The British Grand Prix marks the halfway stage in the 2010 Formula 1 season, and even without that little statistic it will be an important race for McLaren.
Despite having a car that was unable to match the qualifying speed of Red Bull’s RB6 at the start of the season, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton have kept themselves very much in the championship fight. And McLaren now faces the unique prospect of heading to Silverstone with two drivers who have not only won the last two titles, but are also both Brits. It’s going to be a huge weekend for all concerned.
“We’ve been there for the last few years with Lewis, who isn’t normally short of a bit of attention!” says team principal Martin Whitmarsh. “It’s a great event because it’s one of those races where you do really feel the fan base. They’re camped around the outside of the track, they’re knowledgeable, they’re enthusiastic and they’re passionate to a greater extent than you feel with many of the new circuits. So there’s a great atmosphere.
“And if our two drivers are competitive then I’m sure there will be fever-pitch attention. That’s positive, but obviously if you can create that amount of passion and interest, you don’t want to disappoint people. If you end up disappointing them then you feel worse about that.
“I’m sure they will feel the warmth and enthusiasm of all those fans, and both of them want to win their home Grand Prix, there’s no doubt about that. As we’ve seen recently, they want to win most Grands Prix!”
McLaren has a great history at Silverstone, dating back to Peter Revson’s win in 1973, a race made famous by the crash triggered by team-mate Jody Scheckter. Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt won the next two races at the track, before John Watson scored the first victory of the Ron Dennis era in 1981. Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen, Juan Pablo Montoya and of course Hamilton himself have all won in Northants.
“We’ve had some great races there, and so has Lewis, not just in F1,” says Whitmarsh. “Not many people will forget his GP2 performance in 2006 it was a fairly phenomenal race. For everyone it’s important. A large proportion of our staff will be there. Nowadays with the absence of testing, it’s the only time they will see the car running. With all their energies and passion and effort and time, it’s great that they can pop up the road and actually see it in action.”
The British Grand Prix has had something of a turbulent history, but the current long-term deal has saved it, and allowed circuit owner the BRDC and Silverstone’s management to plan ahead. All the locally-based F1 teams are delighted about that.
“The UK has been at the heart of F1, and Silverstone has in recent years been the focal point,” says Whitmarsh. “It’s good to have that stability. When you go to Silverstone you see the knowledgeable crowd, you see their enthusiasm and passion. It reminds you if you needed it that this is very much the home of Grand Prix racing, and we mustn’t, in our enthusiasm to embrace new circuits, new markets, new opportunities, forget how important the British GP is.
“It’s good to see some money being spent, good to see that there’s been a big commitment to holding the British GP. Unfortunately and inappropriately over the last few years there have continually been questions raised about whether it would feature in the longer term in the F1 calendar. Without those questions, or any other elements that destabilise the promotion of it, it will go from strength to strength.”
It may be a home race, but like everyone else McLaren has to get used to a circuit that now looks quite different.
“It’ll be interesting to see how we get on there,” says Whitmarsh. “They’ve taken out the complex that arguably didn’t do much for the circuit, and it seems to be a step in the right direction. Like all circuits and all corners it depends on precisely how it’s executed, what the corners are like, what the cambers are like, as to whether the changes throw up overtaking opportunities.
“Hopefully the new circuit will be a success, the drivers will like it, and the public. If it affords some overtaking then, with the other investment in facilities, it further establishes itself as a jewel in the F1 calendar.”