It is hard to overstate just how different Silverstone is from Spielberg, where the last two MotoGP rounds were held. Sure, both have very high average speeds – Silverstone at 179.7 km/h is among the fastest tracks on the calendar, and Spielberg's 188 km/h is the fastest of the season – but that is pretty much where the similarity ends.
Silverstone has 18 corners, where Spielberg has only 10. The Austrian circuit is 4.3km long, while Silverstone is 5.9 kilometers. The Red Bull Ring is three fast straights with a bunch of corners holding them together, while Silverstone is a complex of flowing corners and combinations of turns which present a real challenge to get right. Oh, and Spielberg has steep climbs and sweeping drops, built on the side of a mountain (the clue is in the name, SpielBERG), while Silverstone is pretty much flat as a pancake, built around an old airfield on the top of a hill.
The way you make the lap time at Silverstone is very different to Austria. Carrying speed through the fast, flowing sections such as out of Luffield and through Woodcote and Copse is crucial, as is negotiating the changes of direction at places like Maggotts and Becketts, or the section through Abbey, Farm, and into Village. There are places to make up ground on the brakes – into Stowe, through Vale, and into Brooklands – but the surest route to success is by having a bike which carries corner speed and changes direction willingly.
The right character
If you think that sounds like the Yamaha, you would be right. Since MotoGP returned to Silverstone in 2010, a Yamaha has won the race four times, with Jorge Lorenzo racking up three wins at the circuit, and Valentino Rossi adding one win at the track, in 2015.
If you think the track sounds like a Suzuki track, you'd be right there too: since their return to the premier class in 2015, they have won twice, once in 2016 with Maverick Viñales, and last time out with Alex Rins. Given that there have only been four Grand Prix held at Silverstone from 2015, that is a strike rate of 50%.
Rins had to work hard for victory, however. He had just a fraction more grip left over at the end of the race to snatch the win from Marc Marquez, and keep the Repsol Honda rider to just a single victory at the track. He hadn't expected to win, Rins said. "Looking at the data and analyzing the weekend the last two years we suffered a bit and didn’t expect the chance to win," the Suzuki man told us.
If you were to tip Suzuki or Yamaha, you would not be alone, but it is not a foregone conclusion. "It looks like Suzuki and Yamaha will work here in fast corners," Rins said, "But also on other tracks with fast corners the Ducati was there and the Honda and the KTM."
KTM's Miguel Oliveira saw it a very similar way. "I think Yamaha for sure, some Ducatis, and maybe Marc," the Portuguese rider said, throwing the name of Marc Marquez into the mix. "I think last time we were here, Fabio didn't manage to get past the first corner, but if he did, I think he would have been a challenger for the race win. Suzuki have an excellent record here, so I also expect the Suzukis to be up there."
But it was far too premature to be making predictions, Oliveira protested. "It's quite hard to predict anything now in MotoGP, everyone is very competitive and the margins are very small. So we hope to be one of the contenders, and if we are there, then we will worry about who to beat. But at the moment, as the weekend starts, it's quite hard to make a prediction. And unfair, to be honest."
The biggest challenge facing the riders is the fact that it has been two years since they last raced here. In that time, the bikes have changed a lot, but more significantly, the surface will have changed as well. The track was resurfaced in early 2019, after the debacle of 2018 which saw the race rained off due to poor drainage. The new surface was a massive improvement, but since that time, it has had two years of weather, three F1 races, and as full a program of use as the pandemic will allow.
Jack Miller explained at some length how he expected that to affect the track. "Quite a big change from when we were last back," the Ducati Lenovo Team rider said. "Last time the track was quite fresh on the asphalt. It was abrasive on tires." That will have changed, the Australian expected. "There have been three F1 races since we were here last. That will make it less abrasive. The tires have changed a lot since we were here last. Also our bike has changed a considerable amount. The layout, gears…. What you expect from the bike is different."
All that use will have polished the stones in the aggregate which forms the surface, and taken the sharp edges off, Miller explained. "Last time here the asphalt really fresh. The rocks were sharper. But it’s been bedded in. That will be a massive difference."
Changes to the Michelin tires in the two years since MotoGP raced here will also have a significant impact, Miller expected. "The tires have changed massive amount. The tire we had in 2019 and the tire we have now is in a different family. The reaction will be completely different."
