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All involved in the British Grand Prix on Sunday will be determined to put on a top-class show. After all the uncertainties of the race’s future at Silverstone and the recent farce of the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis, nothing less will suffice.
The Indianapolis affair last month, when Formula One proved unable to find a solution to a crisis regarding the safety of the Michelin tyres and the race took place with just the six Bridgestone cars, was a moment of collective madness that the sport's leading figures are still coming to terms with. The aftershocks continue in the F1 paddock, with FIA president Max Mosley seemingly at odds with most teams and several drivers.
But on the track the prospects for the weekend look bright. Mosley has released the results of a survey that showed, among other things, that Silverstone is the third most popular circuit among F1 fans, over 90 per cent of whom feed their addiction solely through television.
Indianapolis apart, however, this has been a vintage season and the signs are that after six years of domination by Michael Schumacher, one of the bright young stars will depose him as champion this year.
Fernando Alonso has won five of the season's 10 races so far, with Renault team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella also winning one. Alonso's main title rival, McLaren’s' Kimi Raikkonen, has won three races with Michael Schumacher the only other driver to register a victory, at the discredited US race.
That apart, Ferrari have struggled to make an impression this year. Schumacher was outstanding at the fourth race in Imola, almost two seconds a lap faster than Alonso in the middle phase of the race. This indicated that the 2005 chassis on its Bridgestone tyres might be just as dominant a package as last year's, but since then that level of form has not been seen. . At Magny Cours in France last weekend, Ferrari were at a loss to explain why Schumacher was over a minute behind Alonso after 70 laps of racing.
“The drivers were pushing hard but the car wasn't responding,” said team technical director Ross Brawn.
It is never one thing in F1 which makes a team lose its competitive edge. Ferrari's success was based on continuity, but several significant changes have occurred in the Ferrari organisation since last year and together they have added up to a drop in performance.
Jean Todt, the team boss, was promoted to head of the Ferrari road car division as well, resulting in crucial tasks being delegated to others. Rory Byrne, the chief designer, handed over the design of this year's car to his number two Aldo Costa and there have been niggling problems with the model.
Ferrari's bulletproof reliability has also been hit, with five retirements in 10 races and the gearbox has been a particular problem. And Bridgestone did not react as aggressively as Michelin to the challenge of the new tyre rules, which call for tyres to perform over a single lap in qualifying and keep going over the 200-mile race distance. Bridgestone is a more conservative company and its focus has been on ensuring that the tyres last the distance, so dynamic single-lap qualifying performance has suffered. But then Michelin paid a heavy price for its strategy when its tyres proved unsafe at Indianapolis.
This weekend's race is likely to favour McLaren, according to Alonso. “McLaren was very quick at the recent test,” said the 23-year-old Spaniard. “They are stronger on the high-speed corners. Silverstone is not the perfect place for our car, which is strong in braking and acceleration. A podium is our maximum target for the weekend.”
With a 24-point margin over Raikkonen and 29 over Schumacher, he can afford to play the percentage game this weekend.
James Allen is ITV Sport’s lead F1 commentator
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