Formula 1 arrives in Silverstone, a crossroads and important pages in the history of sport, which it could also become the debut of the sprint race format. The historic British track will host the 17-lap distance race for the first time ever to define the starting grid for the Grand Prix, a novelty that in one way or another is destined to be remembered in the years to come, as a failed experiment or as the first of a long series.
F1 | Sprint qualification, the doubts of the eve
The evaluation of the effectiveness or otherwise in terms of show, attractiveness, logistics, expenses and media return is postponed to the end of the three weekends with the sprint qualification format scheduled for this season, but already on the eve it emerges as a fact that the reorganization of the event will further reward the preparation work carried out in the factory. The Parc Fermé will come into effect after a single free practice session, coinciding with the start of qualifying on Friday afternoon to define the starting grid for the sprint race. This reduces both the time allowed to carry out the tests on the track and the interval available for analyzing the data collected on the track during free practice, reduced to three and a half hours compared to the entire night between Friday and on Saturdays of traditional weekends. With the format of the sprint race it becomes even more decisive the ability to arrive at the weekend with a balanced set-up right from the start, with virtual simulation once again a priority over refinement work on the track, on a par with what has been seen with the progressive evolution of sport in recent years.
In addition to the unknowns related to the potential of the sprint race, on the eve of Silverstone there are also questions about how teams and drivers will approach the new format. The traditional compromise choices on the set-up between the single lap and the long-distance pace could lean more towards the latter, considering the addition of a second race over the weekend. It also adds to the balance between competitiveness on a single lap and with a full tank of fuel the need to maintain mid-distance pace with partial fuel load. In fact, if previously these conditions were faced exclusively in the second half of the Grand Prix, with the arrival of the sprint race, focusing more on this particular aspect of performance can allow us to gain positions on the Sunday starting grid.
The various possible guidelines in defining the set-up are accompanied by the questions related to the interpretation by the teams of the second free practice session on Saturday morning, which competing in a parc fermé regime will allow limited margins of intervention on the cars. The variables of the new format also include temperatures, with Friday qualifying starting at 6.00 pm local time, the sprint race at 4.30 pm and the Grand Prix at 3.00 pm. Overall, the three most important sessions will be held in as many different time slots, with a consequent greater variability in the conditions of the track with the same weather conditions over the weekend.
With the sprint qualification, the obligation to start the Grand Prix with the compound used to overcome the cut in Q3 also lapses, which is why on Sunday there will be full freedom of choice for starting tires. Just the tires will be another central theme of the English weekend, with Pirelli who will introduce the new rear tires already tested during the FP2 of the Austrian Grand Prix. The novelty lies in the greater stiffness of the rubber, which will benefit the integrity of the structure to avoid any possible risk of the repetition of the failures occurred in Baku, a prevention that assumes even greater importance considering that Silverstone is among the tracks with the highest vertical stresses and side for tires.
The fear of some technical exponents of the teams is that the different stiffness of the rubber could alter its normal deformation, thus influencing the aerodynamics of the diffuser and the performance hierarchies between the cars. However, as stated by Mario Isola himself a FormulaPassion.it, the new Pirelli can be used with a lower inflation pressure of about 2 psi, an element that in this way should compensate for the different stiffness of the structure and prevent the balance in the field from being affected. The same lower inflation pressure also meant that in tests conducted at the Red Bull Ring some riders warned greater support at the rear and consequent better traction.
Mario Isola (first part): from Baku to the new tires for Silverstone
For the UK Grand Prix, Pirelli opted instead for the hardest compounds in the range available (C1, C2 and C3), also defining relatively high minimum inflation pressures compared to the other appointments, respectively 25.0 psi at the front and 23.0 psi at the rear. The choice is the result of the enormous stresses on the tires experienced in the very fast Silverstone corners, with lateral accelerations in the order of 5 g. The combination of high loads and pressures the tendency to overheat the tires increases and with it the risk of blistering, thus making tire management a determining factor in the race, as also emerged in 2020.
The search for compromise
Overall, Silverstone presents itself as one of the fastest tracks on the calendar, with an average distance per lap that can reach 250 km / h in qualifying. Even more than the downforce, on the English track, aerodynamic efficiency is rewarded, that is, the ability to generate downforce without excessively increasing drag, so as to combine cornering with straight-line competitiveness.
The search for balance in terms of mechanical set-up is also particularly difficult through the adjustments of the suspension group. In fact, Silverstone offers a wide variety of dry leans and changes of direction such as Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel, which require a reactive and precise front, alternating with long-distance corners such as Stowe (15) or Brooklands (6), which reward stability. in the middle of the curve. There is also no shortage of low-speed sections such as the Luffield (7) or the chicane that precedes the Club corner, where rear suspension stability and traction become priorities.
Further headaches derive from the management of electricity during the lap, with the high energy expenditure that re-proposes the now well-known work of compromise between the delivery of hybrid power in acceleration and in the final part of the draw. In fact, the cars run at full throttle for about 75% of the time, in particular traveling in full for over 17 seconds in the 1.4 km stretch that connects the Luffield curve with the section of Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel passing through the Copse, two figures which underline the weight attributed to the definition of the heat engine mapping and the calibration of the hybrid.
The prevalence of fast corners and long straights relieves the load on the brakes. The Brembo technicians have in fact classified the track with an index of 2 out of 5 for the severity of the braking system, identifying in curve 3 the most demanding braking of the circuit, where the cars decelerate from 320 km / h to 125 km / h in space. of just 130 meters, reaching a peak deceleration of 4.8 g.
Mercedes looking for redemption
Red Bull arrives with the strength of five consecutive victories starting from Monte Carlo and in particular by the clear superiority expressed with Max Verstappen in the double Zeltweg race. Mercedes, on the other hand, has announced the arrival of an important evolutionary package, with whom Lewis Hamilton hopes to be able to shorten in the standings from his direct rival.
Ferrari promises to be an uphill weekend, considering the gaps highlighted by the SF21 both on the straight and in the medium-high speed corners. For the Scuderia di Maranello it will be interesting to evaluate the approach on the set-up front, after the strategy implemented in the Styrian Grand Prix of sacrificing the qualification through a structure with greater load, to the advantage of the race pace thanks to the better management of the tires. In 2020 at Silverstone, on the other hand, the team worked against the tide, significantly unloading the aerodynamics to contain the delay on the straight and to limit the energy transferred vertically to the tires, a choice which, supported by Leclerc’s docile and adequate driving style, proved to be effective. also in the race, contributing to the third final place in the first of the two rounds across the Channel.
McLaren and AlphaTauri from the beginning of the season they have shown great competitiveness in the extension, a quality that raises their prices in view of Silverstone, where however they will also have to prove that they are able to manage the variables of the new format and be able to put a balanced car on the track on the technical English track . In home Aston Martin updates on Sebastian Vettel’s car are expected, after the debut of the same package in Austria on Lance Stroll’s car.
Among the changes to the format, the new tires, the technical updates and the pitfalls of the track, there is no shortage of topics of interest on the eve of the Silverstone weekend. As always, however, the focus will be on the challenge between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton and between Red Bull and Mercedes, which has now reached a crucial crossroads for future championship developments.