For many, this year's Formula 1 World Championship has been leading up to this point, or at least it has been since Lewis Hamilton first triumphed at the Canadian Grand Prix last month, for this weekend heralds the most eagerly anticipated British Grand Prix for years.

With tales of woe and worry surrounding the future of Britain's 'home of motorsport' all too often causing the black ink to flow in the newspapers, even Silverstone's foremost critic Bernie Ecclestone will have to be impressed by the expected sell-out crowd due to swell the grandstands and cheer that man - this is the 'Lewis Hamilton effect' in full force.

Indeed, there is nothing like a new sports hero to get the tills ringing, with Hamilton's triumph in Montreal creating a flurry of interest from the most dedicated to many fleeting of fans. It all serves to make Silverstone very much the centre of interest for the British media that have been spouting endless superlatives in the past month at arguably the nation's most precocious new talent at the moment.

One thing is for sure though, whatever the result, Hamilton will leave Silverstone with at least a three point lead in the standings after his eighth straight podium in France.

Even so, fans will only want to see one result - and if he wins this race on the way to the claiming the championship, it is likely to be an 'I was there' moment for the thousands set to make the trip to Northamptonshire.

The nation waits with bated breath....

FIA F1 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP NEWS

Has the pendulum in this year's championship switched yet again? It certainly appeared so in France after Ferrari used the break between races to turn around a significant deficit in performance at Indianapolis to a dominant display in Magny-Cours.

Although McLaren insist the gap between the two teams was perhaps exaggerated by various factors, Ferrari looked far more confident in France and they insist this pace is here to stay. So is the advantage with Ferrari now? With just a week between races in France and Great Britain, Silverstone is likely to answer that very question...

Meanwhile, away from the circuit, both McLaren and Ferrari are embroiled in an increasingly curious legal battle over various actions that have led to Nigel Stepney being sacked by the Italian team. On the same day, McLaren announced they too had suspended a key figure for a similar reason. Although the circumstances behind the two dismissals remain largely under wraps it threatens to cast a shadow over the teams this weekend.

NEWS FROM THE TEAMS:

McLaren - Fernando Alonso (#1), Lewis Hamilton (#2):

Always a popular attraction at the British Grand Prix regardless thanks to their obvious home grown roots, not to mention their success in the past, Lewis Hamilton's role means the Silverstone stands are likely to be awash with silver and a dash of red - that is if McLaren are willing to provide branded raincoats...

Indeed, Hamilton dubs this weekend's race as the most important of his season, but if it is pressure he is worried about than his performances under the spotlight recently would seem to suggest he revels rather than crumbles when the going gets tough - arguably a sign of a true star...

"Without a doubt, the Santander British Grand Prix will be the biggest race of the year for me, as it's my debut home race. It is going to be another new experience, I expect the atmosphere will be incredible and I cannot wait to race in front of my home fans. To win at this race would be immense, but we have to be realistic with our expectations. This is one race out of 17 and as with all the grands prix, I will do my best to win for the fans, but the most important thing for them is to enjoy the whole weekend whatever the result will be. Silverstone always seems to have great races."

A third win of the season is in the offing though and while most home drivers often claim the home support will lift them up, Hamilton can also back that up with form at the Silverstone. This was particularly evident last year when he introduced himself to the British stage for the first time with a mesmerising double win in GP2 - his three abreast passing move at Becketts arguably topping anything his Formula 1 'superiors' produced that weekend, or even possibly that season.

"I certainly had fun here last year as you can really push the limits. That weekend with GP2 last year is something I will never forget; the response from the crowd was like nothing I had ever experienced before and I can't wait to get back out on track."

Another popular driver for the British crowd in the past, Fernando Alonso has revealed a slightly sour side of him recently that has not played too well amongst those Brits who supported him at Renault. Still, Alonso's own performances mirror this because while the pace to match Hamilton is certainly there, the consistency doesn't seem to be - and that is the quality that arguably took Alonso to those two world titles.

Magny-Cours was a case point, although in fairness much of that was out of his control. His tussle with Nick Heidfeld probably said more about Heidfeld's sheer defensive skills than it did about Alonso's failure to overtake soon enough, but seventh is hardly a result he was pleased with.

Indeed, while Silverstone is a strong circuit for Alonso and he won there last year, if the Spaniard does not have the entire team focus on him - which he is unlikely to do so this weekend - he will have to dig deep within himself to deny the pretender to his throne on the most crucial psychological stage possible.

"After the race at Magny-Cours, which was always going to be challenging following qualifying, we came away with a decent result considering and we are now focusing on a more positive weekend at the Santander British Grand Prix. Silverstone has always been a special race for me as it is one of the biggest grands prix of the year and has a unique atmosphere.

"The fans have a big passion and knowledge for the sport; and it is always a pleasure to race in front of the British crowd. This is even more the case this year as it will be the first time in front of lots of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes employees who will be attending the race; it definitely gives extra motivation. It was a special win for me last year; it was very competitive and tough, but that is always the way at Silverstone. It is great fun to race here as there are some great corners."

