By Tom Keeble, USA
The busy month of July continues with the British Grand Prix, where Kimi Raikkonen and his McLaren team will be the hot favourites to win despite Fernando Alonso's dominant victory for Renault in France. Tom Keeble previews the race and rates the teams' chances of success ahead of the eleventh round of the 2005 season
The British Grand Prix is hosted at Silverstone, near Silverstone village in England. There is always a risk of showers, and this weekend that is most likely on Saturday, which could make qualifying interesting. Overtaking is typically difficult, though far from impossible. A fast lap requires excellent downforce from the aerodynamics to maintain speed in cornering with low enough drag for the straights; balance is vital to ensure tyre longevity and a powerful engine is well rewarded. Tyre wear will be an issue.
The circuit has some of the fastest corners on the Grand Prix calendar, emphasising any weakness in the aerodynamics: those lacking downforce will be penalised through these corners, whilst an excess of drag will be costly on the straights. A good engine can make up for some aerodynamic deficiency, but there is little that can be done to counteract poor balance: failing to get the car set up effectively is costly in terms of both tyre wear and mechanical grip through the slower corners.
Track: Silverstone is quite technical from both a driving and engineering perspective. It is very fast, starting immediately with the seventh gear start-finish straight where cars can reach 190mph before the sixth-gear Copse corner. A series of downshifts to fourth gear through Becketts precedes the Hangar Straight, where cars will exceed 190mph. The following corner, Stowe, is critical to laptime as it is important to keep up momentum for the run down to the second gear Club. The straight to Abbey sees speeds back up to 180mph before the second gear corner, then almost flat through Bridge.
The lap closes with a tighter complex, through Brooklands, and Luffield, where a smooth exit through Woodcote is vital for getting in to the next lap effectively.
Tyres: The high speed corners cause considerable wear - especially for cars that are set up poorly, so the teams will require fairly hard tyres for this event. Imperfect balance will result in wear problems over the full race distance, so there will be considerable opportunity for teams to capitalise if their rivals are too aggressive with their set-ups. Even a change of wind direction can magnify small balance imperfections, as the cars will gain considerable understeer through the faster corners.
Weather: Although Silverstone's exposed position makes it susceptible to strong winds, they tend to affect all drivers fairly equally through the weekend; however the one-lap qualifying could be problematic if the wind changes through the session. More dramatic, however, is the prediction of showers on Saturday - something that is always a risk over the Silverstone weekend - though the loss of the pre-qualifying session should at least eliminate the shenanigans which saw last year's drivers jockeying in the first run for an early position in the final session.
Strategy: This weekend should see most of the teams running two stops, but if qualifying is impacted by rain, don't be surprised to see some drivers fill to the brim and attempt a single stop: passing in the pits is considerably easier than on the circuit here.
Surprises: Toyota could give Renault a run for their money here, whilst Sauber have a respectable chance of scoring points. But keep an eye on Fisichella. In qualifying at least, watch out for improved performance from Red Bull.
Conclusions: This looks set to be a McLaren walkover, though Ferrari and Renault should both be ready to pick up the pieces if the Woking outfit makes any mistakes. BAR and Toyota will both be looking for podiums, but that's a stretch, whilst Sauber and Williams will be looking to score points.
Team by Team
Although Jean Todt's protests that Ferrari would have been second had Trulli been faster have some merit, there's little doubt that the outfit were never really as quick as anyone expected in France. Rubens Barrichello has spent all year driving the wheels off the car, but was unable to work around brake issues, whilst Michael Schumacher never really showed much more pace, even when he wasn't held up by traffic.
Of course, the most likely candidate for the relative underperformance that weekend is a strong showing from Michelin, who were, after all, at their home circuit - so Ferrari are expecting the tyre manufacturer to be less well prepared for the British Grand Prix. Whether or not that gives them enough to challenge for the win remains to be seen, particularly with the form shown by McLaren, but they are certainly looking for another podium finish.
Drivers: Silverstone is a circuit that normally agrees well with Barrichello, who could well outperform his team leader here again this year. The Brazilian has always qualified well there and usually has a strong race, even when his car is off song, so he will be expecting a good weekend. Schumacher's qualifying performance tends to be slightly less predictable, but he can usually be counted upon to put together an impressive race - especially with his ability to leverage the team's capacity for imaginative strategy.
