Silverstone at 70: 2010s

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British Grand Prix, July 5 2015

Lewis Hamilton recalls a tense victory at his home race in treacherously wet conditions

Lewis Hamilton raises his trophy after winning the 2014 British Grand Prix

This was the race at which Hamilton – after undercutting his way past the fast-starting Williams pair Massa and Bottas – was dominating until it began to rain with about 20 laps to go. The complicating part was that it was raining mainly at Luffield, with much of the rest of the track remaining dry, so a set of intermediates would quickly have burned up. For 10 laps the track remained on this precarious balancing point where the slicks had to stay on, but if they were old – like Hamilton’s – they lost temperature through the wet section and couldn’t regain it. But if they were relatively new – like team-mate Nico Rosberg’s – they could retain their heat and therefore give a massive grip advantage. So Rosberg began eating fast into Hamilton’s lead, by more than 2sec per lap. On the lap prior to which Rosberg would have caught, and probably passed, him, Hamilton pitted – and at that very moment the heavens opened, allowing him to change onto the correct tyres as Rosberg was consigned to a slow lap to the pits on slicks. It was the result the crowd had come to see, but which the British weather had put in thrilling jeopardy.

“I remember I was on pole,” says Hamilton today, “then lost out at the start as the Williams drivers did both of us off the line. I think I made the call when to come in at the end and it worked out perfectly. You can never always get the call right – people watching probably don’t have the slightest inkling of how difficult it is to make. Those watching and the engineers have a much better picture of what’s happening, but when you’re on the track, driving at 200mph, if it’s spitting rain even the slightest amount it looks like it’s raining because you’re driving through all the rain drops and it looks like it’s coming down and you don’t know how much to push in the next corner. Sometimes you’ll arrive under braking and, all of a sudden, in the mid part of the corner it’s raining a lot. It’s so difficult.

“The race I remember most is 2008, in the wet. That was particularly memorable for me – my first British Grand Prix win, in the most difficult conditions. I felt like I destroyed my opposition that weekend – which is my goal every day but I really felt like I did it that weekend. I won by more than a minute.

“I feel like there are weekends where you are restricted and unable to utilise your capabilities. I feel that ’08 was a particular race where I was able to exploit my ability. All the technology in F1 dims the differences between drivers. There can be big differences between drivers but F1 technology helps level it all out, team-mate to team-mate. It dims the frequency. If you’re operating at a higher frequency the technology in the car can overlap those frequencies – and I hate that.

“In 2015, pitting when I did was a 50/50 shot really. My tyres had lost temperature, Nico was catching and I could have got it right, could have got it wrong. I just happened to time it perfectly. Just as I came around the last corner lots of rain was coming and, as I pitted, it continued. Had it stopped straight afterwards I’d have been stuffed, but it continued. You notice the damn clouds forming and see them coming, but there are some races – like Barcelona this year – where there were deep clouds to the left of Turn One. You think, ‘Do I need to watch out?’ But then it never happened.

“But at Silverstone it’s almost guaranteed that it will come. In 2015 it was raining at Luffield but not elsewhere. Those are the best races. Dry races are often boring because it’s so hard to follow and overtake. The best races are places like Baku, where all hell breaks loose and you have a difficult restart. It’s not the greatest track but it’s a really good race. Then there’s Monaco, which is a great track but just not a very exciting race. But you get that mixture at Silverstone, which is why it’s one of my favourite tracks. You could have Brooklands wet but the rest dry. That’s exciting. I don’t know if in the future they need to do it artificially. You’re artificially helping us overtake with the DRS, why would that be any different?    

“Copse-Maggotts-Becketts is still a challenge. You can still find time there. It’s all about confidence. It’s still a ballsy section and it’s about line, how much you brake, how much you come off the brake, how much speed you keep up and the position of the car. Utilising the downforce, not taking too much on entry and keeping your minimum speed high. Even if the track became several seconds faster it would continue to be more and more technical. It’s fantastic to drive. Eau Rouge for me has nothing on that section.

“You get that mixture at Silverstone. You could have Brooklands wet but the rest dry. That’s exciting”

“The old Silverstone track had a surface with different grip levels from inside to outside when it rained – and parts of the current one do, too. Since I was a kid I’ve always been one to go and find that grip. I don’t conform to the norm. Everyone drives the same damn line. Maybe they step out a little bit, but just one foot. I go all the way and more. I remember testing there in Formula Renault and finding these different lines and I used them in the race. I drove around these kids thinking, ‘What are you doing? Why are you not over here?’

“It’s just feel. You don’t see it. It’s from your heart to your balls. You feel it in the flex of the car, the tyres start to move a certain way.

“In the wet it’s horrible, little or no margin. I wish people could see how difficult it was. It’s scary-difficult. I can’t imagine a similar thing in another sport. That danger, that worry, that almost scared part. It’s so frickin’ hard just to keep the car on the track. It’s like someone pulling the rug from beneath you but you don’t know when it’s going to happen.

“If you could really feel how difficult it is I’m pretty sure the respect would be greater than it is. If I hit a great tennis shot that just skims over the net you can share that same thing and think that’s maybe what Serena was feeling. Or when you kick the ball and it curls and goes in the top corner maybe for a second you can feel what Messi feels. But you can’t just randomly go in an F1 car. It’s awesome. That’s why I do it.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an addiction. I don’t understand people who get addicted to things. I feel addiction is for the weak-minded. It’s all mental. I do it because I like it. I can imagine a life without it and understand it will be missed, but you can’t do it forever.

“But that simple feeling could keep me here longer than I planned. But there will be other things I do, like when I have a family and a kid and that will, I’m sure, be a replacement. Seeing a kid kick a ball or ride a bike…”  

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