British Grand Prix: Preview

The main attraction

It is in the middle of July that Silverstone becomes the mecca for many tens of thousands of British motor racing fans, for this is the only occasion each year when the current Formula One cars and drivers can be seen racing in this country. The weekend is about more than just one race, however. Although the Grand Prix is the main event there are at least a dozen other reasons for going to Silverstone.

One of the main attractions is the first event scheduled — pre-qualifying for the less fortunate F1 teams. Since this is the eighth Grand Prix of the year, the halfway point in the World Championship series, it is also the time when those teams which are obliged to go through this particular mill are about to be reassessed. In the meantime, however, the Brabhams of Martin Brundle and Stefano Modena will be out on the circuit at 8am on Friday morning, together with Alessandro Caffi in his Dallara, the Onyxes of Stefan Johansson and Bertrand Gachot, the Zakspeeds of Joachim Winkelhock and Aguri Suzuki, the Coloni of Pierre-Henri Raphanel, Gregor Foitek in the EuroBrun, Volker Weidler in the Rial and the Osellas of Piercarlo Ghinzani and Nicola Larini.

Ten of these names hardly ever crop up on our television screens, so this will be a rare chance to see what these cars and drivers are really capable of — whether they are nohopers or just always out of luck.

The pre-qualification period lasts for one hour and is followed by one hour of untimed practice for the four who pre-qualify plus the 26 other regulars. It is during this session that many drivers fine-tune their cars for the first official practice at 1pm.

The intervening hour-and-a-half is filled with off-track demonstrations, parades and a pit walkabout for centre-pass holders. Saturday morning follows the same schedule, but with the pre-qualification period replaced by a 90-minute pit-road walkabout, enough time for spectators to thin out and be able to watch teams working on their cars in the pits.

The Grand Prix itself commences at 2.30pm on Sunday, although the qualifiers will have been out on the track earlier in the day for a quick 30-minute warm-up session.

The round of the British Formula Three Championship which supports the British Grand Prix is an important event which is always worth watching, not least for Formula One tram managers. David Brabham, who did so well in Class B (for pre-1988 cars) last year, has moved up to Class A and immediately become a front runner, winning three races in his Bowman Racing Ralt-Volkswagen and building up a commanding lead in the series. After a slow start Allan McNish, winner of the national Formula Vauxhall-Lotus title in 1988, won two consecutive races at the end of May and the beginning of June to become Brabham's closest challenger in the points table.

McNish's team-mate at West Surrey Racing, Derek Higgins, has had a succession of good results in his Mugen-powered Ralt to be placed third, while Rickard Rydell and Alain Menu have both had mixed years to date but are capable of winning races.

In Class B Fernando Plata continues to stamp his authority on his rivals and should be a name worth watching for the future. There are qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday, with the race itself at 2.25pm that second afternoon.

The other single-seater race on the programme is a joint round of the GM Lotus Euroseries/Formula Vauxhall Lotus Championship. Gary Dunn has already lodged his claim to the British title with several wins, but Justin Bell, Anthony Reid and competitors from the European series such as Henrik Larsen (last year's runner-up) and Peter Kox (in the Opel Dealer Team Holland car) will be tough competition for him. Practice is on Friday and Saturday afternoon with the race on Sunday morning.

The remaining races are for tin-tops of various types, with a round of the British Touring Car Championship the most important. This year's series is very open, always close, always exciting, with a variety of race-winners having already emerged. This is the last event on the timetable at 4.30pm on Sunday, but is definitely worth waiting around to see.

There is also always a tough fight for overall honours in the Esso Metro Challenge. Reigning champion Peter Perret and Peter Baldwin are the front running duo, but Richard Hann, Stuart Senior and Carlos Gomes will be ready and eager to snap up any crumbs that may fall from the table. Practice is on Friday and the race on Saturday.

The remaining race on the agenda is for the Coupe de France Peugeot 309s, with practice on Friday and Saturday afternoons and the race at 11.55am on Sunday. They have a tough act to follow if they are to emulate the antics of the previous years' Europa Cup Renault GTAs, but should be an improvement on the rather dull Alfa Romeo 164 "Celebrity" races which are thankfully now a thing of the past.