Wear and tear
The wear and use which the Silverstone circuit has seen is going to change the character of the track. "The grip is not going to be as good. But the consumption is less abrasive, so the tires should last longer," Miller postulated. "Whether that’s true we don’t know."
What we do know is that the F1 cars, with big wide tires, hard braking, and a lot of downforce will have affected the surface and likely introduced a fair few ripples in the braking zone, Miller believed. "There have been three F1 races so we have to see how the bumps are. From what I gather, I remember last year was quite dry, quite hot. We’ll have to wait and see what the track is like in that condition. The F1 cars do quite a lot of work on the track." And by work, Miller means pulling up the asphalt and creating ripples as they brake.
After a miserable couple of weekends in Austria, Pol Espargaro was hoping to reap the benefits of those bumps, as well as the fact that even when sunny weather is predicted, Silverstone tends to be cooler, and perched on the top of a hillside, windier too. "I like this place, the weather is nice, no rain. It's cold, which I like, it's windy, which I like, because other manufacturers struggle with it and we don't. And the track is a little bit bumpy, which I like too."
It is perhaps ironic that the two riders who spearhead the campaigns of Yamaha and Suzuki, the bikes expected to go best at Silverstone, have had so little time on the track. Fabio Quartararo never made it past the first corner in 2019, crashing out at the start of the race and taking Andrea Dovizioso with him, while Joan Mir was forced to miss the race after suffering serious injury at the Brno test three weeks earlier.
Quartararo's record at Silverstone is decidedly mixed. He has scored points at the track only once, when he finished fourth in the Moto3 race back in 2015. His first MotoGP appearance in 2019, was promising, however, leading the first three free practices, and ending second to Marc Marquez in FP4. He qualified fourth, but missed out on a front row start by just 0.01 of a second. Based on this record, Quartararo featuring in Sunday's race looks like a fairly safe bet.
There is much less to go on for Joan Mir. The Spaniard has ridden at Silverstone only three times, finishing ninth in 2016 and fifth in 2017 in Moto3, and qualifying in fourteenth for the canceled Moto2 race of 2018. We only have his form of 2021 to judge him by, and the Suzuki Ecstar rider has been growing stronger over the past few races, slowly creeping up on the leader in the championship, Fabio Quartararo.
Wide open race
All eyes may be on Quartararo and Mir, but they really won't have it all to themselves. First, there is Alex Rins, winner last time out here two years ago. The Suzuki rider has much to atone for, coming off a string of mediocre results. He has proved he can be competitive at Silverstone, now all he has to do is find that same form.
Then there are a gaggle of Ducatis, all vying for contention. Jack Miller is the only rider who has won a race this year, though he sits behind factory teammate Pecco Bagnaia and Pramac rider Johann Zarco in the standings. Bagnaia is yet to win a MotoGP race, but has show strong form at Silverstone, including a strong race in his rookie year in 2019. Zarco's last outing was little short of a disaster, taking out Tech3 rider and KTM stablemate Miguel Oliveira in the process. Zarco has four second-place finishes to his name, and the experience to be competitive.
Once upon a time, the Ducati struggled with fast changes of direction, but that has changed in recent years. And there has been a big improvement since MotoGP last raced here, Jack Miller explained. "I’m excited about what the weekend has in store for us. Our bike now is better than 2019," the Australian said. "I’m looking forward to the 1st sector. We struggled a lot in the past there with the Ducati."
With Brad Binder coming off a remarkable victory in Austria, and Miguel Oliveira slowly regaining strength in the wrist he fractured at the Red Bull Ring, KTM will be a factor at Silverstone as well. "I really liked the bike and the track in 2019, and I was competitive, so I think that this season we can be competitive also," Oliveira said."
Whatever happens at Silverstone, the circuit guarantees great racing in the dry. Last time out in 2019, the race was decided in the last corner between Alex Rins and Marc Marquez. In 2016, Maverick Viñales took a comfortable victory, but behind him, a fierce battle for the podium unfolded, Cal Crutchlow taking second ahead of Valentino Rossi. 2014 saw another close thriller between Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo, a rerun of the epic duel of the previous year.
With the weather set fair for Silverstone this weekend, the chances of a spectacular race should be good. Sunny weather, grandstands full of fans, and a circuit which gives full rein to a MotoGP machine, there is much to look forward to.
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