In the opening practice sessions at the British Grand Prix, the lap times were down as the speeds were up. The 2017 aerodynamic rules, plus the wider and stickier supersoft tires, mean the cars already shaved almost a second off of last year's pole time. The drivers are being subjected to more than 6g of lateral force as they fly flat-out through some corners.
Lewis Hamilton's pole time in 2016 was 01:29.287, which was just over three seconds faster than in 2015. In Free Practice Two at Silverstone today, Valtteri Bottas did a lap of 01:28.496, which is 0.791s faster than the 2016 pole time, and a new track record. When qualifying wraps up on Saturday, you can expect another second or two to be shaved off from today's time.
It's not that the cars are going much faster down the straights, it's that the cars have so much more grip in the corners. In Free Practice Two, there was a shot of one of the Williams going through a corner with its inside rear wheel just coming up off the ground—much like you'd see with a British Touring Car.
With all of the lateral force going through the car and the suspension pushed to its limit, both fronts and the outside rear tire were just digging in and not letting go of the track. Yes, the car was on the very limits of traction, but with last year's downforce levels and tires, at that speed the Williams would have gone backward into the barrier.
For as twitchy as the rear-end of the cars have been this year, in the right conditions they will stick to the track better than they ever have before. In fast, sweeping corners where downforce is at the max and the tires have plenty of heat in them, the drivers are able to keep their foot on the gas in places where a lift or a quick tap of the brakes was previously required.
In response to the faster cornering speeds, additional barriers have been added around the track. F1 Fanatic reports that extra tires and TecPro barriers are in place at "Abbey (turn one), Farm (turn two), Brooklands (turn six), Copse (turn nine), Stowe (turn 15) and Vale (turn 16)." As you can see from the track map, those are the fastest corners and/or approaches of the track. For example, the cars are taking Copse flat-out and not braking until the turn-in for Turn 11.
In Free Practice Two, the onboard telemetry showed Sebastian Vettel hitting 6.1g while going through Maggots. 6.1 times greater than the force of gravity is more than the drivers experience when they really stand on the brakes while trying to slow down from 200 mph.
“It’s going to be a physical race for us, being that it is mostly medium and high-speed corners. The G that we are going to be pulling is definitely going to be one up, maybe two, who knows, but it’s going to be a lot of fun” said Lewis Hamilton of the cornering loads that the drivers will feel.
Daniel Ricciardo seemed to think that it'll be a blast with the cars this year. “Ha! It’s going to be fun. I love high-speed corners. From Turn 9 to 15, Copse to Stowe, it’s some of the coolest sequences … probably the best mile of race track we go on all year."
The British Grand Prix is always an exciting race. Expect nothing less from this year from the fastest cars ever around the historic circuit.