The British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone this weekend, is a race every F1 driver loves. The boss of current F1 world championship-leading team Red Bull Racing, Christian Horner, calls it “one of the biggest character tests still left on the calendar” and a gripping 2011 race is guaranteed.
There are big changes for this year’s race. Last year, the circuit layout was altered, turning it into the one of the longest and fastest on the calendar. This year, the new pit complex opens, which brings the circuit straight into the 21st century. Dominated by a huge ‘wing’ structure, it ensures Britons now have an F1 race to be proud of.
Sunday’s race offers even more intrigue though, as a key new rule change comes into force. ‘Blown diffuser’ technology has been outlawed, which most teams have been using this year to increase the downforce and grip of their cars.
By letting exhaust gasses rush out the tailpipes even when the driver’s foot wasn’t on the throttle, teams could alter the car’s aerodynamic behaviour. Now, F1 regulators have outlawed this – and the relative effect this has on all the F1 cars will be a key feature of the Silverstone race.
It could be what helps other teams catch the Red Bull cars. So far, they dominated 2011, winning 6 out of the 8 races so far. McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes are hoping they’ll now be able to match the all-conquering Red Bulls at Silverstone – but we won’t know for sure until the race starts at 13:00 on Sunday. Even the teams don’t know how they’ll stack up against the opposition: that’s how big a change it is.
The form guide is thus open, but what should you keep an eye on? Here’s a rundown of some key aspects.
Reigning F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel leads the 2011 driver’s championship. If the blown diffuser rules don’t seriously affect the Milton Keynes-based team’s performance this weekend, both he and his Australian team mate Mark Webber are odds-on favourites for victory.
British drivers have a good chance too, though. The McLaren duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button will be fast: both have won a race in 2011, the only times Vettel’s Red Bull hasn’t come out on top. Also look out for Scottish racer Paul di Resta in the Force India, who will be hoping for a top-10 finish.
British teams dominate the F1 grid: Red Bull, McLaren, Williams, Mercedes, Lotus, Force India and Virgin all have their HQ in or around ‘Motorsport Valley’. Expect lots of support for them all – Red Bull’s Horner said this home support makes Silverstone the race all the teams really want to win
Tyre maker Pirelli is offering two types of tyre – ‘Hard’ (with silver letters on the side) and 'Soft' (yellow letters). Silverstone is a fast, abrasive track, which could lead to high tyre wear, meaning the relative performance of both tyres will be significant in the race.
The ‘Drag Reduction System’ rear wing will operate on the Wellington Straight – the first long straight after the start/finish line. The following car has to be within 1 second of the car in front going into the complex of corners before for the overtaking aid to function. It works by opening up the rear wing for the length of the Wellington Straight, making the car behind faster.
British weather is always unpredictable: Silverstone is forecast to be mainly dry, but there is a risk of showers during the race. These could be heavy and, if they come, will definitely spice up the race yet further.
Silverstone is a sell out this year, so 120,000 people will be hoping for a British victory. However, team bosses agree British supporters are the best in the world, and appreciate great racing: even if a Brit doesn’t win, they’ll still cheer if the racing is good and the driving is world-class. Over the weekend, 310,000 tickets have been sold: a clear sign of how popular F1 racing is in the UK.