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A three team contest ?   
4 July 2002 Volume 4 - Issue 20   

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Silverstone is the track where McLaren does most of their testing so I assume that they will have the best set up of the leading teams. The question is will this be enough to be competitive?

McLaren have certainly raised their game plan over the last few races and are the third fastest team today. Renault seem to be catching up but Silverstone is not likely to favour Renault as much as it will McLaren. In recent races we have seen McLaren consolidate their third place position but they always finish well behind the leading Williams/Ferrari combinations even if they finish on the podium. The only time when this is not true is on very slow circuits like Monaco and possibly Hungary.

Williams may be fast enough to stay ahead of Ferrari at Silverstone. This is the first of the very fast circuits of the season (with the exception of Australia, which, as the first race is unlikely to be indicative) so it will be interesting to see if Williams have managed to hang on to the advantage they had on fast circuits during all of last season. Reliability may be an issue but this could affect Ferrari too, Williams seem better and Ferrari may experience problems at constant high speeds.

Silverstone's challenge is not only in terms of top speed. It has three relatively fast straights where speed will exceed 300km/H(186mph), one shorter straight that will not be that fast, six fast corners where speeds will exceed 160km/H(100mph) and three corners where speeds will drop below 100km/H(60mph).

This combination of fast and slow bits is such that the compromise between high and low downforce is even more crucial than on other tracks. Aerodynamics will play a huge role in optimising the speed through the fast corners but cars set up for maximum downforce in the corners will be carrying too much drag to be fast in the straights. The slow corners may not benefit from aerodynamic packages designed for high speed but require reasonable mechanical grip, which implies softer suspension that may bottom out in the faster corners.

The track is also very hard on tyres. Softer compound tyres will help through the corners but will probably mean that the cars will have to stop twice. That means that lap times must be faster to make up for the time in the pits. It is a very high risk strategy because a single incident may bring out the pace car, which is almost guaranteed to spoil a two-stop plan, unless everyone is two stopping. Harder tyres on the other hand will slow cars through the corners (especially the slow corners) but that may not be enough to justify stopping twice.

We have seen several strategies based on stopping more than the rest of the field fail because of the inability to overtake and benefit from the extra speed or, when drivers do manage to exploit the advantage, getting foiled by a single lap behind the pace car. Unless there is a clear advantage or tyre wear is too high I expect most teams will try to stop only once.

All three straights will offer overtaking opportunity for faster cars providing that they can stop in time. The short straight between Stowe and Club is the only part of the track where it will be possible for the following car to be faster through the corner leading on to the straight as aerodynamics will not be very effective through Stowe, in all the other corners leading up to the straights turbulence from the leading car will be high.

Arrows may do better at this track (if they manage to make it!) because they know it well, but it will be somewhere between pedestrian and pathetic. Jaguar (with their new package) should do better too but it will be just as hard to notice.

Sauber could do OK but I still suspect that Renault may be the fourth fastest and could even be third fastest if McLaren do not get it right.

The BAR - Jordan struggle could go either way. I do not think that either will do well but we may find that BAR is better than Jordan on fast tracks.

Toyota may look a little better as they certainly have the top speed but even then they will struggle to stay with the Honda powered cars and Minardi will be circulating at the back again.

Drivers to watch are:

Montoya who could start from pole and will be hard to beat if Williams are competitive and his car is unbreakable.

Barrichello who seems to be on a mission to prove that he is fast.

Michael Schumacher who likes fast corners and seems to like this circuit.

Coulthard in front of his home crowd (almost) providing that McLaren give him a competitive car and Raikkonen who will yet again squeeze everything he can out of the car.

Drivers not to watch are Ralf (who even if he is winning struggles to overtake back markers), Eddie Irvine (unless he has combed his hair) and de la Rosa (because he never seems to feature in the action anyway).

Villeneuve could be worth watching but will almost certainly not get the car to watch and sadly that applies to Button and Fisichella too.

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