Questions for the 2013 British GP
Have we heard the last of Testgate? Will a Brit make the podium? Can Lotus launch a Silverstone fightback?
By Pete Gill, Mike Wise, James Galloway & Sky Bet's Jamie Casey. Last Updated: 27/06/13 11:05am
Will we now stop talking about Testgate?
And wouldn't it be nice if we did and track matters returned to pre-eminence? Nice, but unfortunately not particularly realistic. The leniency of the punishment imposed on Mercedes last Friday by the International Tribunal has left resentment not so much lingering as festering and plenty of scope for a press pack salivating for a juicy line to exploit. Let's be blunt: there will be far more interest on Thursday and Friday in any expression of displeasure at Red Bull than there will be in any new updates on the RB9.
In one critical respect, Red Bull are more guilty than anyone else in this jarring shift of perspective; if only they hadn't been quite so dominant in Canada - or indeed secured a hat-trick of title doubles scarcely six months previously - then F1's off-track affairs wouldn't be setting the current agenda quite so vocally. Nor does it help that Silverstone is expected to favour the RB9 - a car which hardly requires a helping hand at the worst of times - or the circuit itself, as tends to be the case with many of the classic tracks, doesn't typically produce classic racing.
All in all, it's probably naive to hope that testgate won't still be the dominant topic of conversation for a third F1 weekend in succession. If there's even the merest hint that the World Champions are considering rebelling against the governing body by staging their own private test then you could probably be forgiven for not realising that Silverstone will also be staging a race of some repute this Sunday...
Still, here's hoping, because if the actual racing does return to the forefront of conversation this weekend then something special will have to occur. A victory by one of the Brits perhaps? Or a defeat of Sebastian Vettel by one of his principal title rivals maybe? For the good of F1, a bad day at the office for Red Bull may be just the tonic.
Is Silverstone McLaren's last chance saloon?
The gap between what is theoretically possible and what's actually possible can be so large it stretches far beyond the realms of credulity. For example, I could, in theory, be an astronaut or win the Tour de France. One great thing about professional sport is that the pursuit of excellence reduces the gaps and gives us, if we're lucky, a thrilling competition. A particularly great thing about Formula 1 in recent years is how narrow those gaps in performance have been. But if a team isn't performing, it must seem like a chasm.
That's precisely the situation McLaren find themselves in heading into their home race. Down in sixth place in the Constructors' Championship, over a second off the pace and seemingly heading backwards if their performance in Montreal was anything to go by. The team seem confident that the Canadian GP was an aberration but the fact that both Jenson Button and Sergio Perez failed to score points in the last race seems less of a blip when the more normal course is one of - by their standards - mediocrity. McLaren are anticipating more of the same this weekend: hopefully top ten qualifying slots and, according to MD Jonathan Neale, "good points" in the race. Maybe a podium if they're lucky.
Can the chasm be bridged? In terms of performance, McLaren are optimistic they can recover their downforce deficit by the end of the season and be in a position to challenge for race wins. They've 12 races in which to do it and given their track record in fashioning a silk purse from a sow's ear, you wouldn't bet against them. But the title? McLaren stand 164 points behind leaders Red Bull and there are 516 points up for grabs. So it's theoretically possible; the reality, however, is different and Button appears to have reined in his own expectations accordingly. "This has been a difficult year for us, and we still hope to be fighting at the end of the year for race wins," The Independent quoted him as saying last week. "So definitely next year we will start the season looking to win the world championship."
Will it be a sell-out?
The answer to that question, sadly, looks likely to be a 'no'. Tickets are still on sale for all three days of the event and it appears the trend of consecutive record race-day attendances of the last two seasons (122,000 and 127,000 respectively) won't be continued this Sunday.
