A brand new pit and paddock complex has brought Silverstone into the racing 21st Century. But even the stunning architecture of the ‘Wing’ couldn’t steal away focus from the sport’s ever-ongoing off-circuit political dramas. After the Renault-powered teams were denied concessions to use their exhaust-blown diffuser just 30 minutes before the start of Saturday qualifying, the drivers and their teams were involved in a last-minute scramble to adjust their setups and head out into the unknown. As the BBC coverage highlighted, this raised serious issues of safety; if not for qualifying, then certainly for tomorrow’s race.
Before Q1 commenced, Red Bull Team Principal, Christian Horner claimed the handicap
applied to their car would result in a ‘disadvantage’. If Red Bull were at a disadvantage, nobody noticed. Mark Webber; winner this time last year at Silverstone, and more comfortable in Red Bull’s racer without the exhaust-blown diffuser system as he proved last season, stole pole position from Sebastian Vettel for the second time this season. The gritty Aussie calls Silverstone his second home, and he definitely looked it.
Sebastian Vettel, too showed depth and skill in adjusting to an unfamiliar setup, and will line up alongside Webber on the front row. Unfortunately for Martin Whitmarsh and his team, McLaren struggled to make the last minute adjustments Red Bull achieved. Unlike the ‘Bulls, McLaren’s 2011 MP4-26 is much more heavily built around around the rear diffuser system. Jenson Button, speaking to the BBC whilst jet-skiing with Lewis Hamilton, David Coulthard and Martin Brundle in East London, voiced doubts about the car’s potential performance this weekend with regards to the rule changes, and forecasted problems.
Maybe he’ll get Mystic Meg’s job now the News of the World is finished?…
Button duly managed a 3rd row 5th place in qualifying. Worse still, Hamilton qualified a disheartening 10th. Both drivers were already complaining of a lack of rear downforce before this weekend, and will now be starting to sound like broken records, as the two clearly suffered with oversteer on a rainy new-look circuit.
Despite much disappointment for two British drivers, a third will have slightly more to smile about. Paul di Resta, on his British GP debut, drove his Force India to an outstanding 6th position. Out-qualifying his more experienced team-mate Adrian Sutil (11th), any teams and fans alike that didn’t already have their eye on the young Scot will be standing up and paying attention from now on.
Unphased by all the pre-race drama it seems, is Ferrari. Team Principal, Stefano Domenicali had little to comment on the issue, owning to the fact that the team doesn’t utilise the exhaust-blown diffuser system. Lead by Fernando Alonso, the two red cars make up the 2nd row of the grid , as both Ferrari drivers built on their improvements made in the European Grand Prix.
Despite qualifying’s frantic proceedings, I feel the race will be much more predictable, as the teams take the time to tweak their cars heading into Sunday. Hopefully McLaren will make significant improvements and give the passionate home fans something to cheer
about. But even if they do get up to scratch in time, McLaren will be hard pressed to make a genuine challenge against Red Bull, who look very settled. Mark Webber is F1’s ‘unlucky man’, but if the conditions permit, he should command proceedings and stave off Vettel in the process. If the conditions don’t, we might be in for another Montreal thriller.
Undoubtedly, McLaren will be praying to the rain gods, and Bernie Ecclestone; who controversially proposed a sprinkler system to inject some excitement into F1, would also be partial to some bad weather. If it means a repeat of the thrills and spills of the Canadian Grand Prix, fingers crossed it pisses it down.