hand, Silverstone also boasts several slow speed corners like Prioy, Brooklands and Luffield, all which require good mechanical grip." His team-mate Jenson Button added, "Silverstone has everything from high, medium and slow speed corners to the flat out Hanger Straight. Either way, I think the British Grand Prix will be a great experience for both fans and drivers."

Instead of being a pivotal mid-season race, the British Grand Prix is now being held early in the season. Weather at Silverstone can be especially changeable in April. Rain is a possibility as happened during the 1998 race. Silverstone have also had its fair share of rain during the testing in recent weeks. This could turn out to be one of the wettest and coldest races since the 1993 European Grand Prix at Donnington Park.

After Michael Schumacher's severe crash at Stowe corner last year, questions have been raised about the safety of Silverstone. Overall, Silverstone is quite safe but Stowe corner is still not safe, despite the valiant efforts of Silverstone's owners, the British Racing Driver's Club (BRDC). This was underlined by Ricardo Zonta's horrifying accident at Stowe corner in last week's testing and now the FIA's official technical chief and safety delegate, Charlie Whiting, is investigating how to improve the safety of Stowe corner for this weekend's race.

Formula One's governing body, the FIA, has introduced new regulations governing the electronics of Formula One cars. The logic behind this is two-fold: 1) Limiting electronic control should narrow the gap between teams with large budgets and teams with modest budgets; 2) Theoretically, electronic traction control should increase the spin-off speed of Formula One thus making them more dangerous. Unfortunately, the new regulations will stress the budgets of the smaller teams in the short term. Banning these electronic devices will increase the number of medium-speed spin-offs (a dangerous thing in itself) and does nothing about the most serious safety problems in Formula One: Catastrophic wing failure and solid structures close to the track.

This degenerated into a "Spanish Inquisition" with teams suspected of using electronics to keep their Formula One cars on the track being condemned as heretics. Fortunately, the FIA recognised the Luddite lunacy of banning pit-lane speed restrictors. After all, these devices are there to improve safety for the pit crews, not to mention the frustration that would be created by more 10 second stop-go penalties for speeding. Sir Frank Williams commented, "The British Grand Prix will see the first occasion under which the cars run to the FIA's new electronic regulations. There could well be some reliability problems for some of the teams due to the rush to incorporate the new regulations. It will certainly be an interesting shake-out on Sunday afternoon, wet or dry."

Pitstop and tyre strategies

Attrition is average at Silverstone, about half the field tend to finish. Sixteen cars finished last year's race. Nine cars finished the wet race of 1998 while ten cars spun off. Ten cars finished in 1997, eleven in 1996 and twelve cars were running at the end of the 1995 race. In last year's race most teams opted for a two-stop strategy except for Stewart-Ford which went for a 3-stop strategy.

On tyre choice, Bridgestone will again offer the teams a choice of soft or medium compound tyres. Bridgestone's Technical Manager, Yoshihiko Ichikawa commented, "Last week's Silverstone test was a good opportunity for the teams to experience wet conditions, despite disturbing their personal test and development programmes. However, they did get a decent run on the very last day when the weather was predominantly dry. In wet conditions the Soft specification rain tyre performed slightly better compared to the Hard wets. Silverstone is more severe on tyres than the previous three circuits on which we have raced so far this year. The nature of this track causes greater and swifter tyre degradation ofthe dry specifications. If the weather conditions stay similar for the Grand Prix then the drivers will already have a firm idea of which specification tyres they would prefer in changing circumstances."

The Teams

Ferrari extended its lead in the Constructor's title to 29 points over McLaren. Ferrari won at Silverstone in 1998 but have only scored a total of 36 points at this circuit since 1991. World Championship leader, Michael Schumacher had limited success (by his own high standards) at Silverstone. He competed in eight British Grands Prix and won this event once for Ferrari in 1998. He never had pole position but set fastest lap in 1997 and 1998 and led this race in 1995. Schumacher also finished second in 1993 and fourth in 1992.

Michael Schumacher's thoughts on his return to Silverstone almost a year after his leg-breaking crash: "If anything, last year's accident has made me stronger mentally than I was before the accident. It was caused by a problem with the brakes on my car and that can happen to anyone, anywhere. I ran in Silverstone for the test and I was not worried at all by that." Schumacher added: "We have shown our car is working well on all types of circuits we have raced on so far this year. I am confident that we can put up a close fight with the McLarens at Silverstone as we have done in the first three races. It makes the racing exciting for us as drivers as well as the spectators."

