Hamilton and Kovalainen determined to do well at Silverstone
Silverstone: the birthplace of the Formula 1 World Championship and the cradle of modern British motorsport. It goes without saying that everybody within the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team has a special place in their hearts for the Santander British Grand Prix.
As one of the team’s two ‘home’ grands prix (the other takes place at Hockenheim on July 20), this race welcomes many of our colleagues from our two facilities in Woking and Brixworth, the home of Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines. As such, it is one of the busiest events on the team’s calendar.
The team arrives at the circuit fresh from three days’ testing at Silverstone: both Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen sampled numerous aerodynamic and mechanical upgrades and the team is upbeat about the improvements made to the MP4-23’s overall competitiveness.
The Santander British Grand Prix is your home race - does that make it different for you?
"There’s something about racing in your home country that definitely affects you. You can’t really say what it is, but there’s something about the familiarity of your surroundings and the constant support of the crowd that gives you a boost throughout the whole weekend. It’s not something you experience anywhere else but it does make you that bit more determined to succeed."
Nigel Mansell used to talk about the home crowd being worth ‘one second per lap’ - does people power make a difference?
"I don’t know about it being worth a second per lap, but being at your home grand prix does give an extra boost to your confidence because you know you’re getting more support. And it seems to make you perform better. Last year at Silverstone, I found the support was just immense and definitely made the weekend a lot easier to get through."
What about the track itself?
"It’s one of the best circuits on the calendar - a real driver’s circuit. It’s super-fast - the first half of the circuit doesn’t require any braking at all, just little lifts and shifts down through the gears. In fact, you need to watch the brake temperatures don’t drop too low because you’re not using them for much of the lap. Where else can you experience that? Formula 1 just wouldn’t be the same without Silverstone - it’s become a British phenomenon."
And, of course, winning at home must be a particular ambition for you?
"Of course, winning your home race is something that every driver wants to achieve. People talk of winning the ‘big four’: Silverstone, Monaco, Monza and Spa, but it’s more straightforward for me. I want to win the first race of the season, I want to win Monte Carlo - which I did for the first time this year - and I want to win my home grand prix. Those are my goals and I’m ready for the challenge at Silverstone this weekend."
What’s the key to a good lap around Silverstone?
"The car’s high-speed balance needs to be spot-on. You need to have enough confidence to attack the faster corners; the high-speed change of direction needs to be positive but shouldn’t be too sharp or too understeery. And in qualifying, the tires start to degrade towards the end of the lap so you have to be careful through the slow stuff at the end of the lap. It’s a unique challenge."
The team has made several improvements to the car in recent tests - does the MP4-23 feel better to drive?
"Yes, the improvements we had in France were a very good step forward and you could feel that the car had more grip and better balance. At the Silverstone test, we have introduced further upgrades which we hope to race at the Santander British Grand Prix. The team is currently pushing very hard and it’s encouraging when you can actually feel the improvements making the car go faster. We’re all optimistic of making a step forward for the race."
Is the team determined to bounce back after two relatively disappointing races?
"Definitely. We’ve had some difficult things happen to us in qualifying and the races but everyone within the team just continues to push themselves hard. We’ve got a good car and we all know we can do it. Everybody still believes in themselves, we just need to make sure we do a better job, myself included."