British Grand Prix:
the fastest corners in F1

British Grand Prix: the fastest corners in F1 01

Silverstone is all about the most demanding corners. But what does that mean exactly? This year, these will be some of the fastest corners in Formula 1 history – and in the whole history of motorsport. But that’s nothing new. Since Silverstone hosted the very first Formula 1 meeting in world championship history back in 1950, the defining characteristic of the British track was always its rapid speeds. This was largely down to the layout, based on a former airfield. Only five years earlier, the Wellington bombers of the RAF, took off and landed on its runways, en route to the Allied Forces victory that ended the Second World War.

After the war finished, a few corners and the perimeter roads were enough to turn Silverstone airfield into a racing circuit, allowing the British passion for cars and racing to be well and truly indulged.
Right from then – the very beginning – Silverstone was synonymous with speed. In a different way to Monza, where the cars have been exceeding 300kph on the pit straight since time immemorial, but the biggest corners were neutered by chicanes in the 1970s. At Silverstone, it’s precisely in the corners that the cars really fly. Wide corners, on asphalt that’s not necessarily millpond smooth, but still allows different trajectories and corrections, where the entire history of Formula 1 has been written. Pages and pages of it, also featuring cars that once had limited downforce and flat front wings, with drivers fuelled by optimism. These heroes were able to masterfully drift round corners in their rapid cars, which were light and sensitive to even the slightest gust of wind, requiring instant correction with a deft application of opposite lock.

British Grand Prix: the fastest corners in F1 02

In 1987, a full 32 years ago, the Williams of Nelson Piquet – powered by the mighty Honda turbo engine of the time – took the Brazilian to a pole position that almost stretched the bounds of credibility, at an astonishing average speed of 256.315kph. It was almost a knock-out blow for British pride, as the other Williams was in the hands of local hero Nigel Mansell, who had dominated the previous year’s British Grand Prix (held at Brands Hatch) and was fighting for the 1986 title right up to the moment when a tyre exploded at the final round of the season in Australia.
The 1987 Silverstone race turned out to become an unforgettable duel. Mansell had been delayed by a problem with a wheel earlier in the grand prix, and so was faced with the almost impossible task of clawing back several seconds from his team mate and nemesis Piquet, in exactly the same car. Somehow he managed it. He reeled in Piquet with unstoppable progress that was seemingly driven by demons, while his onboard computer advised the Englishman that, at this rate of fuel consumption, there was no way he would finish the race. Mansell disposed of Piquet with a textbook manoeuvre at more than 250kph through Stowe Corner. As the partisan crowd cheered him on, he sealed a momentous win with a fastest lap that exceeded an average speed of 246kph: a record that still stands today. After the chequered flag, Mansell stopped in the middle of the circuit…the petrol had finally run out.

And that takes us right up to today. The current Silverstone layout is 5891 metres long, as opposed to 4778 metres back then. That’s down to a new series of chicanes and slow corners that have been imposed on the old airfield. Yet despite a good extra kilometre of track, pole position a year ago (courtesy of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton) was set at an average speed of more than 246kph. Just like Mansell’s fastest race lap 32 years ago. Given that the trend so far this season has been for lap times that are even faster than one year ago, that benchmark could be lowered even further this year.
All this, as we were saying, with an increased number of slower sections and chicanes compared to the past – when there were basically just six straights connected by a handful of fearsome corners. But some of those corners still remain, and now the drivers are going through them even quicker than they were in the past. See why they are renowned as being the most demanding of the season.

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