Great Britain Flashback 2008 - Hamilton conquers soaked Silverstone 19 Jun 2009
Lewis Hamiltons debut British Grand Prix in 2007 didnt go quite to plan. Although he clinched a podium with third place, Hamilton wanted a win at his home race, and when he returned in 2008 victory was top of his agenda. Trailing Ferraris Felipe Massa by 10 points in the title standings, the Silverstone result could also prove crucial to his championship hopes.
After lapping the Northamptonshire track over eight-tenths quicker than his 2007 pole time during testing the week before, Hamilton had real reason to feel confident. Ferrari, however, had been very strong at the test too, while BMW Sauber were keen to bounce back after a disappointing showing in the previous French round. Honda and Force India, meanwhile, hoped that extensive car modifications would boost their chance of points.
Predictably, McLaren and Ferrari divvied up the top slots during Friday practice, with Massa topping the times in the morning and Heikki Kovalainen in the afternoon. Hamilton was third quickest in both sessions, but Kimi Raikkonen was left downcast after taking fourth and then 12th. For the majority it was just a normal test day, although Hondas Rubens Barrichello struggled with a rear suspension problem and both Toyotas suffered mishaps, with Timo Glock suffering clutch issues and Jarno Trullis rear wing falling off at Stowe.
Torrential rain on Saturday morning meant that final practice started on a wet track. Renaults Fernando Alonso set the pace, ahead of Red Bulls Mark Webber, Kovalainen, Hamilton and Toro Rossos Sebastian Vettel. With Raikkonen ninth and Massa in 12th it wasnt the best session for Ferrari, but few were betting against the red cars making a return to the front in the afternoon.
Qualifying, however, did surprise, but it was Kovalainens stunning performance that made the headlines. Up front, fighting rain and a fierce crosswind, it was the Finns first F1 pole. For Hamilton, Q3 was ruined by an early off-track moment and the Briton was understandably frustrated with the mistake and his subsequent fourth place.
I felt comfortable in the car and the speed was there; however, on my first flying lap in Q3 I ran a bit wide at the exit of Priory and went onto the gravel, he explained. Obviously I just pushed a little bit too hard and it's a pity that I missed the front row. However, with our strategy and the predicted rain for the race everything will be possible."
Webber took second on the grid for Red Bull (the teams first front-row result), ahead of Raikkonen, Hamilton, BMW Saubers Nick Heidfeld, Alonso and his Renault team mate Nelson Piquet. Vettel, Massa (who failed to make a second Q3 run after a problem during his final tyre change) and BMW Saubers Robert Kubica completed the top ten.
Just as McLaren had forecast, Sundays race started on a damp track. A quick start from Hamilton saw him touch wheels with Kovalainen on Lap One at Copse and by Lap Five the British driver had squeezed past his team mate to take the lead. From that point on the race was in Hamiltons grasp. Raikkonen initially looked a threat but a strategic slip-up cost the Finn dear. Pitting on Lap 21, Ferrari decided to keep him on the same set of tyres, whereas McLaren swapped Hamilton to a new set of standard wet-weather Bridgestones. On fresh rubber, Hamilton sped off into the distance, whilst Raikkonen slipped down the order, losing places to the strong-running BMW Saubers of Heidfeld and Kubica.
Silverstone had one more surprise in store, however, with heavy rain starting to fall at the races mid-point. More than one driver fell foul, sliding off the road, but Hamilton was flawless, eventually taking a triumphant victory with over a minutes lead. When the heavens opened Honda acted quickly, bringing both Barrichello and team mate Jenson Button in for extreme wet tyres on Lap 35. The Brazilian made most use of them, pushing his way up into second place. Although he pitted again, and Heidfeld eventually took second, the Brazilian took a team-boosting third place, his first podium in four years.
Behind them, