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Race Day : July 13th 1997

Ferrari expected to fly, whilst young pretenders lust for glory at the 32nd British Grand Prix

The major focus of attention at Silverstone this weekend will be the battle for pole position, as the Ferrari-Williams encounter is reopened on home turf and the McLaren, Benetton and Jordan teams strive for a slice of the victory pie.

For the Jordan team, located a mere 50 yards from the circuit gates, it should be a straight forward event. "The British Grand Prix is very different to the other races," explained Boss Eddie Jordan. "not simply because it is our home, but because of the historical connections. Eddie Jordan racing was the first team to set up at Silverstone in 1980 and the Grand Prix acts as a reminder of how far we have come since then. It is also the closest race to Ireland so we have a huge number of fans who come to see us."

Silverstone is not favoured by drivers as their circuit of choice. Windy and bleak, at times, desolate and lacking in the picturesque qualities that make circuits like Spa and Imola so ‘user friendly’, it is first and foremost a ‘high speed’ track and despite subsequent redesigning of some corners, it still remains one of the fastest.

Both Crystal Palace and Brooklands - which held the first ever Grand Prix in 1926 - were already falling into disrepair and a new venue was badly needed to accommodate the ever increasing demands of faster cars. Built on an old airfield leased from the Air Ministry in 1948, the first track laid out over the straight runways and perimeter roads was a rather makeshift affair with the pits in nearby farm buildings and the 3.7 mile circuit marked out with hay bales. By 1949, with a chicane added at Club Corner, the basic layout was formed and on May 13th of the following year, the first officially designated Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe took place in front of no lesser nobility then King George IV himself. The race was won by the Alfa Romeo of Nino Farina who would dominate the season to become World Champion.

The pits were eventually relocated to the runway between Copse Corner and Woodcote and the track resurfaced. By 1961 the British Racing Drivers Club purchased the lease outright, the track alternating with Aintree from1955 til 1973 when the much friendlier circuit at Brands Hatch hosted the even years up until 1986. A chicane was added at Woodcote in 1975 after a major start finish pile up, triggered by Jody Scheckter at Woodcote, eliminated seven teams at a stroke. The chicane itself was replaced in 1988 by a short dog leg which was unpopular with the drivers as it completely changed the rhythm of the circuit. Further modifications carried out last year, re-aligned Copse and opened up both Priory and Brooklands aiding a faster entry through Luffield and Woodcote corner which by now had become a sweeping right hander. With tunnels and bridges added and a new Press centre, Silverstone has become the premier motor racing circuit in Britain and has exclusive rights to the British Grand Prix well into the Millennium, leaving the spectator friendly circuits of Brands and Donnington to lesser automotive activities.

Memorable for several firsts, Silverstone saw both Ferrari and Williams take their maiden Grand’s Prix in 1951 and 1979 respectively. It also marked the first appearance of a Turbo charged engine in the Renault of Jean-Pierre Jabouille and the race debuts of Gilles Villeneuve in a McLaren and Patrick Tambay in an Ensign Ford. It was also the scene of Johnny Herbert’s first GP win, in a Benneton in 1995.

Extensive testing has been carried out at the circuit by most teams and already Damon Hill’s pole position last year of 1.26.87 has been bettered by almost 5 and a half seconds by fastest Jordan driver Giancarlo Fisichella with a 1.21.44s. Jordan’s Technical director Gary Anderson says of the new configurations, "The circuit is far better than last year. It is faster and more of a driver’s circuit, with excellent quick sections. The surface is a little mixed, as the resurfaced areas have lots of grip and other areas do not. Aerodynamically we don’t have a problem on areas which lack grip." Regarding tyres he continued, "The problems Giancarlo experienced in France when he could not get his tyres up to temperature should not occur here because the first section is all fast corners. In addition the slow section before the start of the lap gives the drivers the confidence to push."

The big question is, has Williams put anything into it’s bag of tricks that will be the equal of the Ferrari? Boss Frank Williams must surely bring an early autumn to Jacques Villeneuve’s silly season. With Ferrari holding both Constructors and Driver’s Championship cards, and looking extremely strong for a fifth win this year, it has to be down to the Didcot outfit to fly the British flag. There seems little likelihood of current World Champion Damon Hill doing it in his beleaguered Arrows A18 despite his legion fans that will no doubt form the greater part of the 100,000 expected for race day.

Jordan will be confident for obvious reasons but with the recently announced Mugen Honda tie up for the next two seasons, they will be anxious to leave Peugeot with style.

David Coulthard, so unjustly out of the points both in France and Montreal for McLaren, will do his utmost to reverse his unlucky streak as will both Benetton drivers. Whether Alex Wurz, who is proving to be an exceptionally talented addition to boss Flavio Briatore’s stable, gets to stand in yet again for the ailing Gerhard Berger, remains to be seen, but having upstaged team mate Jean Alesi in both his outings, he looks a sure fire bet for the Frenchman’s seat next season.

The young pretenders are now coming on stream and podium places can not be ruled out for the excellent Jarno Trulli having the time of his life ‘driving’ in, for the injured Olivier Panis in the Prost Mugen Honda and Ralf Schumacher hungry now for the number one slot after having tasted the Champagne.

The Jordan will be running a new EV5 version of the Peugeot and sporting new sponsorship in the shape of the locally based Nationwide Building Society. Jordan is indeed the team to watch for next year. Stewart Ford are also running a new improved Project 7 engine "aimed at increasing the top end power of the engine while retaining driveability." Tyrrell’s recent problems are under sharp scrutiny from team engineers and computer experts, urgently seeking to identify and eradicate the bug which caused onboard computers on both cars to shut down all the control systems during the French Grand Prix.

Class of the field will not necessarily be the Williams Renault despite a new evolution V10 to be used for qualifying. It may get them to the front of the grid, but if the changes promised by Ferrari - which include a narrower rear wing, revised suspension geometry and the Step 2 V10 - move the Prancing Horse in the direction that it has been going all season, then the boys in blue will indeed be seeing red. It is also useful that the Ferrari is the only car of that hue, as all the spectators will see of it, especially along the back Hanger straight will be a scarlet blur, but enough to know that if all goes well, the Scuderia will have another race in the bag by close of play and Williams will be wiping even more pasta from their collective faces. Villeneuve will have the craving for victory too, but maybe not the head. A fast race is expected and provided the rain and wind stays away, a Battle Royal should be expected.


Chris Richardson


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