Friday, 4 July 2008

Donington to Host British Grand Prix from 2010!

The BRDC and British motor racing fans were given something of a shock today as Bernie Ecclestone announced that Donington Park would be the new home of the British Grand Prix from 2010 onwards. It appears next year's race will be the final Silverstone Grand Prix as Bernie has finally followed through on his repeated threats to take the GP away from Silverstone unless they commit to improving the circuit facilities.

It will be a massive disappointment to Damon Hill and the rest of the BRDC, who have been fighting tooth and nail to secure the funding to improve the track facilities enough to ensure the future of the GP. Silverstone held its very first Grand Prix back in 1950, and it has been a near permanent fixture on the F1 calendar ever since. It has a rich history in the sport, and it will be sorely missed by many. Corners like Copse and the Maggots/Becketts complex are some of the fastest and most thrilling of any F1 circuit, and have been favourites with fans and drivers for many years.

Donington Park last held a Grand Prix back in 1993, when it played host to the rain affected European Grand Prix, won spectacularly by Ayrton Senna. It is a very good circuit, and has held many GT races and MotoGP events over recent years. The facilities aren't yet anywhere near the standard required of an F1 circuit, and I'm sure the BRDC would argue that currently they are way behind Silverstone in that respect. However, there are concrete plans in place for the redevelopment of Donington over the next year, which no doubt proved convincing enough for Bernie.

"Finally the uncertainty is over. A contract has been signed with Donington Park and the future of the British Grand prix is now secure," said Ecclestone.

"We wanted a world class venue for Formula One in Britain, something that the teams and British F1 fans could be proud of.

"The major development plans for Donington will give us exactly that. A venue that will put British motor sport back on the map.

"I am sorry that we could not have helped Silverstone to raise the money to carry out the circuit improvements and run Formula One.

"I believe that the government should have supported them which would have cost probably less than .002% of the government's commitment for the Olympic Games."

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British Grand Prix: First Practice

At the end of a dry first practice session it was first blood to Ferrari and to championship leader Felipe Massa. He narrowly edged the McLaren duo of Hamilton and Kovalainen off the top spot, but his morning ended disastrously as his Ferrari ended up buried backwards in the safety barriers at Stowe corner, with half of its rear end missing. Certainly a dramatic start to proceedings at Silverstone!

The top three in the session, Massa, Kovalainen and Hamilton, were separated by less than five hundredths of a second, showing just how closely competitive the top two teams are at the moment. Kimi Raikkonen was a further three tenths back, and Robert Kubica another four behind him. Fernando Alonso again showed that the Renault has developed some real pace by finishing sixth in the session despite only completing seven laps. He was followed by Sebastien Vettel, who yet again showed that he is a real star in the making by comfortably beating all three of the other Red Bull stable cars.

There was a fair bit of on and off track action to keep the spectators entertained. Adrian Sutil tested out the strength of the Force India suspension by launching his car across the bumpy grass at Becketts. Thankfully the wishbones were up to the task and he was able to continue. David Coulthard had a hairy moment on the exit of Luffield whilst trying to get the power down on the grass, and Lewis Hamilton had plenty of his usual crowd pleasing opposite lock antics. Jarno Trulli had a spectacular 360 spin in the Brooklands Complex, but kept the Toyota on the black stuff.

However, the big moment of the session came with half an hour remaining. On the flat out run down the Hangar Straight towards Stowe Fernando Alonso's Renault engine detonated spectacularly, forcing him to pull off and retire from the session. As all eyes were on a furious Alonso and his stricken Renault car, Felipe Massa came storming down the straight. There must have been plenty of Alonso's oil on the track, as the moment Massa touched the brakes the car swapped ends violently. He was a passenger as the car was sent hurtling towards the barriers at about 150mph. He eventually hit the barriers hard in virtually the exact same place Michael Schumacher binned his Ferrari here in 1999, breaking his leg in two places. Fortunately Massa sustained no injuries to speak of as the car impacted rear end first. The same could not be said for his car however, as the right rear side of the car suffered massive damage. It will be interesting to see whether Massa will need and kind of gearbox or engine change after this, which could potentially ruin his race. It will also be interesting to hear what Massa has to say about the Silverstone marshalls, as there appeared to be no yellow and red flags being flown to warn him of the possible danger...

