Anyone who has known me for long will know that I am no fan of Lewis Hamilton. But I really have to hand it to him for his performance at Silverstone yesterday. It was an absolute masterclass. People joke about how Hamilton describes every single win as his “best ever”. Yet this time around he is probably right.
Hamilton had just had the worst two races of his career. His performances in Canada and France were error-strewn and exhibited the worst of his most obvious trait, his impatience. The media was beginning to round on him, and although you could argue that the criticism was fair, there is no doubt that Hamilton was totally rattled about the whole thing.
It was worrying when it seemed as though he was beginning to pick fights with the media. If you start a fight with the media, especially in Britain, you simply don’t win. Combine this with rumours that the Hamilton clan does not get on with McLaren boss Ron Dennis or the team’s big-name PR man Matt Bishop and it was beginning to look as though Hamilton’s career was on the verge of coming down in flames.
As I have said before, Hamilton is great enough when the pressure is not on. But when it really matters he looks like a nervous wreck. So I didn’t see how — in this situation, following a terrible June, at his home grand prix — he was going to perform well. His dire qualifying performance only added to that sense.
Yet come race day it all came good for him. Somehow he put behind him all the troubles that had been building up. From 4th on the grid, he capitalised on poor starts from the cars ahead of him and was challenging his team mate for the lead by turn 1, the famous Copse corner. Indeed, Hamilton was so aggressive that he tapped Kovalainen, and both cars almost lost control.
That tap could easily have been just the latest Hamilton-instigated disaster. Yet both drivers got away with just a twitch of the rear each and carried on racing at the front as if nothing had happened. It was obvious that Hamilton was absolutely desperate to overtake his team mate. He wasn’t just hungry. He was starving. Understandable after a month-long fast.
Finally, on lap six, Hamilton took his team mate. It was plain that Kovalainen was holding Hamilton up, and as soon as the Brit was released he drove off into the distance. That was understandable given the rumours that Kovalainen was on a heavier fuel load. But the rumour wasn’t true — Kovalainen was the first of the McLarens to pit.
Hamilton was heavier and was comprehensively showing Kovalainen how to do it. After the Finn’s mesmerising qualifying performance it was a real disappointment. It’s difficult to pin down just how good Kovalainen is. Ron Dennis still claims he is in the process of “re-building” the former Renault driver. It is said that Kovalainen is still not where he should be in terms of confidence and fitness.
His qualifying performance looked like we were finally back to the Kovalainen we were promised before he came into F1. But come race day he was put firmly in the shadow by Lewis Hamilton and it’s clear that Kovalainen still needs some work if he wants to be the star driver he might be. He eventually finished over a lap down in 5th. Not great.
Meanwhile, Hamilton sped off into the distance. He made only one small mistake while others seemingly couldn’t stop spinning. Whenever I looked at live timing my jaw hit the floor at how much his lead had grown. By the end of the race the gap to second-placed Nick Heidfeld was 68.5 seconds. Hamilton’s victory could hardly have been more comprehensive. What a way to silence the doubters. Having to bear Hamilton’s post-race cockiness is a small price to pay to see such an awesome drive.
It could all have been so very different if Ferrari had got it right. They had one of their nightmare weekends that they have from time to time these days. This was not quite of Melbourne 2008 proportions, but it was close.
You expect Silverstone, with its long straights and sweeping, fast corners, to suit the Ferrari. So their lack of pace in practice was a bit of a mystery. It’s not that they were particularly slow in practice, and Massa could be excused for having a huge shunt in Friday Practice 1 that wasn’t his fault (as he spun on a huge patch of Alonso’s oil). But McLaren were right up there at the top of the timing sheets.
Come qualifying it was beginning to look like Ferrari were properly out of sorts. They had a hairy moment in Q2 when they struggled to set any blistering times, and they must have breathed a sigh of relief when they got through to Q3.
Then came the race. Felipe Massa was back to his old self. He is not known for being great in the wet, and the Brazilian spun no fewer than five times. The first came on lap one. He was second-last after the spin. The only person behind him was Mark Webber, who also spun on lap one. But by the next lap Webber had overtaken him and Massa was dead last.
Webber ploughed his way through the field in stunning fashion, overtaking cars at the rate of about one per lap. At one point he reached 10th position. The Australian was helped by the fact that he was on a lighter fuel load, but it was nevertheless a stunning display. His pitstop strategy was not enough to provide him with a good result in the end though. But he certainly showed Massa how it’s done.
Massa lacked Webber’s confidence, and sometimes looked as though he wasn’t even trying. He took several laps to pass the sluggish Nico Rosberg and didn’t find the Force India of Fisichella much easier to take. After that, his ramshackle performance ensured that he remained firmly last of the runners and in the end he was the only person to finish two laps behind the leader. If Felipe Massa wins the World Championship, I will shit myself with rage.
At least Kimi Räikkönen looked a bit better in the driving department. In the early phase of the race Kimi looked like he was in with a shout of the win, being the only person who was really competing with Lewis Hamilton. But then Ferrari made a strategic blunder.
The two leaders took their pitstops simultaneously. Hamilton took a new set of intermediate tyres. Räikkönen kept his old inters on. It would have worked perfectly for Ferrari if conditions had remained as they were. But then the rain came. McLaren’s forecast must have been better. Hamilton’s fresh inters still had a tread that was capable of clearing the water from his path. Räikkönen’s tired old tyres weren’t up to the job on a circuit that was getting wetter.
Almost immediately Hamilton was a second faster than Räikkönen in just one sector. By the next lap he was almost five seconds ahead. Before long Räikkönen was firmly in the distance and Hamilton’s race was certainly his to lose. Belatedly, Räikkönen came in to change his tyres. But his race was already ruined. A couple of spins later, Räikkönen finished fourth. He was a lap down. How humiliating. From challenging for the lead to being lapped all due to a dodgy tyre decision.
It was another strategic blunder from Ferrari who seemingly were not aware of the rain that was just minutes away from arriving. How they must miss Ross Brawn, who was working a few doors down the pitlane at Honda masterminding Rubens Barrichello’s race.
Barrichello took extreme wets early on and was setting blistering lap times. It was a gamble but it paid off. Moreover, it was a masterful drive from the most experienced driver of all time. He was the last of the runners on the lead lap, 82.2 seconds behind Hamilton. But in these conditions that was enough for a well-deserved podium finish. How sweet it must be for Honda and Barrichello. The team is still not at the sharp end of the grid, but under the guidance of Ross Brawn they have certainly turned the corner.
My British Grand Prix race review will be continued tomorrow