British Grand Prix 2011: Preview


As Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds never actually sang: 'F1's coming home/It's Coming Home/It's Coming Home/It's Coming” (and so on).

This weekend, after trips to Australia, Asia, Europe and Canada, the Formula 1 circus finally arrives in Britain and, with eight out of twelve current F1 teams choosing to base themselves in the UK; this country is the closest thing that this global sport has to a home.

What's more, F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone has his offices in London, and even the likes of Ferrari and Sauber, based in Italy and Switzerland respectively, employ English technical directors in Pat Fry and James Key.

The original version of the 'Three Lions' song was released for the European Championships of 1996, which were hosted by England. A whole nation was hoping to banish '30 years of hurt' and, in their hearts, felt that the English football team could win on home turf. However, in the back of everybody's minds was the deep suspicion that the Germans could spoil our party, and deprive us of the trophy.

The same could happen this weekend. Over a hundred thousand spectators are expected to fill the grandstands and the grassy banks around Silverstone, most hoping that Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, or even Paul di Resta can take victory at their home race. If they are to be realistic though, the fans will be expecting to see a German standing on the top step of the podium come Sunday afternoon, waving his index finger in the air.

In Euro'96 the England team was beaten by the Germans in the semi-finals, in a penalty shoot-out. If Sunday's race goes to form, Sebastian Vettel's victory will be a lot more convincing.

In the last three races, Formula 1 has visited three street circuits. They all have slightly different characteristics, but all three featured a good number of slow corners. Red Bull suspected that these circuits would be their weakest of the season, as the RB7 inherently prefers circuits with sweeping medium and high-speed turns.

Of course, Vettel still won two of these races, and would have won all three if it was not for his mistake on the last lap of the Canadian Grand Prix. As it was, he took 68 of the 75 points available to him, and heads to Silverstone, a track that could have been built to suit his car, with a championship lead of 77 points.

But even with the huge car advantage that he is likely to have, the 2009 winner of this race may not have everything his way. Team-mate Mark Webber, who has the same impressive car at his disposal, won the race last year, and could be a thorn in the side of the reigning world champion.

Mark Webber takes the chequered flag to win the 2010 British Grand Prix

Which team will be closest to Red Bull this weekend? Ferrari held that accolade in Valencia last time out, but it was McLaren in Canada. Neither team has been able to put together a consistent challenge all season, but McLaren will no doubt pull out all the stops for their home race, and their drivers should be spurred on by the massive home support. Hamilton won the race in 2008, but Button is yet to win at home in F1.

Michael Schumacher is a three time winner at Silverstone, but has never won it in anything other than a Ferrari. Of course, the Northamptonshire circuit is also the venue where he broke his leg in 1999, and so Silverstone probably holds a lot of mixed emotions for the seven-time world champion. Mercedes are bringing more updates to this race as they look to continue their push towards the front.

Paul di Resta, who collected some very good results at the beginning of the season, finished behind his team-mate in Monaco and Europe, and has had a couple of visits to the stewards for some failed overtaking manoeuvres lately. He will be hoping to get back in the points this weekend, something that Force India team-mate Adrian Sutil has been managing recently.

Australia gains another representative in the F1 field this weekend as Red Bull rising star Daniel Ricciardo replaces Narain Karthikeyan at Hispania Racing. Up until now, Ricciardo had been test and reserve driver at Toro Rosso and taking part in the first Friday practice session at each race. This weekend he will be hoping to stay on the pace of new team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi as he looks to impress the likes of Red Bull consultant Helmut Marko.

Finally, a word about Silverstone itself: The new pit and paddock complex will be used for its first F1 race this weekend and so the teams, media and corporate types will all be able to enjoy the comfort and luxury of this brand new building, rather than old facilities that were hopelessly dilapidated – at least according to Ecclestone.

The new Silverstone pit and paddock complex sees its first Formula 1 grand prix this weekend

For fans and drivers though, the use of the new wing means that the racing will be different too. The start/finish straight has been moved, and now Abbey becomes the first corner.

After Abbey follows the new 'Arena' section, last year loved by some drivers, disliked by others. Sector 2 then begins just before Brooklands, which is now Turn 6, and then out of Woodcote onto what was the start/finish straight last year. Copse, which was a great place for spectators to sit, is now Turn 9 rather than Turn 1. Then, after another short straight, drivers head into Maggots, Beckets and Chapel. These corners, along with Copse, have been described by Vettel as 'four of the best corners in Formula 1'.

Sector 2 ends on the exit of Chapel and it is then down the Hangar Straight and through the speed trap. Stowe comes next before Vale and Club take the drivers round to the end of the lap.

With the new facilities in place, combined with the excellent track that oozes with history and traditional, Britain finally has a circuit that can hold its own against all the new circuits that are springing up around Asia and the Middle East. In the driving stakes, Britain remains one of the top contributors to F1 talent, with two world champions and one promising young driver currently on the grid. In terms of F1 engineering, this country is comfortably ahead of everybody else. That is something of which Britain should be immensely proud.

And you never know, Vettel may not win every single race from now until the end of the season. He showed in Canada that he is only human, and this weekend may leave the door open for either Hamilton or Button to claim a fantastic win in front of the British fans…

One can dream anyway. After three: 'F1's coming home/It's Coming Home/It's Coming Home/It's Coming…” (repeat and fade)