BRITISH GRAND PRIX

By Pat Espresso

The F1 circus shifts to Silverstone and the mid-way point in the season. Like prizefighters in a punishing  bout, the main contenders are battling it out while the spectators can barely catch their breath in such a thrilling fight.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton claim to have settled their differences over the Valencia safety car debacle but their rivalry is certain to resurface if the two meet wheel to wheel on the high-speed Midlands circuit.

For Britain, this weekend will be a sporting rarity. Not one but two genuine contenders for a race victory and the world championship. The capacity crowd will not be short of a driver to cheer on.
With Hamilton and Jenson Button the only Brit drivers in the 24-car field, and standing one-two in the points table, you have to go back to the 1960s when Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark and Graham Hill went wheel to wheel in race-winning cars for a comparable level of competition. When drivers like Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell and James Hunt were racing, their compatriots were generally stuck in slower machinery or eclipsed by faster teammates.

While Britain is fortunate to have two contenders for the title, the race remains wide open. Sebastian Vettel is within 12 points of Hamilton while Mark Webber and Alonso are still within shouting distance – even after a European GP that both would prefer to forget.

Vettel will be hoping to follow his easy win in Valencia with another strong performance at Silverstone, where he dominated last year. McLaren will be hoping that reliability problems will continue to plague the Red Bulls. The Woking-based team will also be hoping that its copy of Adrian Newey’s ‘blown diffuser’ system will allow it to mimic the the amazing downforce of the the Red Bulls and close the gap on their closest rivals.

It would be a mistake to focus only on the Red Bulls and the McLarens at Silverstone. Ferrari and Alonso are not far behind and the Spaniard has a big point to prove in displaying the new-found speed of his car.
He will also be anxious to get his championship campaign back on track after his very untypical early-season inconsistency.

Mercedes could also be in contention if Ross Brawn can figure out why his car’s qualifying pace vanishes in the race and Robert Kubica is likely to cement his reputation with Renault by clawing his way nearer the front.

A huge cheer will ring out for Lotus as Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen seek to improve on a difficult weekend in Spain and show the progress that the Norfolk team is making – the clear front runners among the new entrants.

The fans will also be keen to see how the circuit’s new layout helps the spectacle. According to experts, the revamp means that the cars will take to the new ‘Arena’ layout, which means Abbey changes from a chicane to a flat-out righthander on to a long straight.

A tight new section surrounded by grandstands leads on to another long straight to rejoin the old track at Brooklands. The hope is that the long runs into tighter corners will create new overtaking places, the one thing the previous layout lacked. It will be fascinating to see if it delivers for F1. A sell-out crowd will be hoping that a pair of British world champions will be leading the field through it.

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