How to win – and lose – on new-look Silverstone layout

Pit move gives teams scope for creative strategies while those adjusting best to rule change will hold advantage
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The Independent Online

The one place that the British Grand Prix is least likely to be won is the first corner, but it can certainly be lost there.

Click here to upload graphic: Silverstone Track (78.94kb)

This year sees the track operating with the new Silverstone "Wing" pits and paddock complex, which relocates the start/finish line just past Club corner, instead of just before Copse. Now, instead of threading through one fast right-hander when the lights go out, the layout features a relatively quick right followed by a gentle left and then a tightening right.

Despite that old adage about first corners, Lewis Hamilton believes that the new first and second turns, Abbey and Farm, could still provide "opportunities".

"I think there will be more chances for overtaking," the 2008 winner said, "I think that was the plan. I think Turns One and Two are fairly straightforward, flat out. Before you would go through Copse, everyone would then get in single file, flat out through the next sector. Now it's quite quick through Turns One and Two but you have an opportunity, it's very wide into Turn Three so it's probably going to be relatively easy to be able to follow through Turns One and Two and then have an opportunity into Turn Three, I think. It'll be great for the racing and for the start."

With the Drag Reduction System rear wing zone operating down the long Wellington Straight, gaining places at the start may not be quite as crucial as in the past. As Fernando Alonso proved last year, when he drove off the road to pass Robert Kubica and subsequently received a drive-through penalty, and was later unable to overtake Tonio Liuzzi's less quick but finely driven Force India, Silverstone used to be a very tricky circuit on which to pass. But the DRS zone should change that.

The detection zone is located 25 metres before Turn Three, and the activation zone starts 45 metres after Turn Four. As following drivers are able to feather their rear wings to decrease drag, they gain a straight-line speed advantage which can facilitate overtaking. The zone takes cars through the left-handed Turn Five, taken in fifth gear at around 130 mph. Those who have greater inherent downforce might be able to finesse their way through here with the wing activated, thus gaining further advantage on the run down the Wellington Straight, but in any case the DRS should help to set up passing moves either on the straight or going into the braking zone for the tightening Brooklands left-hander at the end of it.

Pitstops always cost time, but the entry lane on Silverstone's revised layout is notably quick and the FIA's race director Charlie Whiting made it clear that during practice and qualifying that he would carefully monitor drivers who might choose to dip through the pits as it could be quicker to cross the start/finish line via the pit lane than by staying out on the track.

That's not a consideration for the race, of course, but it means that multiple pitstops could be less of a penalty than they are elsewhere, giving the teams' strategists more options.

The other place that the race could be won might actually be nowhere near Silverstone. All of the teams have attempted to re-optimise their cars around the new regulations which came into force this weekend, which ban the use of off-throttle blown diffusers and thus pose challenges in terms of lost downforce in high-speed corners and potential instability under braking.

But the fine tuning doesn't stop there; the leading teams will have had their test drivers running laps in their simulators back at their factories. Working closely with the race team engineers at the track, they will liaise on the perfect set-up as they finetune the settings of suspension and wings to optimise their cars to the nth degree prior to qualifying this afternoon.