When the plot line of John Frankenheimer’s epic 1966 film “Grand Prix” reaches the British Grand Prix, the footage shows a military band playing on the grid, a flying display from the Red Arrows aerobatic display team, some members of the Royal Family, a huge crowd and Jackie Stewart! Over four decades later and nothing much has changed, as the British round is all about tradition. Indeed, along with Scuderia Ferrari’s home race in Italy, the British event is the longest running Grand Prix on the calendar.
Following a “flyaway” race in Canada, the sport has had a longer period off-track with a three week gap instead of the more usual two. For everyone involved in the sport, some of that time has been well spent escaping the incessant pressure of the 19 race series, but it certainly hasn’t been a holiday for any members of Scuderia Ferrari and that includes the drivers, as Felipe Massa explained. “In the past, we used to test on track in the weeks between most races, but with the testing ban, it has become even more important to keep up our fitness training to stay in condition,” said the Brazilian, now back in Europe after a brief pause at home in Sao Paolo after Montreal. Keeping in good shape doesn’t even stop when the technical work begins. “I came to Maranello for a couple of days on the simulator and to have meetings with the engineers, but even while I was at the factory I made time to do some training every day,” said the Brazilian. “It’s all part of my preparation from one race to the next so I feel 100% ready for the British GP. I believe our car can work well at this race, as that seemed to be the case in China and Barcelona and Silverstone follows that same direction in terms of circuit characteristics. It’s an old-style track with high speed corners, which should suit the F138, so I expect to have a good weekend. Naturally, I’m looking to score points and hoping to finish on the podium again.” In fact, a podium has so far eluded the Brazilian in England, but he clearly relishes every aspect of this coming weekend. “Silverstone is a fantastic track, first of all because of its incredible layout with high speed corners and changes of direction, which is what we drivers enjoy most, although there are also some slow corners. The atmosphere is great too because the English love Formula 1. The majority of the teams are still based in England and the fans are crazy for Formula 1, with a very big crowd every day and so it’s enjoyable to race in that situation.”
Strange to say, the Scuderia’s Brazilian driver sounds more excited by this coming weekend than it’s English technical director! “Every race is equally important, so I don’t see Silverstone as being any more special,” said Pat Fry. “To be quite honest, all the races are the same for me. We try and win and do our best at every race, whether that’s at Silverstone, or Barcelona or Montreal. The goal is the same we have to do the best we can with what we have.” Fry and his team of engineers has been working hard ever since Montreal on the twin tasks of moving forward with the development of the F138 and on working out how best to adapt it to the characteristics of the fast and flowing ribbon of tarmac that makes up Silverstone’s 5.891 kilometres. “We have spent a lot of time analysing data from the last few races, from the aero side to looking at tyre performance, trying to put together the best possible package for Silverstone,” continued Fry. “We’ve got a few upgrades coming through for this weekend and so we have to ensure we are well prepared to run them. We have been studying data from the wind tunnel to assess what is the best set up for the car for this circuit using the new parts that are coming through the system now.”
Although the data gathered at the last two races is of use to the engineers, the circuit characteristics are contrasting enough for a different approach to be called for in England. “The last two races in Monaco and Montreal took place on tracks that are quite different to normal circuits,” confirmed Fry. “While Monaco is unique and Montreal is similar to Bahrain with a premium placed on traction, Silverstone is more about high speed corners that flow together, so if we want to make a comparison it has more in common with Barcelona. It therefore presents its own set of challenges, and with very few low speed corners, it’s all about trying to get the car working well in the high speed turns. This involves optimising the ride height and selecting the correct aerodynamic characteristics to get the best aero performance out of the car.”
With its very fast corners and short straights, the Silverstone layout, which in parts is still true to its origins as an airfield, is definitely a true challenge of man and machine. The surface is bumpy in parts and the combination of an abrasive track surface and all those high speed turns means that the Medium and Hard compound tyres are the ones chosen by Pirelli for this weekend. The layout makes it hard to overtake, so for this year, the FIA has introduced a second DRS zone down the Hangar straight which should ease that problem. One thing even the sport’s governing body can do nothing about is the weather: one can expect any temperature from 8 to 28 Celsius and the threat of rain always hangs over this event, sometimes falling on one part of the track and not another. This means the communications between team members must be clear and precise during the race and that is down to the men who sit in front of the monitors, across pit lane from the garages. “On the pit wall, there are the two race engineers, who effectively control all communication to and from the drivers,” explained Fry. “There’s another person in charge of organising the mechanics and ensuring everything is ready for the pit stops. We are also in contact with the “remote garage,” our engineers who are following everything from back in Maranello and with them we constantly discuss race strategy. The pit wall is also linked to the engineers in the back of the garage who monitor all aspects of reliability on the two cars during the race, although on the pit wall, we are only really aware of these guys if there is a problem we have to deal with, because for most of the time, our focus is on car performance.”
And for the pedants among you, yes we know that in the film “Grand Prix” the British race was staged at Brands Hatch!