The British Grand Prix [ Images ] is the local race for Force India [ Images ], but for the engineers it's been a particularly interesting period as a track they know so well now has a very different look to it, with a new sequence of corners added, and kerbs changed elsewhere.
Force India's chief race engineer Dominic Harlow reveals how the team has prepared for the new challenge at the revamped Silverstone circuit.
There are obviously a lot of changes to Silverstone. What do you when you're going to a new or rebuilt track?
We received the data several months ago, and we've done our normal simulations. The main factor is creating a circuit 'curvature,' in other words a driver line. The simulations simply drive round the line you've given them as quickly as possible -- it's not like a driver who can try different things and re-optimise the line. But that will tell us quite a lot about the quickest way round in terms of the wing level, the set-up, and what the braking demands will be. We also get a good idea of the fuel consumption. Those are the basic things that we study and try to understand.
And then you add the driver to the mix?
Yes, the next thing on the agenda is the driver-in-loop simulation, where a 3D circuit map is created by a survey, including some of the surrounding features, and the driver tries it in a simulator. The driver is able to experiment a bit more with the lines and address potential handling or set-up issues that he's going to have with the circuit.
So what have you learned about the new Silverstone layout?
We predict a lap time in the 1m30s, and an average speed very similar to the previous track -- maybe a fraction faster, but nothing significant. So it's still going to be very quick, and I think that makes it the quickest circuit apart from Monza, up there with Spa. It still requires a reasonably high downforce level, perhaps a little less than before, but we'll start with the old Silverstone baseline set-up. It's also still relatively easy on brakes. The straights are reasonably long now -- effectively you have got three straights where you will be comfortably over 300km/h. In the new section there's a little bit of gradient now, which is perhaps a new thing for Silverstone.
Has the layout created any new overtaking opportunities?
The drivers think that Brooklands could be a corner where you might be able to overtake. The problem is that it's got quite an open entry, so you'll be braking and turning, and sometimes that can make it trickier. But equally there's a chance of a mistake from the guy ahead. I don't know about the new complex, because you've got that very quick change of direction before it.
The VJM03 is the best car the team has taken to Silverstone for many years. Are you confident that it will be competitive?
We had a factory briefing on Friday, talking about the race. We've set out this year not just to be hotshots at Spa and Monza. We would still like to be good there, and we were quite happy with Canada [ Images ] on lower downforce. But for Silverstone we don't have any particular weakness. It's going to be about the competition, how well people adapt to the new circuit and the recent changes to their cars, and whether they play into the hands of the quick corners or not.
Do you have anything new on the car?
Yes, we have good little package, similar to what we took to Valencia. It's just a front-to-back re-optimisation, bits on the front wing, bits on the floor, the usual downforce and efficiency stuff. The car is still moving forward.
Silverstone is obviously the local race. Does that make it more fun or motivate you more?
We try very hard wherever we go, and it's quite easy to get lost when you are travelling in the F1 circus. When you're in the paddock you don't always know what part of the world you are in! But for the people at the factory I think there's an added buzz, because they can see it all going on around them and they get to see the cars. We can use our factory or a bit of an extension of the paddock, and we do a lot of TV and media things there during race week. It all ramps up.
Silverstone is also the half way point of the season. What's your verdict so far?
We've scored points in all but one race, which is as good as anybody ahead of us, and better than anybody behind. Under the old system, we've scored one point less than we did in the whole of 2009, and we're only half way through. And we've finished 15 out of the 18 starts, and again that's on a par with Renault [ Images ] ahead of us. We'll continue with the target of pushing the fifth place team as hard as we can. Everything is still to play for. The teams behind us are still going to be coming up, and we've got to carry on challenging those ahead. At this point in the year you always start to think about 2011, and that adds another element as well. We've got to think about being better next year.
Photograph: Force India