Practice One Times

01. Massa Ferrari 1:19.575
02. Kovalainen McLaren 1:19.587 + 0.012
03. Hamilton McLaren 1:19.623 + 0.048
04. Raikkonen Ferrari 1:19.948 + 0.373
05. Kubica BMW 1:20.367 + 0.792
06. Alonso Renault 1:20.436 + 0.861
07. Vettel Toro Rosso 1:20.588 + 1.013
08. Piquet Renault 1:20.653 + 1.078
09. Coulthard Red Bull 1:20.698 + 1.123
10. Rosberg Williams 1:20.744 + 1.169
11. Webber Red Bull 1:20.892 + 1.317
12. Glock Toyota 1:21.102 + 1.527
13. Heidfeld BMW 1:21.107 + 1.532
14. Bourdais Toro Rosso 1:21.166 + 1.591
15. Trulli Toyota 1:21.265 + 1.690
16. Nakajima Williams 1:21.282 + 1.707
17. Button Honda 1:21.901 + 2.326
18. Sutil Force India 1:22.169 + 2.594
19. Fisichella Force India 1:22.219 + 2.644
20. Barrichello Honda 1:24.123 + 4.548
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British Grand Prix: Preview

With McLaren-Mercedes licking their wounds after two mallings in two consecutive races, first at the hands of BMW and then by Ferrari, they will be seeing their 'home' Grand Prix as the perfect opportunity to fight back. Young Brit Lewis Hamilton has lost vital ground in the driver's championship, and the McLaren team has fallen massively off the pace in the constructor's standings. They need to win, and they need to win big in front of their home fans if they are to get their title aspirations back on track.

Ferrari meanwhile have cruised to the top of both standings after their near faultless 1-2 finish in the French Grand Prix last time out. Massa will be strong favourite to emerge from Silverstone with his championship lead intact, and it would take a near miracle for BMW to overhaul Ferrari's advantage in the constructor's championship. Kimi Raikkonen will take an engine swap after his exhaust failure in the closing stages of the French GP, but will avoid a 10 place penalty after the added clemency this year's rules provide with regards to engine changes. Every body gets one free swap per season, so Kimi will not risk taking any chances with the engine that took such a pounding in Magny-Cours.

Much of the media spotlight inevitably has fallen upon Lewis Hamilton after two fairly disastrous races in a row, but even more so here as this is his home Grand Prix. With David Coulthard in a midfield Red Bull and Jenson Button in a catatonicly slow Honda, all British hopes lie with the McLaren driver with the possibility of being the first Englishman to win here since Johnny Herbert back in 1995. He showed very well in testing here last week, just to raise hopes that little bit further. There's no denying he has the talent to win here, and he may well have the car to win. A nation expects. No pressure then kiddo!

Of course, McLaren aren't the only British based team on the grid. Williams, Red Bull, Renault, Honda and Force India all run their F1 operations out of the UK. Indeed, Force India's factory is a mere stone's throw away from the Silverstone pit lane. With most of the staff of these teams present at the circuit on race day to cheer their drivers on, and combined with the rich history of the event, it is one of the races that the teams would dearly love to win.

Few of these teams have a chance unfortunately. However, the real fairy tale ending on Sunday would be for Red Bull's David Coulthard to win his third British Grand Prix. On Thursday he announced that he would be retiring at the end of this season. You couldn't imagine a better way for him to bow out of the sport than by winning his last ever home Grand Prix.

While the chances of that are clearly rather slim, one factor that could make it a slight possibility is the prospect of rain. The British "summertime" is in full swing in early July so, naturally, cool temperatures and intermittent heavy rain have been predicted all weekend long. It should be noted that rain was predicted for the past two races, and it never really came. But if it's going to happen anywhere it's most likely to be in the changeable climes of Great Britain! It could really mix things up come race day, and in qualifying too, so the potential for a shock result or two is definitely there.

So, will this be the start of a great McLaren fightback? Or will this be the weekend that Ferrari really started to engrave their name into both trophies again?
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