Objectives: solid qualifying with a podium finish - the race win would be tough.
Despite a relatively decent showing at Silverstone in 2004, few at BAR have hopes for a scintillating display this year, as the car has really not lived up to hopes. They opened their points finishing account in France, and showed some real racing as Takuma Sato passed Barrichello before demonstrating excellently how to outbrake himself attempting the same move on Jarno Trulli; however, the package is clearly not a race winner yet, so even with revisions for Silverstone, the team will struggle to make the podium.
Being a home Grand Prix, the team will have to fight the temptation to look for a good qualifying performance at the cost of their race pace, though pole position would be worth missing out on a few points, as the only other thing that really matters this year is that illusive race win.
Drivers: Jenson Button normally makes the most of the home crowd support to go well in qualifying, though he has struggled to maintain that performance come race day. Sato's no slouch, and his go-racing attitude switches on the crowds, but he doesn't normally quite stay with Button on a Silverstone weekend.
Objectives: qualify strongly and finish with both cars in the points; aiming for a podium.
Despite winning comprehensively in France, the British Grand Prix offers a tougher challenge to Renault, who traditionally struggle at this circuit: at least McLaren and probably Ferrari are expected to be more competitive. Nonetheless, there car has been excellent everywhere this year, so there is little doubt that it will be very close to the front of the field.
Drivers: Last year, Giancarlo Fisichella put together an excellent performance to finish fifth, after starting dead last in his Sauber: provided he can finally break his run of bad luck, he ought to have another strong weekend, putting a podium finish within grasp. Similarly, Fernando Alonso has had an excellent year, with a strong performance every time it mattered, so he cannot be written off this weekend, though shooting for the race win is something of a stretch, unless McLaren drop the ball.
Objectives: aiming for a podium finish, though capable of winning if the competition fails to step up to the mark.
There is no denying that performance at the French Grand Prix was a real disappointment for Williams, who saw their new aerodynamic package apparently fail to deliver any significant improvements. Whether the issue lies with their understanding of how the package works on the car, or if it simply didn't deliver on the gains predicted, they went backwards relative to the likes of Toyota, let alone Ferrari, Renault and McLaren. Mechanical issues finished all hopes of scoring points, so the are also going to have to identify and resolve their drive issues before they can hope to be competitive at Silverstone.
Drivers: Mark Webber won't be too happy with Williams response to requests they light a fire under him. The Australian came away from France with burns from heat in the cockpit. But it won't be the first time he has raced in pain this season, after starting the year with rib damage. If the car is in good order, he should qualify excellently at Silverstone, where he has demonstrated some affinity in the past. Nick Heidfeld may or may not put together the same qualifying pace, but if the car is capable of a points finish, he should take it there.
Objectives: finish with both cars in the points - qualifying in the top ten is important as the team are struggling to get off the line effectively.
Although Kimi Raikkonen's run from thirteenth to second in France was a clear illustration of the pace McLaren had available, the influence of Jarno Trulli cannot be underplayed: not only did the Toyota driver hold up the cars in front of Raikkonen, effectively handing him the chance to leapfrog some potentially faster competition (specifically, Schumacher's Ferrari), it allowed Alonso to control the race, so the Renault's full potential was never tested.
Nevertheless, France was a huge indicator that McLaren should be hot favourites at Silverstone, where they traditionally perform well: in particular, their aerodynamic excellence, combined with excellent balance and low wear characteristics should see the team's drivers both fighting to finish on the podium.
Drivers: Juan Pablo Montoya's poor luck continues to ensure the Colombian is unable to make the most of his opportunities; hydraulic failure was a cruel stroke in a race that had handed him the advantage over Raikkonen due to the latter's engine-replacement penalty. However, at Silverstone the package threatens to have an edge over the remainder of the field, so apart from an early qualifying slot, he should be looking to finish on the podium, though it would take a perfect lap to outqualify his driving partner. Raikkonen's aspirations have to be higher: a solid qualifying should be followed by a strong race, probably against Montoya for the most part, though Schumacher and Alonso cannot be written off this season.
Objectives: strong qualifying and podium finish - aiming for a race win.