Rubens Barrichello is second in the drivers' championship. Barrichello competed in seven British Grands Prix, finishing fourth in 1994 and 1996 for Jordan, and his highest grid position was 6th in 1994 and 1996. Barrichello had these comments on his recent performance: "I was unable to get the car to my liking all weekend (at Imola) and I wasn't as competitive as I had been at the first two races. Things should be better in Silverstone."

McLaren have won only once at the revised Silverstone. They have always finished in the points at Silverstone and have scored 44 points since 1991. Their aerodynamic advantage could be very important at this circuit. McLaren will need both cars to finish in the points on Sunday. After the San Marino Grand Prix, Team Principal Ron Dennis stated, "There are 14 more Grands Prix and it's clear that we still have the potential to win. We are certainly looking forward to Silverstone."

The defending World Champion, Mika Hakkinen, is now fourth equal in the drivers' championship and had his share of bad luck at Silverstone. Hakkinen never won on this circuit, although he led the 1997, 1998 and 1999 races. He started in six British Grands Prix and finished in the points on four occasions - second in 1998, third in 1996 and 1994 for McLaren and sixth for Lotus in 1992. He had pole position in 1998 and 1999 and set fastest lap in 1999. It is clear that Hakkinen decided to try to win the mid-season Grand Prix, rather than settling for podium finishes.

David Coulthard is now seventh equal in the drivers' championship. Twynholm's most famous son has competed in six British Grands Prix; he won last year's race and could also have won in 1995, if the pit-lane speed restrictor on his Williams had been working properly. Coulthard also finished fourth in 1997 and fifth in 1996 for McLaren and fifth in 1994 for Williams in his British Grand Prix debut. His highest grid position was 3rd in 1995 and 1999. Coulthard will be hoping to repeat last year's result.

Benetton slipped back to third in the constructors' championship. Benetton have been blowing hot-and-cold this season, perhaps their success at Interlagos was a false dawn. Over the years, Benetton has been a consistent and successful team at Silverstone with a total of 50 points and one victory in 1995.

Giancarlo Fisichella slipped to third in the drivers' championship. Fisichella finished fifth in 1998 for Benetton, his highest grid position was 10th in 1997. After last week's testing Fisichella stated, "I ran with the new aero-configuration and the initial result were really good, so I hope this will be an advantage for the race here next week."

Alexander Wurz finished third in his British Grand Prix debut in 1997 and finished fourth in 1998, his highest grid position was 8th in 1997. After testing last week Wurz commented: "We were finally able to get some good dry set-up done and we have made some improvements, although we still have further to go. I am looking forward to running with the new aero package over the race weekend." Wurz added. "Our car seems to work quite well in the wet, and the chances of it being wet for the Grand Prix are pretty high. I think we'll be okay, but you never know in the wet because it can change everything for you and your set up very quickly. But in normal conditions I think that we're fast in the wet. At Silverstone you need to work quite well on the set-up because it can add a lot to the lap time if the set-up is not correct, but it's a very interesting and challenging circuit."

Williams slipped to fourth equal in the constructors' championship. Neither of the two Williamses finished at Imola. Williams dominated the British Grand Prix in the 1990's, winning six times on the revised circuit - in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997. They scored 78 points in these nine races. BMW's Motorsport Director, Gerhard Berger stated, "We did some modification work on the BMW V10 after Imola and we expect to be better prepared on the reliability side. Our target hasn't changed - we want to see the chequered flag at least with one car."

Ralf Schumacher slipped to fourth equal in the drivers' championship. Ralf finished third at Silverstone in 1999 for Williams, fifth in 1997 and sixth in 1998 for Jordan. Ralf commented, "As always, I am looking forward to the British Grand Prix. Every year, Silverstone has a great atmosphere because of the enthusiasm of British motorsport fans, particularly as there are so many of them. I'm not quite sure what will happen this year because of the April date. After all, it is not the best month in England because of the weather, but let's hope for the best. For the BMW WilliamsF1 Team, the weather doesn't matter too much because the FW22 feels good in both wet and dry conditions, " Ralf added, "My previous experiences at Silverstone have usually ended up with points. In 1998's wet race, I started from the back of the grid and finished the race in sixth place. Last year, I started eight on the grid and finished on the podium behind Coulthard and Irvine."

