He’s won the British Grand Prix a record six times but at Silverstone, without the fans, Lewis Hamilton has his eyes set on seventh heaven
- Lewis Hamilton remains in sharp form despite the disturbance to Formula One
- The Mercedes star has won the British Grand Prix on a record six occasions
- Now he is aiming for number seven at Silverstone, without the fans present
Lewis Hamilton’s black-liveried Mercedes swept through the fast, flowing corners of Silverstone, resplendent in the 35-degree glow of July’s last and hottest day, and only two items jarred.
The first, the absence of fans. This weekend’s British Grand Prix is like no other here since the old airfield of Wellington bombers gave itself over to motor racing.
Actually, the place was a picture: the grass around the track as green as the eyes of Hamilton’s rivals wishing they were driving the car he is. The Tarmac lay there like a giant, cold operating table beside the grandstands, empty where usually there are flags and cheering and warmth.
Lewis Hamilton was mobbed by the masses when he won his historic sixth British Grand Prix
Before this damned virus took normality by the throat, the campsites would have overflowed with beery jollity all night. The roads would have been busy to rammed.
People with the posh passes would have knocked back a few glasses in the paddock motorhomes to loosen tongues for the exchange of gossip that keeps Formula One afloat.
Those wine bars have given way to functional cabins for now. We media are confined to the press room and soft drinks. No annual barbeque at the British Racing Drivers’ Club for us last night. ‘It’s really weird,’ said Red Bull boss Christian Horner, an Englishman steeped in Silverstone’s lore, of the spectator void.
‘Silverstone usually has a sense of festival, and that’s gone.’ The second unusual feature was the evidence of the time screens as afternoon practice ended.
Hamilton’s name was only fifth highest, a little less than a third of a second behind the fastest man, Lance Stroll of Racing Point. What could it mean? Wasn’t Hamilton meant to saunter to his seventh victory at his home race?
Yes, he is one of the most compelling favourites to turn up at this track since the world championship began here 70 years ago with ‘Nino’ Farina’s win for Maserati. If Hamilton is as slow when it comes down to it in qualifying on Saturday — rather than running conservatively on the less-than softest tyres as he was on Friday — it would be about the biggest shock since David beat Goliath into the first corner.
Hamilton is bidding for seventh heaven this weekend, but fans will not be present to witness
‘Of course Lewis is clear favourite,’ said Horner, whose Max Verstappen is the one non-Mercedes man who believes he might just be able to put a spoke in the predictable.
‘Lewis has won this race six times. Mercedes have made a step improvement in chassis and engine this year and the nature of the track, corners that are like extended straights, play to their strengths. This really is a Mercedes stronghold.’
Hamilton still climbed out of his car less than fully satisfied, calling it a ‘difficult day’, citing a deceptively brisk wind and problems with balance. I suggest these concerns can be filed under ‘f’ for first-world problems.
The best race action promises to be between the Racing Points and Red Bulls, two similarlypaced teams behind the Mercs of Hamilton, winner of the last two rounds, and Valtteri Bottas, winner of the previous one.
Speaking of Racing Point, it was all change there with Nico Hulkenberg drafted in to take the place of Formula One’s first driver to fall victim to Covid-19, Sergio Perez.
Team principal Otmar Szafnauer revealed that Perez, 30, had travelled to Mexico to see his family. The journey was not a break of protocol but was arguably unwise given that his native country is rife with the virus.
Hamilton guided his black Mercedes around the track during Friday’s testing session
It also seemed the team were not informed beforehand of his movements. ‘He travelled there privately and thought he took ample precautions,’ said Szafnauer, acting for the defence.
‘He didn’t get on a commercial flight, so he was surprised to get Covid.’ No more surprised than was Hulkenberg, one of the team’s old boys from when it was Force India, to receive a call-up on Thursday night.
‘We need someone who can score points and we thought Nico had the tools to do that,’ explained Szafnauer. ‘He had just landed in Germany to do a sportscar test and I said maybe he should come to the Formula One and he said, “Absolutely”.
‘He spent an hour on the ground in Cologne, grabbing a pair of boots and a helmet. He landed at Birmingham at 7.30pm. At 10.45 this morning, his own Covid test came back negative, so we got him in the car to start practice at 11.’
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