Rarely does it happen for any Grand Prix hosting nation, but this year’s British Grand Prix could see two genuine hometown contenders in contention for race victory and the World Championship, in the form of McLaren’s Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
Unlike previous British Grands Prix, however, this year’s event will field the smallest home-grown contingent for some time, with just these two drivers representing the pride of the Union Jack in the 24-car field. They also happen to have won the last two Drivers’ Championship crowns, drive for Britain’s top team, and lead 1-2 in the current Drivers’ Championship standings!
|2010 FORMULA 1 SANTANDER BRITISH GRAND PRIX
|Date:||11 July 2010||No. Laps||52|
|Lap Length:||5.891km||Race Distance:||306.747km|
|Lap Record:||1:18.739 – Michael Schumacher (2004, Ferrari), set on previous circuit configuration|
The 2009 event was (then) earmarked to be Silverstone’s final fling in Formula 1, with the contract paperwork signed for Donington Park to assume hosting rights on a long-term deal.
How a year changes! The Donington deal collapsed within months of its announcement, and the once-great circuit owned by the Wheatcroft estate is now in ruin after the funding ran dry midway through its reconstruction.
Step back into the frame Silverstone, which this year boasts an all-new layout that is set to provide a much more exciting race than previous years, which have seen the high-speed circuit’s limited overtaking opportunities become all the more apparent.
Despite the advent in chicanes in 1994 to slow the cars down in the name of safety, the last major upgrade to the circuit took place in 1991, with the addition of the Becketts-Maggotts sweeps and the awesome Bridge right-hander. The drivers raved about the changes and the challenges these corners brought to the driving experience.
So, as part of the rebuild that will see the start-finish and pits complex relocated in time for next year’s race, the Northamptonshire circuit – which hosted the first modern-era World Championship event sixty years ago – has a new section with a long straight feeding into a twisty ‘Arena’ complex packed with Union Jack-waving fans.
Sadly, the mighty Bridge corner is now consigned to history in this new configuration, but the drivers and fans will no doubt be hoping that the new layout will create more on-track action and plenty of fans in drivers and spectators alike.
The History Bit
Touted as ‘The Home of British Motorsport’, Silverstone rightly deserves its place on the F1 calendar as one of the few remaining traditional venues still operating Grands Prix today.
The track – sited on a disused World War II airfield – has always proved an enormous challenge to drivers and cars, and plenty of thrilling chapters in F1 history.
Those of you will recall the almighty first-lap accident triggered by the rookie Jody Scheckter in 1973 that wiped out almost half the field.
Or perhaps it will be Keke Rosberg’s record-breaking 160mph qualifying lap in a turbo-charged Williams in 1985 – a benchmark set that would take nearly two decades to be toppled.
Or perhaps the moments of ‘Mansell Mania’ in the 1980s and 1990s? Who could possibly forget his brilliant recovery win in 1987 when he stole victory from team-mate Nelson Piquet with a daring move along the Hangar Straight? Or the traditional crowd invasions that followed his utterly dominant back-to-back wins in 1991 and 1992?
The British crowds are certainly partisan and love to celebrate the successes of their home-grown heroes. Damon Hill’s win in 1994 – the scene of Michael Schumacher’s controversial black-flag incident – was one of great delight for the fans, along with Johnny Herbert’s maiden F1 win in 1995 and David Coulthard’s double in 1999 and 2000.
Now we bear witness to the latest crop of local drivers, with ‘Button Mania’ and ‘Lewisteria’ (to use the term coined by F1 Rejects) now very much part of the current folklore. Lewis’ sublime wet-weather demonstration in 2008 was one of the most dominant victories we had seen in awhile, and fans will certainly be hoping for a repeat of a McLaren win this year.
Last year’s race – which was won by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, his first dry-weather race win – was dominated by politics instead of racing. It was all about the FOTA vs. FIA war, as the teams vehemently opposed the ‘two-tier’ championship system being proposed by then-FIA President Max Mosley (pictured left). It was an ugly chapter that threatened to bring the sport to its knees, but fortunately commonsense emerged and Mosley elected to not contest the FIA Presidential ballot later that year. Sanity was restored, but for how long (and that’s an entirely different topic!)?
What to expect?
While the British crowds will no doubt be on the edge of their seats as they savour the battle between their favourite sons, let’s not forget that the rest of the pack will be snapping at their heels, if not perhaps run ahead…
McLaren has certainly proven it has closed the gap to the pacesetting Red Bull outfit, running close to their pace before their famous self-destruction act in Turkey. They won in Canada, and again were on the pace in Valencia.
This weekend sees the MP4-25 debut its iteration of Red Bull’s ‘blown diffuser’ concept, cited by many as one of the keys to the Austrian team’s impressive speed this season.
Just twelve points adrift of championship-leader Hamilton lies Sebastian Vettel, winner of last year’s Silverstone race (pictured right). Sebastian’s confidence-boosting win at the European Grand Prix might just give the German the momentum he needs to reinvigorate his championship challenge and put some of his early-season jitters to rest. That he was able to win on a circuit that not many felt – Red Bull included – was suited to the RB6 will definitely cast fear among his rivals.
Certainly don’t discount Vettel from proceedings, and neither should you to Mark Webber, who will be looking to bounce back after somehow emerging unscathed from that horror shunt a fortnight ago.
Don’t just look within this leading foursome to find a winner this weekend. Such is the unpredictable nature of the 2010 season that Ferrari and Fernando Alonso could well spring a surprise and break McLaren and Red Bull’s duopoly on race wins in 2010.
Should it ever figure out where on earth its pace goes in qualifying, Mercedes could actually be a factor, as could Renault’s Robert Kubica, who will be exceptionally motivated with a two-year contract extension in his pocket.
Don’t forget to tune into the Richard’s F1 ‘As It Happens’ commentary feed live during the race and to check us out throughout the weekend for the latest news from Silverstone!
[Original images via The Cahier Archive]