As Lewis Hamilton went out for his final qualifying run at Silverstone, the message over the radio was firm: ‘Don’t over-drive!’
On his previous run he had done just that, and had run off the road, and into a spin. The lurid tail-out style was wonderful to watch, but Lewis looked like a driver on the edge, and although his last lap was better, it was good only for fourth on the grid. His McLaren-Mercedes team mate Heikki Kovalainen, meantime, eclipsed everyone, and took the first pole position of his Formula 1 career.
Therefore, the omens for Hamilton’s British Grand Prix were not the best. Since winning at Monaco he had scored not a championship point, and on top of that there were suggestions that a relentless PR schedule, plus an active social schedule, were having an adverse effect on his driving. While other drivers slapped Kovalainen on the back after qualifying, Lewis started vacantly into space, as if in a trance.
Twenty-four hours on, his world was looking rather better. If rain had merely threatened on Saturday, on race day it arrived, and inevitably one thought back to Fuji last autumn, when conditions were truly appalling, and Lewis faultlessly left everyone behind.
Hamilton and Kovalainen tussled at the start of the race
Grand Prix Photo
At Silverstone he did the same again, giving notice on intent right from the off. Both Mark Webber (a stunning front row qualifier for Red Bull) and Kimi Räikkönen were dispensed with before Copse, and as he turned into the corner Lewis showed every sign of wishing to snatch the lead from Kovalainen.
Heikki is no patsy, however, and made the most of a better line in. Momentarily the two McLarens touched, but no damage was done, and as they went away towards Becketts it was Kovalainen-Hamilton.
Although it wasn’t actually raining at the start of the race, the track surface was mighty treacherous – as Webber unfortunately proved: “I just dropped it at Becketts on the first lap. I was running close to Kimi, got on the white line, and that was it.” Having started second, Mark was now at the back, and although thereafter he drove a fine race 10th was where he finished.
All told, it was a disastrous race for the Red Bull and Toro Rosso teams. Within a minute of Webber’s spin, David Coulthard – taking part in his last British Grand Prix – had a touch with Sebastian Vettel, and both slid into a gravel trap from which there was no way back.
Vettel and Coulthard collide in the Scot’s final British GP
Shaun Curry/AFP via Getty Images
Although Kovalainen led Hamilton by over a second at the end of the first lap, Lewis was soon on his tail, and on lap five took the lead, which he proceeded to extend by three- or four-tenths a lap. Heikki appeared able to contain Raikkonen, but on lap 10 he spun, which elevated the Ferrari to second place.
By now the track was drying significantly, and it wasn’t long before Raikkonen began to catch Hamilton, and at quite a rate. Both made their first stops at the end of lap 21, and they were pretty much nose to tail when they came in.