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F1 cars line up for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone last year. Picture: REUTERS
F1 cars line up for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone last year. Picture: REUTERS

London — Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen both won at Silverstone last year but an experimental race format poses a new challenge for Formula One’s title rivals on their return to the British Grand Prix circuit at the weekend.

The biggest sporting crowd in Britain since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with 140,000 people expected on Sunday, will witness The Sprint —a qualifying race without pit stops.

Slverstone, where the championship started in 1950, is the first of three tracks that will trial a 100km 30-minute dash to decide pole position and set the grid for the next day’s main event.

“Even if ... The Sprint is only the precursor to the main event, I think the drivers will be desperate to beat each other and show who’s the fastest and who’s the strongest,” said Formula One MD Ross Brawn.

A three-part qualifying session for The Sprint will be held on Friday instead of the usual second practise, meaning teams have only one hour on track to set up their cars before the competitive action.

A mistake on Friday is likely to carry far bigger consequences than before, while fans — absent last year due to Covid-19 restrictions — can look forward to meaningful action on all three days.

Points will be on offer for the top three on Saturday, meaning a driver who wins both races and sets the fastest lap on Sunday can bank a maximum 29 points.

“I’m hoping of course to come out of that race with 29 points,” said Red Bull’s Verstappen, now 32 points clear of Hamilton after winning five of nine races including the last three.

“I hope in racing perspective it’s coming home,” he told Sky Sports television, referring to the soccer chant of by England fans before their team lost last Sunday’s European Championship final to Italy.

Seven-times world champion Hamilton will be aiming for a record-extending eighth home win to regain some lost momentum, with his Mercedes team also bringing new parts to make the car faster.

He will also be racing at Silverstone for the first time since they named a straight after him.

Verstappen, winner of last year’s 70th anniversary race when the windswept former airfield hosted two successive rounds on a pandemic-hit calendar, can also secure a sixth win in a row for Honda-powered Red Bull.

“Mercedes have been enormously strong there over the years, and Lewis has his home support as well. So we expect it to be a big challenge,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

McLaren driver Lando Norris will enjoy strong home support after notching three podiums this season and narrowly missing out on a first pole in Austria.

“Seeing the grandstands full and everything feeling a bit more normal is something I’m really looking forward to,” the 21-year-old said.

George Russell, at Williams, is the third British driver on the grid and will raise a big cheer if he can score the team’s first points in two years.

Formula One fans will also get a glimpse of the future with an online presentation on Thursday of a full-size 2022 car, reflecting new rules designed to create closer racing. 



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