Anyone pinning their hopes on things being straightforward for home favourite Lewis Hamilton at next week’s British Grand Prix, should think again. That was the stark warning from Ferrari after the British ace took centre stage on the final day of a crucial three-day test at Silverstone.
Kimi Raikkonen reigned supreme in Britain last year after he cantered to victory in a car that couldn’t have been better suited to the flowing high-speed corners that shape the Northamptonshire track much to the agony of legions of British fans.
One year on and the signs from testing this week are that McLaren have significantly closed the gap to their Italian rivals. It didn’t show in the traffic in Magny-Cours of course, but the Woking squad estimate that the upgrades introduced for the French Grand Prix designed to improve the handling of the car in the high-speed direction changes yielded over two tenths of a second in lap time.
Today in testing though, the improvement was plain to see. Hamilton’s fastest lap of 1m 19.170 around the demanding 5.141km circuit almost a second quicker than his pole-position lap last year catapulted him to the top of the timesheets where he stayed, unchallenged, for the rest of the day, despite an unusually high number of red flag periods hampering the drivers’ running.
The best Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen could manage was a 1m 20.321, over a second slower than Hamilton and on-par with Felipe Massa’s best efforts on the opening two days of running.
The gap is inevitably closer, of course. Not only are fuel-loads near on impossible to predict, Raikkonen also had a significant edge over team-mate Felipe Massa in France and it is unlikely that the gap has suddenly disappeared at a track that is similar in its characteristics.
As Hamilton’s partisan crowd left the track buoyed by seeing their man on top of things again after a nightmarish few weeks in the press, Ferrari issued a stark warning to their Woking rivals ahead of next week’s British Grand Prix.
“We have shown that we can beat everyone everywhere,” Ferrari’s team spokesman told Forumula1.com as he left the track. “It is a matter of getting it right,” he added, alluding to races such as Monaco and Canada where bad luck and wrong choices hampered the team.
“We’ve done a good job in the three days of testing and we should be ready for the race weekend. We have to see next week, but it will be very close with our main opponents.”
The threat that Ferrari pose to McLaren at Silverstone, however much improved the MP4-23 may be in the high-speed corners, remains potent as Heikki Kovalainen is all too aware.
“One thing is for sure,” he told Forumula1.com, “they’re going to very competitive, they’re going to be very strong; they had a great pace in Magny Cours.”
“I think this year we’ve already seen that the last good result doesn’t necessarily mean that much. I think that where Ferrari was weak last year they’ve been strong this year and vice versa.”
With a points deficit of thirty three in the constructors’ championship, McLaren must score strongly if they to keep in touch with BMW Sauber, let alone Ferrari. But priority number one is getting Lewis Hamilton’s championship campaign back on the rails. And where better to do it than Silverstone.