Sunday, 6 July 2008

British Grand Prix: Race Report

Lewis Hamilton has won a thrilling, rain soaked British Grand Prix to delight his thousands of partisan home supporters at Silverstone, and his millions of fans across the UK. It was an action packed race from start to finish, which ended up with a couple of surprise podium finishers, some spectacular on track action, and a three way tie for the World Championship lead.

The big question on the grid was one of tyre choice. The rain had been falling intermittently all day long, and the track was decidedly wet for the formation lap. The heavy rain tyre would probably have been the ideal choice for the start given all the standing water, but with 20 cars on track the standing water was going to be lifted from the track within a few laps, so everyone went with the intermediate wet tyres. Inevitably, this would make things extremely treacherous for the first couple of laps.

From the start Kovalainen got a good start from pole, but Webber caught a little too much wheel-spin from P2 and was immediately into the clutches of the fast-starting Hamilton. Lewis was able to put his McLaren right down the inside into Copse, and appeared to leap from fourth to first in the space of one corner. His team mate Kovalainen had other ideas however, and held on tenaciously around the outside of Copse despite some contact with Hamilton. They were side by side going into Maggots, but Lewis recognised discretion was the better part of valour and didn't try anything outrageous on Kovalainen. Great racing from the pair of them.

Coming out of Chapel it all went horribly wrong for Mark Webber. After already losing out to Hamilton and Raikkonen off the start he lost the back end under power and spun 180 degrees. He was left stranded coasting backwards down the Hangar straight, and could do nothing but sit and watch the entire field scream past him, and hope that nobody hit him. All of his superb work from yesterday was completely undone in an instant.

Webber certainly wasn't the only driver to struggle on the opening lap. World Championship leader Massa spun on the exit of Abbey and was swallowed up by the pack. He was to spin again on the second lap of the race on what was a dismal afternoon for the Brazilian. Nakajima also had difficulties at Abbey, bouncing through the gravel. Then David Coulthard, on his last ever home Grand Prix appearance, clipped the rear of Vettel in Brooklands and sent the both spinning off into the gravel for an early bath. That rounded off an horrendous first lap for both Red Bull teams, with only Bourdais managing to keep his car pointy end first.

Out front Hamilton was pressing Kovalainen hard for the lead, with Raikkonen sitting in behind the pair of them and hoping to capitalise on any coming together in front of him. After a couple of laps of great defence from Kovalainen, he eventually got a poor run out of Chapel, allowing Hamilton to close down the Hangar Straight. Heikki could have defended again into Stowe, but his team mate was storming down the straight behind him and any defence would have risked putting both McLarens out of the race. Hamilton dove up the inside, and the 90,000 strong British crowd roared as he took the lead for the first time in the race.

As the standing water cleared and the race settled down into the first stint, Hamilton was edging ahead in the McLaren, with Fernando Alonso putting in a good stint getting up to fourth place, and Mark Webber clawing his way back up the field after his early spin. Massa should also have been streaming up through the backmarkers towards the points, but he was struggling terribly. It took him 16 laps just to get past one car at the back of the field. He may as well not have bothered though, as he was to become very familiar with that last place position throughout the race.

As the end of the first stint approached, Raikkonen was suddenly catching Hamilton at a rate of knots. The McLaren is notoriously hard on its tyres, and again it seemed that the inters were starting to go off for Hamilton. They pitted together less than a second apart. It was in this pitstop that Ferrari's strategy decision threw away any chance of a Kimi win. With the rain clouds closing in Ferrari chose to keep the same, badly worn inter tyres for Kimi. Hamilton changed to fresh inters, and it was clearly the correct choice. As the rain began to fall Kimi's tyres had too little tread left to move the standing water, and Hamilton cruised away at the front at the rate of 4-5 seconds per lap. Kimi had looked seriously capable of taking the win away from McLaren, but all hope of that was now destroyed.

With the rain falling the conditions were incredibly challenging for all the drivers out there. Alonso and Webber were the other drivers that stayed on worn inters along with Kimi, and all three struggled terribly in this stint. Webber ended up spinning several times, as did Kimi. None could match the display of Massa though, who managed to spin at least 5 times throughout the Grand Prix, putting a massive dint in his championship aspirations. However, at least they all managed to finish the race, which is more than could be said of the likes of Sutil, Fisichella, Piquet and Button who all spun off and out of the race. The biggest surprise out of the spinners was championship contender Robert Kubica, who spun at high speed and ditched it in the gravel trap. In truth, it hadn't been a good weekend for him up until that point anyway, as he was being eclipsed by his team mate Heidfeld for the first time in a while.

There were three drivers on a march. Barrichello was on heavy rain tyres and was lapping massively faster than anyone else. He was up as high as second at one point, but a problem with his fuel rig meant he had to make an extra stop and he had to settle for a brilliantly earned third place. Nick Heidfeld was one of the few drivers who was enjoying the conditions on his intermediate tyres. He was driving superbly and was heading through the field at a phenomenal rate. His march through the field included two maneuvers in which he overtook two cars in the space of one corner. He may have been struggling with the set-up of the BMW so far this season, but this performance showed that he is a brilliant racer, and one of the best and boldest overtakers in Formula One.

The other man on a charge though was Lewis Hamilton. On the same intermediate tyres as everyone else he was lapping 4, 5, even 6 seconds per lap faster than some of his rivals at some points during this stint. It was some absolutely mesmerising driving from Hamilton, and it was this stint which set up what ended up being a comfortable victory for Hamilton. He may as well have been on a different race track for that period, such was the difference in speed between Hamilton and his rivals. This was the strongest way possible in answering his critics, who had been questioning the hype surrounding Lewis, and wondering whether he really is all he's cracked up to be. This performance showed that he really is the real deal, and then some.

Although it turned out to be a comfortable victory for Hamilton, that wasn't the end of the fun for the spectators. There were great battles throughout the field right until the final lap of the race. Raikkonen put in a good recovery after his tricky middle stint, and battled his way through the to a strong fourth place. It was a real champion's performance from Kimi, despite his problems. Fernando Alonso too was showing some of the brilliance that took him to back to back titles as he fought with Kimi and Kovalainen for lap after a lap. Eventually he lost out to the two much faster cars, but it was an excellent, battling performance from Alonso.

Even right down to the final corners of the race there was drama, as Nakajima lost seventh place to Jarno Trulli after he had been challenging for sixth with Alonso. It will no doubt have infuriated the Williams team, who had implored the young Japanese to focus on defending from Trulli, and not fighting Alonso for sixth.

So after a stunning driver, arguably the greatest of his short career, Lewis Hamilton now heads a 3-way tie for the World Championship lead with Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. With half of the season still to go, it is sure to be a thrilling race for the title all the way to Brazil. With this performance though, and the apparent strength of the McLaren car, Hamilton will now be installed as the bookie's favourite. It was a magnificent performance to win what was a magnificent British Grand Prix, and showed just a great a track Silverstone can be, and how it will be sorely missed from the calendar after next year.

Provisional Race Result

1. Hamilton
2. Heidfeld
3. Barrichello
4. Raikkonen
5. Kovalainen
6. Alonso
7. Trulli
8. Nakajima
9. Rosberg
10. Webber
11. Bourdais
12. Glock
13. Massa
ret Kubica
ret Button
ret Piquet
ret Fisichella
ret Sutil
ret Vettel
ret Coulthard

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