British Grand Prix - Preview

Last year, Lewis Hamilton turned up at Silverstone the country's new sporting phemomenon: the rookie who could do no wrong, with two race victories and six other podium finishes from eight starts confirming as much.

He then took pole position during Saturday qualifying with a late banzai effort, admittedly helped by Kimi Raikkonen getting it wrong slightly on his own final flying lap by running wide at Woodcote corner. As is the habit with sport sometimes, the story was writing itself.

The stage was thus set for a homecoming party on Sunday. Except that it didn't work out that way: although Hamilton led until the first round of pit stops, the Ferrari of Raikkonen was never anything other than a close presence.

Then came arguably Hamilton's first race mistake in F1: a pit stop compromised by his being fractionally being too quick on the accelerator 'trigger'.

Poor set-up on his McLaren Mercedes hardly helped and he then dropped back, eventually finishing third behind Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso.

Undeniably there was a sense of deflation in the air; such was the ease with which Hamilton had familiarised himself with the sport in a matter of just four months, it almost seemed as though a home victory would be on tap.

On this occasion, however, the story was not the fairytale the vast majority of the crowd had wanted to hear. But neither was it a nightmare.

It could be argued that the disasters which subsequently unfolded in China and Brazil were such but Hamilton seemed to come through those unscathed, as if people suddenly remembered he was a rookie and therefore allowed to mess up.


Fast forward 12 months and, if the brouhaha surrounding the last two races is anything to go by, the gentlemen of the press are no longer quite so forgiving. But that's the nature of the beast. What about the fans?

Surely they/you/us can see through the headlines. After all, we've intently watched the last eight races and seen how the fortunes of all the main protagonists this season have ebbed and flowed.

A case in point is that Hamilton arrives at this weekend's race 10 points behind Championship leader Felipe Massa. However, the Brazilian's very future at Ferrari was the subject of debate after he spun out of the Malaysian Grand Prix back in March.

Hamilton's recent woes are also not the first he has endured this season: wins in Australia and Monaco bookended a dip whose nadir was a 13th place in Bahrain.

Neither is Raikkonen immune: a solitary point in Melbourne was hardly the way to begin a title defence, with the Finn also failing to score in Monaco and Canada.

Robert Kubica has proved the most consistent of the top four, the Pole scoring in seven races and - including victory in Canada - taking four podium finishes.

But if proof were needed to back up the suspicion that BMW Sauber could fall away this season, it was their performance in France two weeks ago.

So, who to fancy this weekend? Testing last week offered little in the way of a conclusive pointer: of the three days spent hammering around the 3.194-mile Northamptonshire circuit, a Ferrari driver (Massa) emerged quickest on one, while the other two went the way of McLaren (both Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen).

A better indicator might come from Ferrari's utter dominance last time out at Magny-Cours. On a circuit that, in terms of aerodynamic downforce at least, is very similar to what's needed at Silverstone, the Scuderia were in a league of their own.

Not only did Raikkonen and Massa lock out the front row but, between them, they also recorded the 26 fastest laps of the race. Of course, both McLaren drivers were penalised and, and as a consequence, spent more time in traffic than their rivals.

But the fact that Raikkonen still finished second in spite of the power handicap stemming from a broken exhaust suggests that either he or Massa will, once again, be the drivers to beat this weekend.


The medium/high downforce requirements at Silverstone are used in the opening half of the lap and demonstrate to full effect the astonishing aerodynamic grip the current generation of F1 cars can produce.

In short, between the start-finish straight and Stowe corner - the seventh such of the lap - the driver is, more or less, on full throttle and doesn't actually need to brake.

The second part of the lap, including Club and Abbey corners and the complex through Priory and Luffield, is slower, with mechanical grip and traction playing the more important role.

The fact that the opening few corners will be taken flat means that Silverstone provides engines with quite a workout - around 66 percent of the lap is spent at full throttle - with the high speed corners also having an adverse effect on tyre wear.

The exposed nature of Silverstone - a former RAF airfield - also plays a part, with changes in wind direction having the potential to make handling difficult, particularly in the quicker corners.