To their credit the Northamptonshire venue has been frank in admitting that sales have been more sluggish this year, with circuit chief Richard Phillips revealing at the start of May that sales to that point were down 10% on 2012. Phillips cited the 'Vettel effect' as one reason for the drop in demand, and certainly while a more certain British victory/title challenge would help them 'sell' the event, readers of this website have squarely pointed to one factor for their lack of attendance this year - the high price of tickets.
The ever-increasing cost of attending top sporting events is by no means confined to Silverstone, or F1, and the still likely 100,000+ Sunday attendance would still comfortably outstrip both the recent Champions League final (stadium capacity noted) and final day at the US Open golf, along with just about any other GP you care to mention. But the facts are that adult race-day tickets for the 2013 British GP started at £145, while of the ones still available for Sunday, the cheapest is an eye-watering £230.
While there are plenty of reasons why this has to be case - most essentially of all the high tariff for keeping the country's race on the calendar - the lack of a capacity weekend for what is routinely dubbed 'the biggest weekend in British motorsport' is likely to renew the asking of some awkward questions for the concerned parties this weekend.
What chance a British driver on the podium?
Unfortunately, Lewis Hamilton is the only British driver showing anywhere near the sort of form that suggests the home support could have a Union Jack dangling above the podium on Sunday, with Sky Bet offering 13/8 for the 2008 winner to finish in the top three.
Silverstone is the ultimate race
McLaren - 14-times winners of the event in the last 40 years, albeit not all at Silverstone - continue to endure a forgettable season and Jenson Button is unlikely to end his wait for a British GP win this weekend, priced at 50/1, while even his chances of a place on the podium look slim at 10/1.
Punters' confidence in Button's McLaren has dwindled so much that Paul Di Resta, who qualified sixth in 2011, is gaining almost as much support for a podium place at 12/1, but the Force India driver is a 100/1 outsider to emulate fellow Scotsmen Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and David Coulthard by winning at Silverstone.
As for Max Chilton, it will take a bizarre set of circumstances to see the young hopeful make the podium, which is a 1500/1 shot (5000/1 to win), with the 22-year-old guiding his Marussia to a points finish a more reasonable bet at 50/1.
In truth, Saturday is more likely to generate something for the home support to shout about, with Hamilton 5/6 to be on the front-row of the grid and 5/2 to claim pole, but Mercedes will need a lock-out if they're to stand any chance of a win against race favourites Red Bull (11/10) and Ferrari (5/2).
Can Lotus halt their slide?
Speaking ahead of the Canadian GP, Kimi Raikkonen was asked about Michael Schumacher's record of 24 consecutive points finishes, which he could beat this weekend. "I don't care about that," he said. "I want the points. If it comes, it comes." It was an instructive retort: maybe the Finn doesn't care about the record; what he really, truly cares about, though, is the title - all the more so given the mini-slump he and Lotus have recently been in. Monaco brought a collision with Sergio Perez (and harsh words to follow) and just a solitary point. In the event, Montreal was to yield just two more as Raikkonen battled brake problems, with Lotus's E21 also struggling for grip. Meantime, Sebastian Vettel earned a win and second place to open up a 44-point lead.
Vettel looked formidable at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, something which will increase the sense of urgency at Enstone. Of course, there's no reason to suggest that the World Champion will be anything other than formidable again this weekend but, by the sounds of it, Lotus reckon they'll at least be able to mount a challenge. For one thing, Silverstone is a completely different track to the last two F1 has visited and its high-speed layout should better suit their car - all the more so if the large upgrade package they've promised delivers. The E21 is notably soft on its tyres, of course, while Lotus also have the consolation that the tyre construction is not now changing after teams failed to give Pirelli their unanimous support. I wonder who blocked that move?
Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean have different reasons for wanting good results. Kimi won the British GP in his title-winning year of 2007 while Grosjean showed a real turn of pace 12 months ago - but only after the inevitable first lap collision. Romain was questioning his luck in Montreal; Daniel Ricciardo might have something to say about that, but a strong showing for the Frenchman this weekend would also be a timely one.