When Lewis Hamilton spins at Silverstone you know something strange is happening.
And he is not alone in practice and qualifying for the British Grand Prix.
There are spinners at several spots around the circuit, as Alex Albon flies into the wall and lots of drivers are kicking up dust and junk as they run out of space on their hot laps.
The latest-generation of grand prix hypercars are clearly on-edge at one of the fastest circuits on the (condensed) calendar, where they are often cornering at better than 220km/h.
The history of Silverstone has always been about aircraft and nothing has changed, although the reversal of technology means F1 cars are using their wings to create downforce and grip while the World War II bombers that operated from the runways were looking for lift and flight.
Aerodynamics is the dark art of Formula One in the 21st century, even if the latest turbo hybrid power-plants make better than 750 kiloWatts to launch the cars down the long Silverstone straights.
Every car has dozens of sensitive and carefully crafted pieces to ’shape’ and ‘condition’ the air flowing under, around and over the car and – eventually – its wings and rear diffuser.
Silverstone brings things into sharp perspective as drivers and teams report the difficulty of handling the cars on a circuit where the lap average is faster than 230km/h and they top 300km/h.
“Quite tricky conditions,” Dan Ricciardo says after running his Renault RS20 to eighth on the grid.
The difficulty comes as no surprise because Silverstone is flat and open, perfect for WWII bombers but less ideal for sensitive and twitchy F1 cars.
Even the giant new pitlane complex at Silverstone is called The Wing.
“At this track, there can be a headwind, tailwind and crosswind all at different parts of the circuit, so it’s like juggling balls whilst you are on a moving plate,” says Hamilton.
“Qualifying is a lot about building confidence and after that spin in Q2, I had to take some deep breaths, compose myself and mentally reset – especially knowing Valtteri was putting in fast lap after fast lap.”
The wind makes things tough because a headwind gives better grip on turn-in, a tailwind can lift approach speeds unexpectedly, and a crosswind can upset the critical cornering balance.
“It was difficult to find the optimum balance of the car today, and that affected us in the first sector – we lost a little bit of time there in qualifying. The temperature and wind conditions were different today and were quite changeable, so that was a challenge to work around as well,” says Lance Stroll.
It’s not just the drivers who know about the challenge of Silverstone, although Red Bull boss Christian Horner can also draw on his personal experience of the track when he was racing single-seaters.
“The wind has a massive impact on the aero of these cars and their performance which can unsettle the car and in turn the driver,” he says.
His superstar driver, Max Verstappen, agrees.
“The wind is a big factor here and these cars are very sensitive to that. Yesterday it was really tricky with the low-speed corners but we are still learning about the car and trying to improve it. I think we have found a good direction, it seems more predictable this weekend and it was a lot of fun to drive today,” says Verstappen.
He is third on the grid and the driver most likely to challenge the front-row Mercedes racers of perennial pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, although the Racing Point cars of Stroll and super-sub Nico Hulkenberg are also expected to advance from their grid slots.
“I’m happy with P3 and it gives us a fighting chance for tomorrow, so I hope we can get a clean start and keep the pressure up. I don’t think there was much more I could do but let’s see tomorrow. We will try to score some good points, at least stay in third, but we always hope for a little bit more,” says Verstappen.
BRITISH GRAND PRIX
|3||Max Verstappen||Red Bull|
|6||Lance Stroll||Racing Point|
|12||Alexander Albon||Red Bull|
|13||Nico Hulkenberg||Racing Point|
|16||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo|
|17||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo|
|20||George Russell (Penalty)||Williams|