British GP Preview: What Will the Final Chapter at Silverstone Bring?

Daniel ChalmersSenior Analyst IJune 17, 2009

NORTHAMPTON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 06:  Race winner Lewis Hamilton (C) of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes celebrates on the podium alongside second placed Nick Heidfeld (L) of Germany and BMW Sauber and third placed Rubens Barrichello (R) of Brazil and Honda Racing after the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 6, 2008 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

This weekend Formula One heads to Silverstone for the British GP, one of the event's most historic venues built on a former military airfield. Silverstone is famous for hosting the first ever F-One championship race back in 1950.

Unfortunately, this weekend the circuit will be hosting Formula One for the last time—for the time being anyway.

Next year the British GP moves to Donington Park. Even if the circuit isn’t ready in time, it’s more likely that the British GP will move to India, as opposed to returning to Silverstone. Bernie Ecclestone has had a much-publicised and ongoing feud with the circuit management for some time now.

Losing the race is a bit harsh on Silverstone. It may not boast the same scale of facilities as new venues such as Bahrain and China, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Interlagos in Brazil, for example.

Silverstone is a very fast and flowing circuit. The first sector, consisting of Copse, a blind sharp right bend taken almost flat-out, followed by quick direction changes in Maggots and Becketts, remains one of the most thrilling sequences of corners in motorsport. The drivers don’t even touch the brakes for nearly half a lap.

Lewis Hamilton is one of the many admirers of the Northamptonshire track.

“I love Silverstone—it’s an amazing place to drive," Hamilton said. "Copse, Becketts, and Bridge are all absolutely fantastic, flat-out corners that really show you the power and grip of a Formula One car.  It’s a perfect place for the race, so let’s hope it’s not the last time we race at this track.”

Due to the fast nature of the track, and the aerodynamics on modern F-One cars, overtaking is quite difficult. If you can stick close through Becketts, then the end of the Hangar Straight still provides an opportunity. There is another opportunity at Vale.

British drivers have a rich history of success at their home race. The British GP has been won by a home hero 21 times (Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks won together in the 1957 race). Five of those victories were by the great Jim Clark. Moss, James Hunt, and Nigel Mansell are also amongst the names to have won at their home track.

Hamilton recently added himself to that illustrious list last season with a majestic wet weather drive when he won by over a minute.

The build-up to this year’s race shows you how much can change in just a year in Formula One. Last year, Hamilton was the main hope of a home winner in the British GP, whilst Jenson Button’s best hope was for a point or two. This season, it’s a role reversal.

So what are Button’s chances of becoming the 13th British driver to win the British GP—and putting one hand firmly on the world championship trophy?

Button is definitely the overwhelming favourite for victory after winning the Turkish GP far more comfortably than expected. The Brawn BGP001 worked extremely well last time out in Istanbul, so therefore it should be effective around Silverstone and its fast corners. The Brawn GP is the only car which has been consistently quick on all types of track configurations in 2009.

Ross Brawn has also confirmed that the team will be bringing more updates to the car. They have shown that they are more than a match for their nearest rivals in terms of development pace.

With the support of the passionate home fans, Button will be even more fired up, as he has always been very popular with the British fans, even through the toughest of times.

There is no doubt that Jenson really wants to win at home, as he did at Monaco and has been able to tick that off his wish list of achievements. Now he is at the next race, which he wants ticked off that list too.

Button’s main danger this weekend is that he pushes too hard for the win, rather than settling for good points if need be. Although a DNF wouldn’t be a huge disaster, it would put a noticeable dent in his established championship lead.

Silverstone is perhaps Rubens Barrichello’s best chance of challenging his teammate. Silverstone has always been traditionally one of Barrichello’s strongest circuits. Barrichello won brilliantly in 2003, fighting back with great overtaking moves after a safety car period lost him track position. He also out-qualified Michael Schumacher in 2000, 2004, and 2005.

This circuit suits Rubens' style of driving because it is less dependent on the brakes. If the Brazilian is to mount a championship fight back, then it will have to begin here. If Button can still beat him on one of his strongest tracks, then you sense that Rubens may not have any ammunition left, and his title aspirations will be finished.

Red Bull Racing were bitterly disappointed that they couldn’t match the Brawn Boys in Istanbul. The car should work very well in Silverstone, as it has more fast corners than Istanbul, which may see the Red Bull pair a bit closer to Brawn GP's outright pace.

“Our closest competitors are going to be good in the high-speed corners, so it will be an interesting weekend,” says Button, who is in the lead heading into the weekend.

However, if they are to have any hope of challenging Brawn, they will have to be aggressive and take risks, and not make any errors. At the moment, they look like the only team that can realistically prevent Brawn GP from winning races.

Mark Webber has been in good form of late, beating Sebastian Vettel in the last three races. At Silverstone last season, he planted the Red Bull on the front row of the grid. He will be one to watch this weekend.

Further back, there will be a tight battle for the rest of the points between Toyota, Williams, Ferrari, BMW Sauber, and Renault.

Toyota had a disaster in Monaco but fought back strongly in Istanbul. The car works much better at the tracks where aerodynamics play a larger part. Williams has started to pick up solid results lately and finally started to realise their potential. BMW Sauber have made a step forward thanks to the introduction of their new double diffuser. They will be fighting for solid points again this weekend.

Ferrari’s challenge in Istanbul was much tamer than what was expected. They were very close to the Brawns in Monaco, but that looks as if it might have been a one-off. In Istanbul, they were amongst the Toyotas and Williams, as opposed to the Red Bulls and the Brawns. At a similar circuit, the same can probably be expected this weekend.

Hamilton won’t be joining Button’s challenge for victory. McLaren Mercedes’ big step forward won’t be arriving till Germany. Silverstone looks like it will be another struggle on another circuit, which will expose the aerodynamic flaws of their car.

Force India will have an advantage for once this weekend, as their base is just over the road from the circuit, and the team has been improving, as Adrian Sutil managed to get into Q-Two in Istanbul. They comfortably beat the Toro Rossos in the race, who themselves will be hoping to fight back from a torrid weekend in Turkey.

What will the final chapter of Formula One at Silverstone bring? Can it have a dream ending with Button winning its swan song race, or will Barrichello or perhaps Red Bull Racing spoil the farewell party?