A former World War II airfield, the original Silverstone layout consisted of a series of long straights connected by fast sweeping corners. Its character might have changed slightly, but the basic premise still remains.

The Northamptonshire venue has hosted the British Formula One Grand Prix regularly since the championship started in 1948 and, between 1977 and 1986, hosted the British motorcycle GP, including the classic 1979 encounter when Kenny Roberts defeated the late Barry Sheene in one of the most memorable races of all time.

The circuit was reintroduced to bike racing in 1998, when domestic motorcycle events took place on some of Silverstone's shorter configuarations and, by now, the circuit had been heavily revised, with chicanes added to reduce average speeds and larger run-off areas introduced to improve safety. Last year, saw the bikes return to the full GP course when Silverstone was chosen to replace Donington Park on the World Superbike and Supersport calendar.

Silverstone was at the centre of a new safety debate before the start of this season and, as a result, a new chicane has been added before the bikes cross the finish line. This first gear corner, where the bikes will be going even more slowly than at the final chicane at Sugo, was used for the first time in a British championship meeting back in April. It was universally disliked by the riders, but will mean that riders are travelling less quickly into the fearsome Copse corner, a spectacular right-handed sweep that is taken flat out.

Although the latest incarnation of Silverstone lacks much of the character and atmosphere it had 25 years ago, thanks to the large gravel traps separating the fans from the racetrack, spectator facilities are good and the wide tarmac and long straights generally promotes good racing.

In many ways, the teams go to Silverstone with little in the way of set-up data to work with. Last year's race weekend had virtually no dry track time and the new chicane on the exit of the Woodcote complex could make any data from last year redundant anyway. The new corner is taken at little more than walking pace, with many British championship riders reporting that they had to increase the tickover on their machines to stop the engine stalling through the section.

The unknown factor for the WSS teams is what effect this new corner will have on overall gearing. Normally, gearing would be tall in order to give high top speeds down the long straights, but the new chicane and the need for a low first gear will undoubtedly see this compromised. One possible advantage for Belgarda Yamaha Team and Yamaha Motor Germany is that they have developed gearboxes that allow different first gear sprockets to be fitted. This is a luxury which many riders will not have, but even so both teams will still only be able to guess the correct settings prior to Friday's first practice sessions.

Despite the long straights, the teams are unlikely to make any camshaft or air intake modifications to increase power at high rpm as they did in Monza. Instead they are likely to keep the settings used last time out at the mid-speed Oschersleben circuit. These will give strong power delivery between 8000 and 12000rpm and aid the riders on the exit of the many slow corners.

The track is used heavily for testing by Formula One teams which in turn has led to a rough surface. This will cause chassis settings to also be something of a compromise. Ideally, riders would like to run high compression damping and spring ratings to cope with the high G-forces generated on the fast corners like Copse and Abbey, but the stiffer suspension will not be able to absorb the bumps, so a softer compromise will have to be found.

Riders will also have to look out for the suspension being upset by camber changes where the long 5km GP circuit crosses over the various layout configurations used for national championship racing, while wet weather - always a possibility in the UK - will make the track treacherous and put grip at a premium.

Yamaha Belgarda Team riders James Whitham and Paolo Casoli finished first and second at Silverstone last season, although it was probably the most bizarre race in the history of the championship as neither rider was on two wheels at the end of the race.

Completing a strong day for Yamaha, J?rg Teuchert (Yamaha Motor Germany) was credited with fourth, although he too was also caught out by the conditions and crashed just as the red flag was brought out.

Silverstone's first World Supersport race started in wet conditions and rapidly got worse. Whitham, who had qualified on the fifth row of the grid, quickly moved into the lead and the Belgarda pairing were almost 17secs ahead of third placed rider Karl Muggeridge (Honda) when a storm caused the conditions to deteriorate further. First Whitham and then Casoli slid off as they found themselves confronted by the impossible conditions for the first time. With many other riders crashing all around the circuit, the wisely organisers stopped the race on safety grounds.

With the result being declared from the start of the previous lap, Whitham was credited with his sole victory of the season - and the last of his career. The colourful Englishman retired in the close season and it is somehow fitting that such a bizarre victory should be the final one of his career.

As the championship approaches the halfway point, Chris Vermeulen (Honda) has built up a 38 point lead over second placed Katsuaki Fujiwara (Suzuki) with Belgarda Yamaha Team rider Jurgen van den Goorbergh a further four points behind in third place.

No matter what happens, the young Australian will leave the UK with the championship lead. But, in the highly unpredictable world of Supersport racing, anything can and possibly will happen, so with another five races to go after Silverstone the championship is still wide open. The five races so far have seen the wins shared between Vermeulen (3), Fujiwara and Yamaha Motor Germany's Christian Kellner. The German rider was a winner in Japan and this, allied to his 100 per cent scoring record, has been instrumental in securing fifth place in the series.