In the 12 years I’ve been to Silverstone to watch F1 and other races the track has changed very little. So it felt strange to stand at Abbey today and watch the cars turn right instead of left.
But having seen GT1 and Formula Three races at the track today I think the revised circuit will be a change for the better for F1.
The new circuit
The substantial changes between Abbey and Brooklands command your attention, but Club has also been re-profiled.
If you tune into the Moto GP race in June you’ll see the bikes take a slightly different route at Becketts, but F1 cars will continue to use the current line here.
There is more work to be done between now and the Grand Prix in July to set it up for spectators. Some walkways have been closed due to the renovations and larger grandstands are going to be added at some corners such as Village.
The changes here are quite subtle. Club was previously a sharp left-hander followed by a long, opening right-hander – now more like a left-right chicane followed by a right-hand kink. Expect F1 cars to take less time to get through the complex but with a slightly lower exit speed.
My first thought on watching the cars here was they need to install some artificial grass next to the exit kerb where the cars join the straight, as every car was using the tarmac run-off as an extension of the circuit, which rather defeats the purpose of having it there.
The entry to Club features a new ‘combination kerbs’ which have been introduced at several other new circuits including Monza, Melbourne and Singapore. These are flat where the meet the circuit and are raised in the middle to stop drivers cutting the corners.
As discussed here before, I’m concerned about their potential to launch our-of-control cars into the air in the event of the type of accident Kamui Kobayashi suffered at Melbourne and Vitantonio Liuzzi had at Shanghai.
Part of the reason for the change at Club is because the following straight will eventually be the site of the new pits straight, potentially as early as next year. The pit wall is already installed and this could have an effect on racing.
If a car spins at the exit of Club it could hit the new pit wall. And a stranded car will need a safety car for the marshals to recover it.
I won’t miss the slow left-right chicane that was hurriedly built here in 1994 following the Imola tragedies and Pedro Lamy’s shocking testing crash when his Lotus landed in the (mercifully empty) spectator tunnel.
Now we have a very quick right-hander with a gentle uphill incline, making for better viewing at the existing Abbey spectator enclosure. The circuit was damp when I saw the cars rounding this corner and from the puffs of spray they were kicking up it looks like there’s a slight ripple at the inside of the corner.
While the GT cars were braking quite sharply for it on this cold and wet day, in the dry F1 cars will reach this corner pushing 190mph and should tackle it without lifting – at least in qualifying.
When the pits and start line have moved Abbey will be the first corner on the track for F1 cars. It will be quite different to the first corners we see at other tracks (a bit like the first corner at pre-1986 Paul Ricard), and the field will be going very quick when they reach the Village/Loop complex.
Having rounded Abbey, the cars turn left at Farm. It should be easily flat-out but the challenge here is to get the car back to the left-hand side of the track while braking hard for the next corner.
After heavy rain this morning there was a large volume of standing water in the run-off area here, but expect the drainage to be improved for future races.
A sharp, slow right-hand corner. Whether it can be used as a place for overtaking depends on whether F1 cars can follow each other closely through Abbey. I expect that in dry conditions they won’t be able to unless downforce is drastically cut.
Any driver that chooses to defend the inside line here could find themselves badly out of position for the following left-hander, hurting their run onto the Wellington Straight.
There’s another of the combination kerbs at the inside of the corner, and ample tarmac run-off at the exit.
The Loop and Aintree
A sharp left-hander followed by a more open left-hander leading cars onto the Wellington Straight. The second part of this sequence should be flat-out in a Formula 1 car.
The end of the Wellington Straight may now be the fastest point on the track – that’s previously been the Hangar straight. This may create an overtaking opportunity into Brooklands. However as Brooklands is being approached from a different angle it’s now less sharp than it used to be.
A change for the better
Lots of people have mentioned in the comments here that it’s a pity Bridge has been lost. I do think it’s a shame that Silverstone’s only incline worthy of the name has been dropped.
But I sat at Bridge during the 2006 Grand Prix and I wouldn’t have bothered to do it again. There were already better corners at Silverstone – Copse, Maggotts, Becketts – and I’d add the new Abbey to their number as well.
I don’t believe the renovations will create much in the way of new overtaking opportunities. But as we discussed last week I think having variety is healthy for F1 and these changes will make an already fast circuit even faster.
That’s laudable given that Silverstone didn’t have much space to work with or an Abu Dhabi-sized budget, and many other circuits are being forced to insert slow corners for safety reasons.
Of course I’ll reserve final judgement until we’ve seen a couple of F1 races there. But I like what I see so far.
Were you at today’s racing at Silverstone? What do you think of the new track? Have your say in the comments.
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Images (C) British F3, F1Fanatic.co.uk, F1Fanatic.co.uk, Silverstone