After a strong run from Jacques Villeneuve in France, Sauber are optimistic that the British Grand Prix could offer a good opportunity to score again. Their car has a solid aerodynamic basis, so the team will do well if they get the cap balanced enough to maintain pace for the whole race distance.
The revised aero package run in France can only benefit the outfit at Silverstone, but they will start the weekend on the back foot, as they have not tested theere this year. If the car is not effectively dialled in on Friday, then crucial momentum will be lost for the rest of the weekend, and the team will struggle to get on terms with Red Bull.
Drivers: Although Villeneuve scored a point in France and is clearly getting to grips with the car now, eyes will be on Felipe Massa's performance for the coming weekend, as he typically is very quick at Silverstone and can reasonably be expected to demonstrate some edge. In the quest for points, either driver may attempt an unusual strategy to get out of order with their rivals, but overtaking is possible at Silverstone so there may be limited possibilities - unless it rains.
Objectives: qualify in the top ten; score points - beat Red Bull.
A disappointing performance in France has put Red Bull on the back foot for the British Grand Prix. Their race day performance illustrated again that the car is capable of running strongly over a race distance, but that circuit is tough for overtaking, so traffic at the start of the race was a problem. Christian Klein's fuel pressure problem did not help anyone.
Silverstone has often seen both the Stewart and Jaguar incarnations of the team produce surprisingly good qualifying performances, and they will be looking for the same again this year. Should they manage to get either car well up the grid, they have a very good chance at scoring points: showers after the mid-point of qualifying would be very welcome.
Drivers: David Coulthard has an excellent finishing record at Silverstone - and he has on the form he has been showing this year, an aggressive race strategy could net him and the team another point or two.
Objectives: qualify in the top ten, score points. Beat Sauber.
After seeing Jarno Trulli put his car on the front row in France, and along with Ralf Schumacher finishing in the points, there is little doubt that the team have a package that could prove useful in Silverstone. The outfit seem to be struggling to match race pace to qualifying performance, so they will struggle to beat the likes of McLaren and Ferrari, but they are probably able to target Renault at this circuit. More to the point, with Williams out of sorts, now is an important time to capitalise and score points.
Drivers: With Jarno Trulli in scintillating form this year - and Silverstone arguably one of his better circuits - Toyota will be looking for him to perform strongly in qualifying. However, unless the car is perfect and can put together another front row performance, a podium finish will be hard. Ralf Schumacher's qualifying form has not been too solid this year, but he history has shown that he can put together an excellent weekend at Silverstone. If there is anywhere he might be expected to get on terms with the flying Trulli this year, Silverstone is top of the list.
Objectives: two points finishes, podium difficult: beat Williams.
After debuting their EJ15B in France, it looks likely that the revised car is unlikely to be available for the team's home event - which could be awkward, as the second a lap improvement it potentially offers could be enough to put the team comfortably clear of Minardi. However, over a race distance, the old car is still expected to be faster, and probably more reliable.
Drivers: Both drivers have put in plenty of test miles at Silverstone, so they are very familiar with the circuit. However, this doesn't change the fact that they will be performing in front of their sponsors, and a respectable home crowd. Narain Karthikeyan ought to have some slight advantage in qualifying, but a mistake free race will be required for him to finish in front of Tiago Monteiro.
Objectives: make a showing, beat Minardi.
The French Grand Prix was something of a disaster for Minardi, with both cars failing to finish after their Bridgestone tyres gave way, but not before showing that their qualifying performance was influenced by light fuel loads.
Silverstone offers little better to the team, though the emphasis on aerodynamics means they will be hoping Jordan's new car is not yet ready to run - in which case, they may have a chance of performing on a par with, and thereby embarrassing, their Silverstone-based rivals.
Objectives: complete race distance - beat a Jordan.
After a real race in France that had seen Schumacher win with a surprise switch to four stops over Alonso, the feeling in the paddock was that Ferrari might, after all, be assailable. Heading to Silverstone, McLaren hoped the new package that hadn't quite done the job in France would offer the Woking outfit a considerable step in Britain. BAR continued to look like potential podium finishers, and whilst Ferrari remained favourites, it seemed they would be kept honest by the competition.
The first session was complicated by some teams running slow laps, predicting rain impacting the second session.