Jenson Button is now 10th equal in the drivers' championship. This native of Frome in Somerset stated, "Apart from one race in F3, I have never raced on the GP circuit before. Over the past month, however, the BMW WiliamsF1 Team has tested at Silverstone and I have developed a reasonably good understanding of the circuit and what it has to offer. The FW22 feels good and well balanced in both wet and dry conditions and I'm not worried about the weather this weekend. "

Jordan is also fourth equal in the constructors' championship and this Silverstone-based team will want to impress on Sunday, when the team begins its 150th Formula One Grand Prix. They have consistently finished in the points at their home track - finishing fourth in 1994, 1996 and 1999, fifth in 1997 and 1999, and sixth in 1991, 1996 and 1998 - scoring a total of 16 points. Jordan need both cars to finish on Sunday to mount a challenge for the constructor's title.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen has moved down to seventh equal in the World Championship. Frentzen finished fourth in 1999 for Jordan and sixth in 1995 for Sauber, his highest grid position was 2nd in 1997. Jarno Trulli is now 9th in the drivers' championship but he has yet to score a point at Silverstone. Trulli's best finish was 8th in 1997 for Prost and his highest grid position was 13th also in 1997.

BAR's fortunes are still improving as they are now sixth in the constructors' championship. BAR's Chief Engineer, Steve Farrell commented, "Oddly enough, although this is our 'home' Grand Prix and Silverstone is the nearest circuit to the team's Brackley headquarters, we don't test here a great deal, so there isn't any real advantage for us. Our preparations for the British Grand Prix are the same as for any other Formula One race. They were curtailed at last week's Silverstone test as a result of Ricardo's accident, but we still feel we're in good shape.

"Running in both wet and dry conditions, we felt we were competitive, both drivers were happy with their cars and we were able to test and evaluate several new components that we will be running. We're also particularly happy with the progress Honda has made in dealing with the latest FIA technical regulations. At each of the first three races this year, we feel we've been consistent and competitive. I see no reason why, as a realistic target, we can't qualify both cars in the top 10 at Silverstone and have a strong run in the race. We feel Silverstone plays to the strengths of the BAR Honda 002."

Jacques Villeneuve is now sixth in the drivers' championship. Villeneuve competed in four British Grands Prix and won twice in 1996, setting fastest lap, and in 1997 from pole position.

Ricardo Zonta is now tenth equal in the drivers' championship. Zonta did not finish last year's race after qualifying 16th, and he was disqualified after finishing first and setting pole position in the 1997 F3000 race. Zonta's thoughts on Silverstone: "I like Silverstone because it is fast and you can get into a good rhythm. The only problem at this time of year is that the weather is likely to be cold and wet for the Grand Prix. It's a shame we lost time during the test last week after the suspension problem with my car, because we had just come up with a really good wet set-up. We also had the latest specification Honda engine at Silverstone, and it definitely felt like an improvement on the version we have been using."

Sauber is now seventh equal in the constructors' championship after Mika Salo's 6th place finish at Imola. Sauber's development is encouraging as the season progresses but they were not competitive in last week's tests. Sauber scored two points at Silverstone with 6th place finishes in 1995 and 1999 and could pick up another point on Sunday.

Mika Salo is eleventh equal in the drivers' championship. Salo have yet to score a point at Silverstone, his best finish 7th was in 1996 for Tyrrell and his highest grid position was 14th in 1996 and 1998. Pedro Diniz finished 6th in last year's race and his highest grid position was 12th, also in 1999.

Jaguar still has no points in the constructors' championship but both Jaguars finished at Imola. It is difficult to understand what has happened to the Jaguar team. Technical director Gary Anderson has a history of designing straightforward, fast and well-mannered cars but the Jaguar R1 has been inconsistent and unreliable. Jaguar's Chief Operating Officer, Paul Stewart, has resigned after being diagnosed with colon cancer and while everyone wishes him a speedy recovery, his illness and absence at this time will certainly further affect the team's progress.

Johnny Herbert won the 1995 British Grand Prix. This native of Romford in Essex has competed in eight British Grands Prix, his only other points finish was a creditable fourth for Lotus in 1993. His highest grid position was 5th in 1995. Herbert commented, "It's always good to come back to Silverstone, and this year should be particularly good because of the Jaguar name. The engine issues we had earlier in the season put us back a bit, but I think we're on the right track now and we will keep moving forward. The atmosphere is always really lively at Silverstone. There's a real warmth that goes around, and hopefully that warmth will dry out the track this weekend!"