Renault - Giancarlo Fisichella (#3), Heikki Kovalainen (#4):

After a not so happy homecoming at Magny-Cours, Silverstone marks Renault's second home grand prix in just a week as they make the short trip from Enstone to Northamptonshire.

More points came in France courtesy of Giancarlo Fisichella, but while his sixth place finish may have been relatively underwhelming under the scope of their performances there in previous years, fifth and sixth on the grid for both himself and Heikki Kovalainen actually marked the team's best qualifying effort of the year.

Although Kovalainen's race was ended on the second corner of the race when he was side-swiped by a rather over-eager Jarno Trulli, Fisichella stayed on track for sixth, a watching, but futile, distance away from those in front. At least he had the satisfaction of leading Alonso over the line...

With the R27 seemingly cured of the balance issues that blighted its start to the season, Fisichella is confident he will have the pace to take the fight to their ultimate rivals, BMW.

"My thoughts of Silverstone are quite positive. Firstly, for the weekend itself: it is another home race for us after Magny-Cours, with all the people from the factory at Enstone coming to support the team. So of course, a good result for them would be special.

"Also, we have shown in the last few races that we are closing the gap, and we are in the fight. When you are in a situation like that, you want to be racing every weekend, to try and make that little bit more progress. Our fight will be with BMW again, and the target has to be to finish ahead of them."

Kovalainen meanwhile has also got Renault's German rivals in his sights, the Finn enjoying a prolonged run of form that has seen him start living up to the expectations placed upon him at the beginning of the year.

"We can go there in a good frame of mind. The test two weeks ago went very well, so we have a good baseline set-up for practice on Friday. As always, we will be looking to do the maximum, and I think we have a good opportunity to score points.

"France was a tough race, but I believe that our basic performance showed that we are gaining momentum all the time, as we improve the car. We are still recovering from the start to the season, and moving forwards. Hopefully that process will continue again this weekend."

Furthermore, he has a good record at Silverstone stretching back to his British Formula 3 days, but also in Formula Renault and GP2.

"I suppose so, yes. I won my first Formula Renault race here, and in 2002 won the Grand Prix support meeting in F3. I had two podiums in GP2 in 2005, but you know, none of that counts for anything in F1. You get results through hard work, and making sure you have the best car possible for every lap of the race. Nothing will come for free just because I have done well here in the past."

Ferrari - Felipe Massa (#5), Kimi Raikkonen (#6):

In some ways out of the blue given the hammering they suffered at the hands of McLaren at Monaco, Montreal and Indianapolis, Ferrari's resounding 1-2 finish in France is testament to a team so not used to being humbled that the only way to react was to turn the tables back around.

While Kimi Raikkonen's much needed win came at the expense of an unlucky Felipe Massa, the result has soothed the lacklustre form that has seen the Scuderia slip way behind their rivals in the constructors' standings without so much as an explanation.

As is often the case though, the three-week break gave Ferrari the chance to refocus and regroup, their response producing their first 1-2 result since the end of the Schumacher era. Massa admits though that he was somewhat robbed by traffic in France and is keen to redress the balance at Silverstone, something he is confident of doing given that he believes Ferrari have the edge on McLaren again now.

"We come to Silverstone and the British Grand Prix and I think it will be very good for us. We have a car that is fantastic on this track and it was very quick all through the test we did there before the French race. I am convinced we will again have a very competitive car. Of course, we need to keep an eye on McLaren, but I think we could have a little bit of an edge over them.

"There is a good chance we will have to cope with a wet track this weekend and I like to drive in the rain, even though a wet track can make things a bit of a lottery. Whatever the conditions, I am sure we can be very competitive. Overtaking will again be very difficult at this circuit, almost impossible in fact, but all the same it is a great track to drive and one of the most challenging of the season for us drivers, with some very fast corners. For my driving style and my experience of quick corners, I love the challenge of Silverstone, which reminds of other great fast tracks like Spa."

Following a nondescript run of form that had seen him tumble from the highs the first round in Australia brought, Raikkonen's French win restored some confidence in himself, the team and the media that had been placing question marks on his desire. Silverstone is another strong circuit for him too having recorded a podium there in the last four years.

Honda - Jenson Button (#7), Rubens Barrichello (#8):

A muted cheer went up in the Honda paddock when Jenson Button finally got them off the mark in the eighth race of the season at Magny-Cours, with the RA107 finally showing top ten running pace.

Indeed, Button's performance in France proved easily both his and the team's best of the season, the Brit using a good start, coupled to a successful fuel strategy, to sneak into the points positions.

"The British Grand Prix is always special for a British driver and although we are a Japanese team, we are based just down the road from Silverstone in Brackley. We took a step forward with the performance of our car at the French Grand Prix last weekend, so we are now making progress and I hope that we can have a good race at Silverstone and be challenging for a point or two.

However, for the first time in a while Button will not be going to Silverstone as the big centre of attention, his disappointing start of the season diverting all the attention away from him to Hamilton. It is a sharp switch from limelight to supporting role, but Button is nonetheless excited to be returning to his home race and to soak up the atmosphere.

