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British Grand Prix preview: Time for under-fire Silverstone to deliver a classic

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F1 promises to keep a British Grand Prix (1:25)

Sean Bratches, managing director of F1's commercial operations, says there are no plans to lose the British Grand Prix despite the ongoing issues with Silverstone. (1:25)

Focus on... The future of Silverstone

Silverstone is a special place on the Formula One calendar. The home of UK motorsport and the host of the first world championship race in 1950, it rightly remains a popular venue for fans and drivers alike. F1 arrives at the Northamptonshire circuit this year with its future looking more uncertain than ever. This week the uneasy stand-off between F1 and circuit owners the British Racing Drivers' Club culminated in the BRDC triggering a break clause in its contract which means the 2019 edition could be the last.

The BRDC intends to keep negotiating in an attempt for a better deal, but the move was heavily criticised by Liberty Media as "posturing". Though rumours have circulated about a London Grand Prix, a race in the heart of the city still looks hugely unlikely at the moment, with a host of logistical obstacles to overcome. Silverstone remains the only current venue able to host an F1 under FIA standards. On top of the usual curiosity about the championship fight and beyond, the future of this race is likely to capture headlines at various points over the four days.

Liberty Media have talked a lot about preserving the history of Formula One and maintaining its European heritage. This will be the first race of the Liberty era at this circuit -- a great opportunity for Silverstone to show why it must remain on the calendar beyond 2019 with a brilliantly-executed weekend and thrilling race in front of a sell-out crowd.

The title fight

There's no doubting Valtteri Bottas is back in the championship fight after winning in Austria. It was unfair for anyone to write him out before, but his strong weekend in Spielberg showed why he will be essential for Mercedes' ambitions when Lewis Hamilton has an off weekend -- something which for the most part out was of his control. Despite several races of Mercedes being the quickest car, Sebastian Vettel has actually extended his championship lead and is still driving at the top of his game.

Mercedes has been strong at Silverstone in the last few years and recent events suggests its engine mode trick is still enough to hold the edge over one lap. This circuit will certainly suit Ferrari more than Baku and Austria, however, meaning we are back to the races at the start of the season which were precariously balanced on a knife's edge.

In need of a win

Lewis Hamilton left Austria looking frustrated at his recent bout of misfortune. A headrest issue cost him a likely victory in Baku before a gearbox penalty hampered his chances in Spielberg -- he finished off the podium at both. Add to that his clear frustration at Sebastian Vettel not getting a further penalty for their controversial clash in Baku and its clear the Mercedes man is driving with a chip on his shoulder.

In more recent years Hamilton has responded well to setbacks, though Suzuka last year proved his performances can fluctuate heavily when he lets emotions get the better of him. Mercedes is determined to "put things right" for its superstar driver and he will need to keep his emotions in check to capitalise if the team delivers with a clean weekend. He's dropped 20 points behind Sebastian Vettel in the drivers' championship and a win on home soil would be a great way to kick-start his title challenge.

In need of points

This goes to another Englishman. Jolyon Palmer will arrive at his second British Grand Prix under enormous pressure and with his future looking increasingly doubtful. With Robert Kubica continuing his private tests with Renault this week there are rumours of the Pole being in the car for a session ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix -- Palmer needs to start scoring points soon if he was any chance of holding his seat.

ESPN prediction

In recent seasons, Hamilton has been pretty special at Silverstone. Three consecutive wins at the scene of one of his most special performances -- victory in the wet 2008 race -- make it hard to look past him for another this year. As we correctly predicted ahead of Spain and Canada, in the Mercedes era of his career he has usually responded to setbacks by returning to the top step of the podium. Despite missing the midweek London demo -- where his name was booed and his main championship rival was cheered -- it's hard to imagine anything other than a heavily pro-Hamilton crowd and that should be enough to put him over the top ahead of the in-form Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel.

Betting

Hamilton is favourite to claim a home win at 8/11, narrowly ahead of Sebastian Vettel. Despite a clear step forward from Honda in Austria, bookies still have limited faith in McLaren's chances, with Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne joint 10/1 favourites to be the first retirements. Underfire Jolyon Palmer is 6/1 to record a much-needed top-ten finish

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Weather

It wouldn't be a British Grand Prix with out a spattering of miserable weather throughout the weekend. Friday should pass by without rain, but showers are predicted to hit the circuit on Saturday for qualifying. Grey clouds are forecast for race day, leaving another tantilising prospect of a wet race similar to last year's thriller.

Tyres

Compounds: Medium, soft, super-soft

The circuit from a tyre point of view:

• Silverstone is all about lateral energy, thanks to high-speed corners like Becketts.

• With a softer tyre selection than ever seen before, more than one pit stop is likely.

• British weather is famously variable: anything from sunshine to rain is possible.

• The abrasive surface offers high levels of grip, which takes even more out of the tyres.

• The straights are generally short, so the cars run reasonably high downforce levels.

• Track is intensively used during the year, so the surface tends to rubber in quite quickly.

• Logistically, it's an easy race: Pirelli's Didcot motorsport facility is only 30 minutes away.

Mario Isola, head of car racing: "The decision to bring softer tyres to Silverstone than we had originally planned was taken by Pirelli, but with the full approval of the drivers, FIA, teams and promoters, who have appreciated what we are trying to do with this more aggressive nomination. This should open up extra possibilities for different strategies and push teams towards more than one pit stop, although we'll obviously have a better idea of exact wear and degradation rates when we get there, especially with the supersoft that makes its Silverstone race debut.

"With Silverstone being among the most demanding tracks for tyres of the entire season, it will be interesting to see how one of the softest tyres in the 2017 range performs there. A lot will depend on the weather: in the past, we've seen an extremely wide range of conditions and temperatures".