Eddie Irvine, our man from Newtownards in Northern Ireland, had two podium finishes at Silverstone - second in 1999 and third in 1998 for Ferrari. His highest grid position was 4th in 1999. "For Jaguar and Jaguar Racing it will be an important weekend, appearing before its home crowd for the first time," Irvine commented. "It will be interesting to see how much green there will be in the grandstands. I am not that keen on Silverstone as a track, and overtaking is difficult, although it does have one or two challenging corners. Technically, it is quite difficult to get the set-up right, but as we continue to progress with our car, we should be in good shape."

Arrows have also been blowing hot-and-cold this season. Arrows scored a single point at Silverstone when Damon Hill finished 6th in 1997. Pedro de la Rosa had gearbox failure on the grid in last year's race after qualifying 20th. De la Rosa made some light-hearted comments, saying: "It will be wet for sure! I just hope there is no snow and we get our first good finish. We really don't know how the car will go there if it is dry, but if it is wet we know our car will be very good. I just hope we can get some dry running. I will not be that disappointed if it is wet. The car is good, the team is good, we have been able to do some more testing so we should finish higher up. It is the home Grand Prix for Arrows so I hope to give the team something to celebrate."

Jos Verstappen has yet to score a point at Silverstone in four starts, his highest finish was 8th in 1994 for Benetton and his highest grid position was 10th, also in 1994. Verstappen commented: "We will not know what to expect at Silverstone. I think it will be raining and that is sad for this Grand Prix as I think it is a good race circuit. It is always very difficult to set up the cars as you never know what wind directions you will get. I think it will be a good race and hopefully we can do well. I still prefer dry races, but we don't know how to set the car up for this as we have not really had any proper dry running here."

Minardi's last points finish at Silverstone was in 1989 when Pierluigi Martini and Luis Perez Sala finished fifth and sixth respectively. Marc Gene finished 15th last year after qualifying last. Nevertheless, Gene set fastest lap in the 1997 F3000 race. Gaston Mezzacane finished 6th in the 1998 F3000 race at Silverstone.

Prost had only one finish this season. Team Principal, Alain Prost, won at Silverstone five times, but his team have never scored a point at Silverstone. Jean Alesi competed in eleven British Grands Prix at Silverstone and finished second on three occasions - in 1997 for Benetton and in 1995 and 1994 for Ferrari. His highest grid position was 4th in 1994. Nick Heidfeld finished 2nd in the 1998 and 3rd in the 1999 F3000 races at Silverstone.

My Predictions

If it is dry, I'm going to pick McLaren, Ferrari, and Williams as the top three teams with Jordan and BAR making up the top five.

Starting grid:

  1. Mika Hakkinen
  2. Michael Schumacher
  3. David Coulthard
  4. Rubens Barrichello
  5. Heinz-Harald Frentzen
  6. Eddie Irvine
  7. Jacques Villeneuve
  8. Ralf Schumacher
  9. Jarno Trulli
  10. Alexander Wurz

The British Grand Prix Preview in a Nutshell:

  • The weather conditions will be the biggest factor in the preparation for the British Grand Prix.

  • Since all the Formula One teams have tested extensively at Silverstone, surprise results during qualifying should be less likely, unless, of course, it rains.

  • A select few teams have been successful at Silverstone. Succeeding at Silverstone requires a powerful, reliable engine in an aerodynamically efficient, well balanced chassis. In contrast, the winning driver can be a wild-card.

  • McLaren should have the advantage but they need both cars to finish in the points to keep up their championship challenge.

  • Will Ferrari's momentum carry them to another win at Silverstone?

  • The Best of the Rest: BAR, Benetton, Jordan and Williams are still neck-and-neck.

  • Always in the points at the modern Silverstone: McLaren and Ralf Schumacher.

  • Dark Horses: Sauber and Arrows.

  •       Related Articles:

    A Lap of Silverstone

    The Atlas F1 1999 British GP Preview Issue
    (Jul-7th, 1999)

    The Atlas F1 1999 British GP Review Issue
    (Jul-14th, 1999)

    Ewan Tytler© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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    All photos taken during last week's testing at Silverstone and are kindly provided by Formula Photos

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