There was little doubt that the changes McLaren had introduced in France were effective in Britain, as Raikkonen looked quick all weekend, but his pole lap was something special: the opening sectors did not look quick enough, but a blinding run through the final sector was enough to displace the flying Barrichello, who was on form all weekend, looking to be in good shape to defend his '93 win.
Button's run to third place was a suitable reward for running flat out in the first session, but he was never really happy with the balance on the car. Still, he qualified ahead of Schumacher, whose fourth place was influenced by a heavier fuel load.
The third row was led by Jarno Trulli and Renault, who never looked as strong as McLaren or Ferrari here, with Alonso's sixth place lost to a ten place penalty after an engine change in practice: his spot was, rather, occupied by David Coulthard's McLaren as the Briton struggled with the gusts.
Also struggling with the gusting wind, Williams driver Juan Montoya was unhappy with the handling of his package and he had to settle for seventh. Takuma Sato's weekend was as miserable, with eighth place a disappointment following Button's third.
Also revived for the weekend, Mark Webber's strong qualifying performance was enough to get his heavily fuelled car to ninth on the grid, with stand in driver Marc Gene eleventh. Sauber's performance was also a revolution, following a new back end being introduced for the car. Felipe Massa qualified tenth, though Giancarlo Fisichella was unable to capitalise on excellent practice times, as an engine blow-up in practice meant he didn't attempt the qualifying sessions.
The weekend took place under the threat of rain, and the race was no exception - although, in the event, the rain never materialised. It did mean that the start took place in the dry, and it proved relatively uneventful. Raikkonen led off comfortably ahead of Barrichello and Button, with Schumacher staying in front of Trulli and Coulthard. Sato made the most of a mistake by Montoya in Copse to slip in to seventh.
Raikkonen made the most of the lead to open a few seconds on Barrichello, who in turn started to open a space back to Button and Schumacher. On lap three, Sato ran wide, giving his place back to Montoya.
Alonso, making solid progress through the field, illustrated his low-fuel status by started the pit stops on lap eight; Barrichello stopped a lap later, returning in tenth, as most of the field stopped on the following lap, though Raikkonen stayed out for one more, returning ahead of the Brazilian and the BAR of Button.
Michael Schumacher turned out to be well fuelled, and he remained on track, making the most of a clear road ahead of him. Raikkonen, stuck behind Sato, was unable to respond, so Schumacher spent five laps running quickly, finally pitting with a 23 second lead on the McLaren: the stop pushed him past Button, Barrichello and Raikkonen, surprising even himself with the race lead.
Fisichella, running a heavy fuel load, had pushed his way up to fifth, whilst Raikkonen - on a lighter load than the two stopping Schumacher - made the most of it to pressure the German for the lead; however, the pressure made little difference to the unflappable World Champion, so Raikkonen's stop came with the order unchanged.
Schumacher's final stop came after several more blistering laps, bringing him back on track right in front of the Flying Finn; again, there was considerable pressure, but the race was effectively won with Raikkonen still to make another stop. However, fate took a hand, as Trulli's suspension failed at Bridge, resulting in a safety car being brought on track. The Finn - along with most of the three stoppers - took advantage of the opportunity to stop without penalty.
The race restarted with fourteen laps remaining, which saw Raikkonen immediately pass the two lapped cars separating him from Schumacher, and he set about chasing down the German. However, Schumacher was having none of it, and set a blistering pace to pull away at the front, as Barrichello also picked up the pace, finally attacking Raikkonen.
In the event, there was no more on track action; the race ended with a solid win for Schumacher, with Raikkonen demonstrating McLaren were back and Barrichello completing the podium. The drive of the day was arguably Fisichella's as the Sauber driver finished sixth after starting last on the grid.
Point Paying Positions
Pos Driver Team-Engine Time 1. M.Schumacher Ferrari (B) 1h24:42.700 2. Raikkonen McLaren-Mercedes (M) + 2.130 3. Barrichello Ferrari (B) + 3.114 4. Button BAR-Honda (M) + 10.683 5. Montoya Williams-BMW (M) + 12.173 6. Fisichella Sauber-Petronas (B) + 12.888 7. Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes (M) + 19.668 8. Webber Jaguar-Cosworth (M) + 23.701 Fastest Lap: M.Schumacher, 1:18.739, lap 14 Classified: 16 from 20 starters