JULY 6, 2010
Silverstone will answer key championship questions
This weekend's British Grand Prix should answer important questions as to how the rest of the 2010 world championship will develop.
Red Bull Racing's RB6 has clearly been the most impressive car of the season to date but neither the team nor its drivers head their respective world championship tables as the season approaches its halfway stage.
McLaren and Ferrari have been the team's principal rivals and it is the former which has taken full advantage whenever weather or inter-team issues has derailed Red Bull.
Ferrari got off to a winning start in Bahrain but then mechanical issues and driver errors, such as Alonso's jump start in China and crash in Monaco practice, have conspired against the team, as did circumstances in Valencia.
In Spain Ferrari debuted its 'blown' diffuser system, which improves the efficiency of the diffuser by blowing the exhaust gases through it, something which Red Bull has done since the start of the season. The Spanish street track, however, is not the kind of circuit where the most significant gains from such a system are likely to be had. Silverstone though, even with a new layout, will place a premium on downforce.
Therefore, not only should we be able to gauge the true performance level of Ferrari's F10, but also McLaren which, along with Williams, will debut a blown diffuser at Silverstone.
"We are hopeful that it will put us right up there and make us competitive in most situations," defending champion Jenson Button said in Valencia, and they were sentiments echoed by team principal Martin Whitmarsh.
Estimates of the gains to be had from a blown diffuser at Silverstone have been put at as much as 0.6-0.7s per lap, although Red Bull's Christian Horner believes it is less than that.
Red Bull dominated Silverstone with its excellent RB5 last year and will go into the Northamptonshire weekend quietly confident of being able to do the same again. It's not just the blown diffuser which is key to the RB6's performance level. The car, uniquely, has pull-rod rear suspension which has allows the team to optimise diffuser size and performance, something that the others have not been able to copy.
Mercedes and Renault also brought blown diffusers to Valencia and Silverstone will better reveal the ultimate potential of those systems. Mercedes had to go backwards after overheating aero components in Spain and has also experienced problems getting a qualifying time out of its car on the softer of Bridgestone's two compounds. The race pace has been more competitive but the cars are starting too far back.
In summary, if Red Bull has a close fight on its hands at Silverstone, the team will know it is in for a rough ride for the rest of the year, from McLaren in particular. But if the team dominates as much as it did last year, the rest will need to push the envelope of the relentless development race more than ever.