Two (million) Brits seek home GP win
Hamilton and Button are looking to deliver on a level playing field at Silverstone.
Sunday 03 July 2011
Lewis Hamilton makes no bones about it. He will be going all-out in front of his fellow countrymen next weekend, intent on turning around his troubled season and delivering the home victory that the knowledgeable crowd longs for.
"People say it's all about participating, but that's absolute rubbish," he says of the oft-expressed notion that taking part is what matters. "I want to be competitive and to win, it's all I live for. Second place is less devastating, but third or fourth are a waste of an afternoon."
You can't say it clearer than that, but going into the midpoint of a season in which Red Bull have run rings around everyone, the only other thing that has been so clear is the need for McLaren and Ferrari to get their act together before Sebastian Vettel wraps up another world title.
Hamilton is currently way adrift of the runaway German, who has 186 points. Hamilton's McLaren team-mate, Jenson Button, is on 109, sharing second place with Red Bull's Mark Webber; Hamilton is only fourth on 97. A continuous stream of updates has given their McLarens pace, but they have been unlucky at times: Hamilton and Button have each won a race, but Vettel hastaken six.
Now the two British champions' best hope of turning the tables at home lies with the ban on the cunning off-throttle blown diffusers that are believed to give Red Bull such an aerodynamic advantage.
"I drove in Valencia on Friday morning without ours," Hamilton says, "but the track was still a bit dirty. It didn't feel spectacular. But I'll get a better feel when I try it in the simulator this week and we can do a back-to-back, with different engine modes.
"But compared to the others, I have the feeling that there is greater potential for them to lose more. I've followed the Red Bulls and we have to corner with lower gears than they do to keep the revs up and keep generating exhaust airflow over the diffuser. They use lower revs but they are still generating the downforce, so I still hope there's potential that they will be hurt more by the banthan we are."
For Hamilton, the recent months have been difficult, with criticism of his aggression and suggestions that he could leave for Red Bull when his contract runs out at the end of 2012.
"Fortunately I don't have to make a decision yet, and who knows what the regulations will do to the cars," he says. "We are a very strong team. Mercedes-Benz have always made the best engines. And it would massively suck if I only won one title."
Of the upstart Vettel supplanting him as F1's race-winning wonder kid, he is relaxed, yet not relaxed. It hurts. He has competed in 79 grands prix and won 15, achieving 18 pole positions, nine fastest laps and finishing on the podium 39 times. Vettel has raced 70 times but has won 16, with 22 pole positions, seven fastest laps and 27 podium appearances.
"He's taken away my 'youngest champion' [tag] from me, and on the road he's on I hope he doesn't pull too far away in terms of wins," Hamilton says almost wistfully, while hoping a more level playing field at Silverstone might help him to pull one back – and, for sure, starting farther back has made it harder to win, even in a year in which the DRS wing has made qualifying slightly less key.
He refrains from criticising his rival for cracking under pressure from Button on the last, dramatic lap in Canada. "That was understandable. They were very tricky conditions. Funny, I was watching the race and thinking to myself, 'Those are my favourite conditions'."
Button, of course, spent time driving poor Renaults in 2001-02 and poor Hondas in 2007-08, the latter nearly killing his career. And as is his wont, Button is a little less gung-ho about his prospects next weekend. So much so that it is as if he accepts that the world championship is already lost.
"It would perhaps be better if we said it is," he agrees, "then come back and win it. But it's going to be bloody hard where we are. I'm second and I'm 77 points behind. Seb has three races in which he can fail to finish, and he'd still have a lead of two points even if I won all three.
"Back in 2009 we [at Brawn] had the big lead, but that was our first time in that position, fighting for the championship. We started thinking about going for points too early. But we still won and the team did a great job with the budget that they had. But they were in a much more difficult financial position than Red Bull now.
"Seb has already won a world championship, which is a big plus. So they are in a strong position and we need to improve our game. Simple as that."
British track record
Lewis Hamilton's rage to win propels him in every race in which he competes, and the fact that he won here in 2008 has done nothing to dull his hunger to do it again. But even Hamilton admits that race was very special. "I feel that was a little bit underestimated,how good it was. I think that was probably my best drive, when everybody spun 10 times and I never spun at all. That was pretty good, that race!"
In contrast, the British Grand Prix remains an itch Button still has to scratch.Amazingly, in 11 appearances he hasnever even made the podium. His best finishes were fourth in 2004 and again last year, and fifth in his rookie season in 2000 and again in 2005. "I've won Monaco, and Canada recently was my best-ever win," Button says, "but I really do want to win in front of my home crowd."
Silverstone changes: The off-throttle diffuser has blown its chances
So what's being banned now?
As of the previous race, teams must use the same engine map in qualifying and the race. Now another critical change: the off-throttle blown diffuser has been banned. Blown diffusers will be banned completely from 2012.
What is a blown diffuser?
Clever designers started to divert exhaust gases last year so that the hot, high-speed gas flows over the aero-dynamic diffuser at the back of the car. As the airflow is speeded up by this process all-important downforce is increased, which in turn increases grip and therefore the speed of the car through corners.
What is an off-throttle blown diffuser?
Designers use special engine maps to maintain the flow of exhaust gases over the diffuser and ensure that the amount of downforce remains consistent even when the driver takes his foot off the throttle in slow corners. This design is known as a "cold blowing" system. The more ingenious use the "hot blowing" system, which flows fuel through the engine even when the driver lifts off. This ignites when it reaches the hot exhaust, thus helping to keep hot and fast airflow over the diffuser and maintain downforce. This technique increases fuel consumption by around 15 per cent, however.
Who will lose out most?
Lewis Hamilton thinks Ferrari will be the least affected, then McLaren. Red Bull have the best off-throttle technology and their driver manager, Helmut Marko, suggests they could lose their 0.5sec performance advantage, but says other changes to the aerodynamicset-up, especially their very effective DRS rear wing, should offset that.
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