The British Grand Prix at Silverstone. What a wonderful event it is, and what a race it was. As with so many things British, the weather played its part in a tumultuous weekend.
Ferrari is back in the game. Fernando Alonso began his day in the Ferrari 375 in which José Froilán González scored the Scuderia’s first Grand Prix victory at Silverstone in 1951, finally beating the previously all-conquering Alfa Romeos. That day González completed 90 laps in not much less than three hours, while 60 years on Alonso was home and dry after 52 laps in a little over 90 minutes.
The Commendatore would have been proud of the Scuderia in Northamptonshire. I wonder how much difference it has made to put Englishman Pat Fry in charge on the pitwall.
As has become my custom, I headed for the banks around the circuit from which you can best feel the cars, gauge the relative performances around this challenging track.
The man standing next to me had one of these new-fangled telephones which somehow receives the internet. So we knew roughly what was going on from our vantage point on the bank at Maggotts. Only the British could name a corner on their Grand Prix circuit after those horrid little squirmy things that some folk use for fishing bait…
To walk from Copse down to Maggotts and Becketts during qualifying is still one of the great motor racing moments. The noise, the speed, the way these cars change direction, the sheer grip produced by all that downforce. I mean, Copse and Maggotts are ‘easy’ flat in a balanced car with the weight of several small elephants pushing it into the asphalt.
The British GP at Silverstone survives as a very special sporting event because Formula 1 cars on this circuit are at the limit of their performance, demanding absolute precision from the drivers. Not wanting to get involved in the trek backwards and forwards from the new pits and paddock, I preferred to stand with my fellow fans and join in the banter about who looked quickest and who looked to be struggling for grip and balance. And here the British weather played its customary joker.
Practice on Friday was a washout. In the middle of July! So the teams went into Saturday with precious little meaningful tyre or fuel data. And then it rained again – in the last few minutes of Q3, if you please. At Maggotts we were the last to feel it. Red Bull captured the front row but Alonso lurked ominously close in a much-improved Ferrari. That evening the ever-enthusiastic Robert Dean, who looks after Bernie Ecclestone’s car collection, showed Signor Alonso the essentials of the 1951 Ferrari he was to drive on a parade lap on Sunday morning. Needless to say, the double World Champion was soon comfortable with clutch, gearbox and bump-starting the glorious red car. On Sunday he had it power-sliding. Forza!
Lots of good things happened at Silverstone. For us in the crowd, we can thank Damon Hill for encouraging the FIA to allow spectators onto the track after the race. It was a good move and a great end to a great day. In the paddock not everyone was happy. A hairline crack appeared in the perfection that has been Red Bull, the strain showing on the faces of Messrs Newey and Horner, mistakes in the pitlane and team orders visibly angering Mark Webber. And there was mounting frustration at McLaren, which has a lot of work to do to get back in the hunt. Neither driver is happy and, like Webber, must be considering their options. Meanwhile Ferrari, with a clearly defined number one driver and new updates pouring out of Maranello, won the race on pace, and not because the others fell over themselves. Intriguingly, its cars were fastest of all in the middle sector of a track that on paper suited Red Bull.
As this increasingly unpredictable season reaches half-time, Alonso is a staggering 92 points behind Vettel, but there’s half a season to run. Let’s just hope it’s all as thrilling as Sunday at Silverstone. The gloves are off, as are all bets. Anything can happen from here on in, blown diffusers or no blown diffusers.