"The whole weekend at Silverstone is special and you can't underestimate the boost that a home crowd gives you. This year there are four British drivers to please the fans and that is just fantastic for British motorsport. You don't perform any differently because that is down to the driver but you do get a buzz throughout the whole weekend - just driving through the gates every day, seeing all those flags in the grandstand and all the additional events we take part in. It's such a special feeling in my heart because it's my home; it's where I'm from."

The scene of one of his finest performances back in 2003, Rubens Barrichello is also relishing the return to Silverstone, not least because it is also Honda's spiritual home circuit. Although a somewhat out of sorts Barrichello's was rather overshadowed by Button in France, his team-mates performance fills him with confidence nonetheless.

"The British Grand Prix at Silverstone is a big weekend for the Honda team so I'm pleased to be heading to our home base on the back of an improved performance at Magny-Cours. We can definitely say that the performance of the car has improved which is encouraging. There is always a lot of expectation on our shoulders competing at Silverstone and although we don't have the car to fight at the front, I think we can have a good race and aim for the points.

"We don't tend to test much at Silverstone these days but it will always be one of my favourite tracks. It's a high-speed circuit with some very challenging corners and one that I still really enjoy driving. I have some very special memories, not least of winning here back in 2003. It will be a busy weekend for us but an important one, so we will be giving it everything we can right now."

BMW Sauber - Nick Heidfeld (#9), Robert Kubica (#10):

Fifth may not have reached the heights of Nick Heidfeld's second place finish in Canada and Robert Kubica's fourth position may not have been his best ever Formula 1 finish either but fourth and fifth in the French Grand Prix actually marked BMW Sauber's best ever result in Formula 1 in its current form.

Nine points have strengthened BMW's position as the 'third power' in Formula 1 at the moment and has done plenty to eke their way from Renault, although not enough really to bother Ferrari and McLaren.

Indeed, BMW find themselves somewhat at a level of their own at the moment and although the odd opportunistic result has got them wanting more podiums, both Heidfeld and Kubica are keen to extend their run of form.

Indeed, Silverstone is a popular venue for the two drivers with Heidfeld and Kubica claiming the atmosphere alone makes up for the somewhat disappointing facilities.

"I especially like the crowd in England because they are just true racing fans," Heidfeld said. "They are very well informed and were also enthusiastic in the years when they did not have a home grown front runner. Of course with Lewis Hamilton the interest will increase a lot for this year's race, but the atmosphere has always been good.

"During the test I found the circuit extraordinarily bumpy, and apparently other drivers thought the same. The English weather can also add to the excitement. The sequence of the corners at Becketts is very fast and very special. For Silverstone it is especially important to have a good aero package for the fast corners."

"Silverstone, I think, will be a good weekend for us," Kubica added. "I hope so. Last year we were quite strong. I like the track as it is very challenging. Very quick, especially the first sector. Last year it was quite low grip there. I missed the test session this year, so it will be interesting to see how it is on Bridgestone tyres. The British weather is well known all over the world for not being very good.

"However, every time I have been at Silverstone for the race I have had a really sunny weekend, so let's hope it will be nice weather again. It is nice to be there because I like the style of the track and British people enjoy motor racing. It is not the newest one, but I like the whole atmosphere that surrounds it and you feel there is a lot of motorsport history at the circuit."

Toyota - Ralf Schumacher (#11), Jarno Trulli (#12):

Points are once again the target for Toyota heading to Silverstone after a French Grand Prix they will probably file under 'forgettable'.

Indeed, while the combined pace of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli was arguably better than it has been in several races, the Italian's rather ambitious dive into the hairpin on the first lap saw another strong qualifying effort come to nothing.

Schumacher on the other hand blamed traffic early on for his anonymous finish at Magny-Cours, although it was at least a better all round result for the German, who wasn't even expected to be in the Toyota seat by many who thought his time at Toyota was nearing an end.

Nonetheless, both drivers go to Silverstone with an eye on more points as the battle for the top eight positions becomes more and more competitive, not least because of Renault's upturn in pace and Honda joining Toyota, Red Bull and Williams in the battle for points.

Still, Schumacher is happy with the pace of his car and is looking forward to be returning to Silverstone for another year,

"I am looking forward to the British Grand Prix. I have always enjoyed racing in Britain because the fans there are so fanatical about motorsport, they really love the sport. They are always supportive of all the drivers, no matter what nationality they are.

"Even though the result at Magny-Cours was not what we expected, we can take some positives out of the weekend. I lost a lot of time held up behind another car early in the race but after that the car felt pretty good and my lap times were better than our position suggested. It was frustrating to miss out on points because we had a good opportunity but I am confident we can continue to improve and get back into the points."

Trulli too is hoping to last longer than one lap this weekend following his Magny-Cours indiscretion and believes the TF107 has the pace to challenge for the best positions.

"Unfortunately I go to Silverstone after a very disappointing race in Magny-Cours. We had a really strong chance to score good points but on the first lap I just misjudged the hairpin and crashed. But we know our race pace was good enough to score points so that is again the target."

For more see Part 2 of our British Grand Prix preview...

 

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