Formula 1 is coming home for one of the staple fixtures on the calendar, the British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone Circuit, marking Round 10 of the 2021 season.
Formula 1 now travels all around the world but a converted airfield in rural Britain is where it all began back on May 13, 1950. Attended by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the British Grand Prix marked the start of the Formula 1 World Championship, spawning legends, and creating heroes. Over seven decades and 1,000 grands prix have since passed but Silverstone remains the spiritual home of Formula 1, with eight of the 10 teas having operations set up in the country, including Uralkali Haas F1 Team.
The fast and flowing layout provides a spectacular challenge for teams and drivers alike, with iconic corners such as Abbey, Copse and Maggotts/Becketts taken at phenomenal speed, while the venue frequently lends itself to close side-by-side competition in race trim. And, in one of the biggest shake-ups to the format in Formula 1’s 71-year existence, drivers will have two opportunities to race across successive days.
Unlocking the Lap
On cold tires, starting a lap of Silverstone requires an expert blend of tire whispering and commitment. The preceding final corner of Club can be vital in getting heat into the carcass before starting a quick lap.
Drivers accelerate into top gear and reach 300km/h (186mph), carrying that speed through the infield curves of Abbey and Farm.
Village is a hard braking point, drivers then pull their cars over to the right before Turn Four, where a good exit is critical as it leads onto the long Wellington Straight. It’s a fourth-gear corner, taken at around 180km/h (111mph), and the aim is to maximize the exit to smooth out the Aintree kink before hitting that back straight.
Drivers nudge 315km/h (195mph), but the braking zone into Turn Six (Brooklands), a 180km/h (111mph) left-hander, is bumpy and easily affected by head- and tailwinds – so it’s easy to get caught out.
At Brooklands, it’s also tricky to find the apex and get the car lined up for the medium-speed Luffield double right-hander. It’s important to maximize the exit, stay wide and get the throttle down early to push into the next high-speed section.
After Copse, there’s no time to breathe as drivers barrel into the iconic Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel complex. The Maggotts left-right-left slalom is completely flat, drivers shift down a few gears for Becketts and are hard on the throttle again for Chapel. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sequence where drivers pull lateral loads of over 5G at speeds over 300km/h (186mph).
The Hangar Straight is another lengthy flat-out run, and the braking zone into Stowe is a prime overtaking spot. This is another downforce tester, and one where a headwind can catch a driver out. Keeping speeds high and committing to riding the outside curb is key.
Drivers then descend through Vale, past the pitlane entry, and into the slowest section of the lap. Entering wide before dropping to speeds as low as 110km/h (68mph), drivers have to be patient before picking up the throttle.
With only Club left before completing the lap, many drivers have ruined an effort here. Patiently waiting for the moment to get back on the power onto the Hamilton Straight is the final challenge before beginning another nail-biting lap.
The weekend is turned upside down with every day of on-track action now having a key highlight moment to capture the fans’ attention: Friday will feature a practice session, followed by qualifying, which will set the grid for the Sprint race. A second practice session, held on Saturday morning, will be followed by the new Saturday Sprint, a 100km dash to the flag whose final order will set the grid for Sunday’s showdown. The main offering of the weekend will proceed in its usual fashion.
The new format will create opportunities as teams balance risks and benefit of an aggressive Saturday, potentially shuffling the order around. It’s an interesting format, as yet untested, that shows Formula One’s push towards offering new, entertaining ideas for the sport’s fans.
The track itself is largely unchanged from last year and it is a layout that we know well. The tire quantities are a little different due to the event format, with each team receiving one fewer sets of tires than at a standard event, as well as a different compound distribution. Pirelli have made available the hardest of their compound range and these should be well suited to the demanding nature of Silverstone.
Silverstone remains one of the most exciting and most loved circuits on the Formula One calendar, and its mix of dramatic high-speed corners and frequent short straights places tremendous demands on both the cars and the drivers. Crucially, the influence of the wind – and potentially the rain – can quickly change the character of the circuit and with only one free practice session before the Qualifying session, it will be vital to understand the conditions quickly and to get to a setup that the drivers are comfortable with.
Keys to the Race
- A Safety Car has been deployed in eight of the previous 10 races at Silverstone; while there has only ever been one Virtual Safety Car, in 2015. High-speed corners and a tightly bunched pack are often the ingredients for incident – in 2020, there were two Safety Cars in the first Silverstone race; none in the second – the Anniversary GP – a week later.
- Despite being a high-speed circuit, Silverstone is usually a good venue for overtaking. Traditionally, most passing happens into Turns Six (Brooklands) and 15 (Stowe). The barely-there corner of Chapel marks the start of a DRS zone down the Hangar straight, allowing for extra overtaking opportunities into Turn 15. In 2020, 57% of overtakes used DRS.
This is a race that’s historically hard on tires. We’ve seen a wide variety of strategies run out here over the past few years – from one-stoppers all the way through to three-stop affairs. With early incidents likely, expect strategy to be steered by the advent of a Safety Car – as was the case in last year’s British GP. This race is also the first weekend for the new Sprint Qualifying format, which will play into team decisions and their use of tires.
Frédéric Vasseur, Team Principal of Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN: “Formula One has taken a bold step by introducing this new format, something that shows their attention to delivering new, exciting offerings to the growing fanbase of the sport. A race weekend like this is something we have never done before, so I expect everyone to be curious about how it will go: most importantly, we know Formula One will review how the format works and will learn important lessons to keep our sport relevant and exciting for competitors and viewers alike. Whatever the weekend holds in store, we know that new scenarios bring new opportunities and we need to be sharp to make the most of them. Anything can happen and we have to make sure we’re in the right position to extract the best possible result from the new format.”
