Silverstone: Time to take flight

“Who doesn’t love Silverstone?”

The question comes from Jenson Button, about to embark upon his 16th British Grand Prix weekend, his enthusiasm for his home race undiminished even by the trials and tribulations of a blighted McLaren-Honda season.

From unpromising surroundings – a windswept, flat and disused airfield – the Northamptonshire village created one of the most iconic circuits in motor racing history, the place where the Formula One World Championship was born, and a track where the essence of motor racing comes vividly to life.

Forget tokens, forget penalties, forget all the frustrating trappings of the current sport: F1 is and always will be about speed. That’s why McLaren, also refusing to let recent events get them down, refer to the Silverstone experience as “still a flat-out blast”. Tracks like this are an endangered species that we must preserve.

Just ask the blokes behind the wheel. Australian Dan Ricciardo may be the joker in the current pack, but when it comes to racing, he’s a serious young man.

“Silverstone’s awesome,” says the Red Bull racer. “I love high-speed circuits with high-speed corners – and so the run from Copse through Maggotts, Becketts, Chapel and then around Stowe… maybe the five coolest corners on the calendar and to have them coming at you one after the other… Yeah, I love it.”

Only Spa and Monza, on the current list, are faster: that’s the company Silverstone keeps. The lap record of 1:30.874 represents an average speed of 233.373 km/h. It belongs to Fernando Alonso, set in his Ferrari in 2010 – and wouldn’t the beleaguered Spaniard, who has just retired from four races in a row for the first time in his long F1 career, love to be keeping such high-speed company this weekend?

Even Alonso can find something positive about going to Silverstone. He did 100 laps on the second day of the Austrian test last week, which is more than pretty much the rest of his season put together so far, and he intends – as always – to wring the car’s neck for the knowledgeable British crowd.

“Silverstone is a very special race for the team, of course, and also a fantastic circuit to drive,” says the Spaniard. “It’s one of the fastest on the calendar, which also means it won’t be a circuit that will suit our car so well, but we’re still looking forward to the weekend and want to make the most of every session.”

This year’s is the 49th edition of the British Grand Prix to be staged at Silverstone. Its dominant figures through the years have been F1’s finest, from five-time winner Jim Clark of Scotland to the English bulldog Nigel Mansell or France’s ‘Professor’ Alain Prost, both four-time winners here.

The current lap of Silverstone is 5.891 kilometres and has to be covered 52 times. Pirelli will bring their medium (white) and hard (orange) compounds to cope with a surface that’s notoriously abrasive – as relations have sometimes been between the two men spearheading the 2015 title fight, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Their Mercedes team has won the last two British Grands Prix: in 2013 Hamilton took pole but Rosberg led Mark Webber home, in 2014 Nico was on pole but Lewis did the race-day business and clinched his second Silverstone success.

“I feel ready to go full attack,” claims Rosberg after winning three of the last four races. “Nothing less than the same again (as 2014) will do,” counters Hamilton. Don’t miss it: this should be one of the great spectacles of the 2015 season.

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