Earlier than usual, and clashing awkwardly with the football World Cup, it’s the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. With Spa-Francorchamps off the calendar for the foreseeable future and Suzuka axed for dull Fuji from next year, this could soon be the best circuit on the calendar.
The drivers raved about the track on their first visit to it in 2006, with the slipperier aerodynamics of this season the cars attack the quickest bends on the circuits faster than ever before. Even Juan Pablo Montoya – no softie when it comes to this sort of thing – has been moved to suggest that some of the run-off areas need expanding.
The other talking point of this weekend is Schumacher’s Monaco mishap. It will be interesting to see if enough of the disgruntled Grand Prix Drivers’ Association members (such as Mark Webber and Jarno Trulli) can force an explanation or resignation out of Schumacher.
The German can probably count on the support of some of the more experienced drivers such as his brother, David Coulthard (who has already spoken up for his rival), and ex-team mate Rubens Barrichello.
But the distraction is good news for championship leader Fernando Alonso, who will prey on anything that might upset Schumacher’s preparation for the race. Alonso has a score of his own to settle with Schumacher, for here in 2003 the Spaniard was edged onto the grass approaching Stowe at nearly 200 mph by the Ferrari driver. If Schumacher were to try that one again, a shunt like a plane crash could be the result.
The two championship combatants should be right on the pace. Alonso won at the Silverstone-esque Barcelona; while Schumacher broke the lap record there in testing last week. The question is whether the McLarens can join the party.
Montoya won here last year but even if he claimed their first win of the season on Sunday it probably wouldn’t be enough to secure his future with the team. Ron Dennis would surely rather keep Kimi Raikkonen or, failing that, take a chance on GP2 star Lewis Hamilton.
Key to McLaren’s performance this weekend – and perhaps many others too – will be the flexi-wings saga. Many teams had promised to bring their own flexi-wing designs out to capitalise on the same ‘loophole’ that Ferrari had. It will be interesting to see if the red cars still have the massive straight-line speed advantage they had earlier in the season.
Williams, too, could be in the hunt but Webber will probably be paying for nothing more than reliability. Honda have not had a race this season where neither of their drivers struggled – and Jenson Button on the back foot will be desperate for success at home having struggled even to outqualify Barrichello of late.
The battle between BMW team mates Jacques Villeneuve and Nick Heidfeld has been an intriguing one. Villeneuve needs to consistently outrace Heidfeld if he is to stand any hope of keeping Robert Kubica out of his seat for 2007. Over at Toyota Jarno Trulli, who also has no ’07 contract, will be desperate for a result of any kind – he still has no points this year and was robbed of a podium finish in Monaco by a mechanical failure.
Red Bull are definitely a team to watch at Silverstone. After Coulthard’s fine drive to third at Monaco (which, let’s remember, could just as easily have been Christian Klien’s the team come to their ‘home’ race with a new aerodynamics package which features the input of Adrian Newey.
Midland and Super Aguri continue to tread water – the former the subject of buyout speculation once again, the latter waiting for their new car. All their drivers can hope for is to beat their respective team mates.