Points leader Max Verstappen
There will be a full crowd at Silverstone this weekend, how does it compare racing in front of a UK crowd to any other circuit in the world?
Having fans back will really make the difference at Silverstone and the British crowd love motorsport in general which means it is a special place to be. Last year we did two races with no crowds and the atmosphere was missing, it’s of course still an amazing track, but to have the fans back again is going to make it even better and even though I know they will be supporting the British drivers I love to see the passion that they have for all of us. I just hope that the race is going to be exciting for them too.
It’s been a great start to the season for yourself and the team…
We’ve started the season off really well and of course I’m very happy about that, but we have to keep on pushing, we can’t just be thinking about our results so far. It’s going to be really tight and a challenge for the rest of the year, but that is what makes it exciting. We were for sure ahead in Austria and our car was very good there but in France, we only won with a few laps to go, so the championship is very close and maybe even closer than the points show at the moment. There are some tough tracks coming up where Mercedes may have the edge on us, but we have a great Team, and we are doing everything we can to try and stay ahead.
How much does it excite you that there’s a new a format that allows you to race flat out without needing to pit?
I’m very open about trying the sprint races and I quite like that we have a bit less practice before we head into qualifying, but let’s just wait, it’s difficult to say anything about it until we’ve tested it this weekend. Every race you take risks but controlled risks, especially when you are fighting for a championship, but this one race isn’t going to define the end result.
What Are F1 Sprint Qualifying Races?
The British Grand Prix weekend format looks different to normal, due to the introduction of the Sprint Qualifying Race. This is the first of three planned races where this new weekend schedule will be used, with a novel way of deciding the grid for Sunday’s race.
On Friday, teams have just one 60-minute practice session to tune the car, before heading into the standard three-part Qualifying format we are all familiar with. The result of the normal Qualifying session decides the grid for the Sprint Qualifying Race.
On Saturday, there is a second and final 60-minute practice session, before the new, 100-kilometer Sprint Qualifying Race begins. At Silverstone, this will be a 17-lap sprint to the flag to determine the order for Sunday’s main event.
The new format has been introduced by F1, the FIA and the teams to spice up the weekend, add a few new variables and bring an extra challenge to the weekend. It is one that all of the teams face together, so is a step into the unknown for everyone…
The modified schedule means there is less practice time for the drivers and teams to fine-tune the car set-up. FP1 on Friday will be the only real chance to try low-fuel runs for the Qualifying session later that day, because FP2 on Saturday will be focused on higher-fuel running, to get the car ready for Sunday’s race.
How does the new format impact the team from an engineering perspective?
It does have quite an impact, with one of the key factors the engineers must account for being that the cars go into parc fermé after the opening practice session on Friday. Once the car is in parc fermé, there is very little we can change as it is effectively locked-in for the weekend.
As a result, there is significant pressure on that first practice session to figure out the set-up for both the low and high fuel runs, plus considerations on the Power Unit and brake cooling. If you get those parameters wrong, it could be a painful weekend from that point onwards – as the car specification has to be fixed for the standard Qualifying session and beyond.
There is also a much shorter amount of time to work on the car, due to parc fermé rules coming into force, so the mechanics and engineers have just three and a half hours to carry out work on the car. Some of this time will be spent with the FIA checking the legality of the car and making the necessary scrutineering checks. We will get the car back on Saturday morning prior to FP2 for another three hours.
On a typical race weekend, the team has seven and a half hours on a Friday evening to work on the car. So timeframes will be more condensed under the new format and there will be additional pressure on the mechanics and engineers to fit a lot of work into less time.
Does it also impact the way the team will work trackside?
It will impact how we work at the track and how we work with the drivers. It’s a very different race weekend, one we haven’t seen before, so teams will have looked at the whole thing afresh – from how analysis work is scheduled, to re-programming their simulation work leading up to the event, and of course, their mechanical work on the cars around the sessions. Everything will shift to adapt to the new schedule.
Again, one of the key points is the pressure to get the spec of the car right in a much shorter space of time, with just one practice session before Qualifying. After the first event at Silverstone, it’ll then be about sitting down, discussing what worked well, what didn’t work well and involving the drivers in those discussions and decisions too, so we’re well prepared for the next one.
From the driver’s perspective, how will the weekend change?
In terms of less practice, it means you either find the flow and the set-up direction, or you don’t. There isn’t as much time to react and trial set-up tweaks, if you haven’t found the right set-up, so if you find it quicker, that will give an advantage.
This means there could be more variability, particularly in the Qualifying order. “The usual format has been pretty standard apart from a couple of weekends where there has been less practice, so it will be nice to try something different and see if it is going to really mix up the weekend,” said Valtteri Bottas. “I guess it can go really against you or for you, but we will find out.”
Drivers love racing and the Sprint Qualifying format means some extra racing, so that’s no bad thing. Valtteri adds: “More to follow for the fans and more racing for us so once we do it in Silverstone and hopefully in two other Grands Prix, I am sure we can draw a good conclusion if that’s the way to go forward in the future in some races or not.”
The start and first lap is one of the riskiest moments for a driver and sets the driver up for the race they have to come, so having two standing starts to contend with, firstly in the Sprint Qualifying Race and then the standard Sunday event, will add extra drama and pressure. Losing out in the Sprint Qualifying Race will have a big impact on the main race, and could make your Sunday very tricky.