Today’s race at Silverstone had a very different complexion to most others this year. Here I shall look at why that might be, eventually leading to a look forward to the next race in Germany.
It seems logical to start with the weekend’s big talking point: hot blown diffusers (HBD). Ewan Marshall has already covered this story in more depth here but in a later post-race interview on the BBC television coverage, Ferrari team manager Stefano Dominecali strongly indicated that Ferrari had not (until that point) gone along with the agreement to revert back to the previous ruling used at Valencia, whereby hot-blowing would still be allowed, but engine maps cannot be changed in between qualifying and the race. Sauber had made similar noises which might suggest that the Ferrari powerplant had lost out the least from the rulings, a conclusion supported by the speed shown by all 3 Ferrari engined teams this weekend. Ferrari won convincingly (with the biggest winning margin since the season opener at Melbourne); Sauber had enough speed to mix it with Mercedes, and despite a poor qualifying session Toro Rosso were not far off Renault in race pace today and were able to pick up a point.
However, concerning Ferrari themselves, a notion that all their newfound speed is purely as a result of the blown diffuser effect would not tell the whole story. They brought a large update to Silverstone with extensive modifications to the rear end of the car – the wing (and crucially DRS), diffuser, floor, suspension and exhausts all receiving upgrades – the potential effect of this cannot be ignored. Silverstone is a track with few braking areas and slow corners for the HBD effect to be seen and at the same time a lot of quick corners, which supposedly suited Red Bull’s car characteristics. Yet, Ferrari was still able to beat them today, and their upturn in speed last time out at Valencia would suggest that this is not a flash in the pan improvement either.
McLaren had mixed fortunes today, being very quick in the first section of the race in wet conditions, then fading slightly as the race wore on and the track dried out. In Lewis Hamilton’s case this may have been related to his fuel consumption issue, but I would offer the theory that their lack of ‘low-drag’ rear wing in a similar setup to what is seen on Red Bull and now Ferrari’s cars (which they tested in practice but didn’t race today), had an effect. In the wet they were very quick as in Canada, and their current rear wing would seem to help them in those conditions, but the penalty of a less effective DRS would certainly appear to peg them back in drier conditions where ultimate downforce perhaps isn’t as important as aerodynamic efficiency.
So taking what we can from today’s race, what might we expect in two weeks at the Nurburgring? I would say there is one key aspect to consider: the weather. Obviously it is hard to anticipate this at the best of times, and on top of that the weather is historically unpredictable at this circuit. If the HBD effect isn’t the entire story behind their improvement then Ferrari could easily be competing for victory on pure pace once again; however, they have struggled previously this season with warming up the tyres in colder conditions and on harder compounds (which, incidentally, did not have to be run today).
In spite of all this I think we can say it’s safe to look forward to the next race without merely expecting Red Bull to dominate proceedings. Great news for any neutrals in the F1 fanbase.