Silverstone, a special significance track for the Scuderia
The Formula 1 World Championship reaches its halfway point this weekend at Round 9, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. With eight races completed Felipe Massa leads the Drivers' classification but it's a close fight as only ten points separate the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro driver from fourth placed Lewis Hamilton. In the Constructors' battle, the Scuderia leads its nearest rival by seventeen lengths.
Silverstone would not be Silverstone if the first topic for discussion was not the weather and currently the forecast suggests that the British GP will live up to the stereotypical image of an English summer - unpredictable weather but rain forecast for all three days of track action. For smaller teams further down the order, rain clouds hold the hope of some unexpected good fortune to upset the status quo, but for the front runners such as Ferrari and its closest opponents - teams capable of winning on merit - the rain is not a welcome addition to the party. If the rain does come, it will make a race that always looked like being unpredictable, as the top teams are currently so close in performance terms, even more so. Wet or dry, another meteorological feature that is ever-present at this track that was once an airfield, is strong winds, which can gust inconsistently in various directions, destabilising the cars, especially through the track's fast corners. This was noticeable last week, when all the F1 teams tested at this track, with the wind proving strongest in the afternoon, causing the occasional driving mistake.
For Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, that test session which featured Felipe Massa driving the first two days and Kimi Raikkonen the final one, went reasonably well. "The team tried some new elements on both the aerodynamic and the mechanical front, although not everything we tested will be used this weekend," commented Chris Dyer, Raikkonen's race engineer who attended all three days. "Testing at a circuit the week before it is used for a grand prix always requires a two-sided approach: continuation of the normal development programme on the car and specific testing in terms of looking at set-up, car balance, tyre comparisons and so forth, targeted specifically at the upcoming race. This meant those three days were particularly busy. Generally, the results were good and the car had a reasonable balance right from the first day, with Felipe and Kimi declaring themselves happy with the car. The F2008 was assessed in various configurations to be best prepared for all aspects of a race weekend. Both types of tyre - "medium" and "hard" that Bridgestone will bring to this track were evaluated and the results were encouraging."
Following on from the French Grand Prix, when Raikkonen's car suffered a broken exhaust from about half distance to the flag, engineers have made a careful study of the engine to determine whether or not it is fit to race this weekend. There are two possibilities: replace all the parts damaged in the incident and engine ancillaries as allowed in the regulations and keep the existing unit or, replace the engine, without taking a penalty, as the sporting regulations allow a driver to play a "joker," making one engine change in the season without being penalised. A final decision will be made closer to the time.
The British Grand Prix always has a special significance for the Scuderia as it was here in 1951 that a Ferrari car, driven by Froilan Gonzalez took the first of its two hundred and six Formula 1 Grand Prix victories. A further fourteen winner's trophies have found their way back to Maranello from this race, the most recent being Kimi Raikkonen's victory last year. Of those two hundred and six wins, one hundred and fifty of them were achieved in partnership with Shell, that total being reached in Magny-Cours ten days ago and so the team will be hosting a reception at the Media Motorhome in the Silverstone paddock this weekend to celebrate that landmark. This year, the Northamptonshire track celebrates its sixtieth anniversary to emphasise its position as one of the historic temples of speed on the F1 calendar. Historically, this has been the home track for many of the F1 teams and, just like any football team playing away from home, the chance of victory for the Scuderia on the "pitch" of its main rivals is always something to savour!
The track itself is popular with the drivers, as it presents them with some challenging corners and an exhilarating lap. The first two sectors have a real rhythm to them, although the final sector is slow and twisty, out of character with the rest of the course, but it is actually this slow section which in qualifying is the main factor in determining your lap time.
Last year, Raikkonen's win came from second place on the grid and prior to that the Finn has also claimed three third places here. Felipe Massa drove a fantastic race at Silverstone last year, but he would probably have preferred to have less plaudits and more points: a problem on the formation lap meant he had to start from the back of the grid, but he worked his way up to fifth place by the time he took the chequered flag.