Red Bull’s speed may stop home success at Silverstone (British GP preview)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Jenson Button, McLaren, Montreal, 2010

Having won four races already this year Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton have their eyes on a home win at Silverstone?

But the Red Bulls may prove just too quick to catch on a circuit where aerodynamic performance is crucial.

Read on to see what surprises the new Silverstone may have in store for the teams in the British Grand Prix.

Red Bull the team to beat

Since the RB6s dominated the Spanish Grand Prix, high-speed tracks like Silverstone have looked like being a happy hunting ground for Red Bull. Even more so thanks to the new section of track which has transformed Abbey from a fiddly little chicane into a 180mph-plus blast.

But it’s easy to exaggerate how quick Red Bull were in Barcelona. They may have had 0.9s in hand over their rivals in qualifying, but in the race they couldn’t pull away fast enough to stop Lewis Hamilton passing Sebastian Vettel during the pit stops.

The teams haven’t stood still since then and McLaren are readying their latest tweak which they hope will bring them closer to Red Bull on tracks like Silverstone – the exhaust-driven diffuser (described in detail in the last technical review).

Blasting exhaust gases towards the diffuser can increase downforce but may also result in more unpredictable handling. That probably explains why the team have said they will give their drivers the choice of whether they want to run the upgrade after practising with it tomorrow.

Reliability will also be a concern – McLaren have had at least one failure with the new exhaust arrangement while testing it. If Red Bull get pole position, expect them to repeat their Valencia trick of driving very slowly on the formation lap in an attempt to provoke failures in their rivals’ cars.

Williams are also using an exhaust-driven diffuser for the first time. But even those teams who already ran it in Valencia – Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault – may find it a trickier proposition around Silverstone’s many fast corners.

Don’t underestimate Ferrari?s potential either. They under-performed in qualifying in Valencia but their race pace looked good in practice.

The new Silverstone is expected to be even tougher on tyres and the F10 seems to have looked after its rubber very well this year – remember Fernando Alonso’s mammoth stint in Monaco.

Lap times on the new circuit

Silverstone circuit for the 2010 British Grand Prix
Silverstone circuit (click to enlarge)

Speaking of which, just how fast will this new track be? The consensus seems to be that while lap times will become higher, the average lap speed will also increase.

This is highly unusual as we’ve become used to seeing tracks get slower whenever they’re changed, and is a testament to the circuit owners’ desire to preserve the nature of their track.

Keep an eye on the lap times to see if Silverstone really is quicker now than it was last year, and whether it has now exceeded Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, the two track which were previously faster.

Here are the target lap times the cars have to beat in order to exceed the fastest average speeds set at other tracks:

Race Benchmark Avg. speed Silverstone target time
Silverstone ’09 Fastest lap of old track 236.92kph 1’29.662
Spa ’09 Fastest lap of current Spa 241.28kph 1’28.041
Monza ’09 Fastest lap of Monza last year 251.40kph 1’24.497
Monza ’04 Fastest lap of current Monza 262.24kph 1’21.005

How fast will they be? I expect they’ll narrowly beat last year’s average lap speed around Spa – though that may well end up getting beaten again when they return to Spa later this year.

But don’t expect them to be as quick as they were around Monza last year.

Read more: Will Monza lose ??fastest track?? crown?

Drivers to watch

Four driver to keep an eye on this weekend. Name your top picks in the comments.

Jenson Button – Hamilton’s now out-qualified him for five races in a row. Button isn’t far off on race pace at all, but he needs to hit back soon. He’s never finished on the podium at home – his best result was fourth in 2004.

Mark Webber – His early-season surge came to a spectacular end at Valencia. Team mate Vettel was very quick at Silverstone last year, but Webber felt he could have out-qualified him had Kimi R??ikk??nen not got in his way. Expect them to be very close.

Kamui Kobayashi – The star of Valencia qualified in the top ten at Barcelona which, like Silverstone, has a lot of quick corners which seem to suit the C29. Perhaps he can claim a points haul without a strategy gamble this weekend?

Jarno Trulli – More updates for Lotus should bring them even closer to the midfield. As ever, keep an eye on Trulli’s times in qualifying.

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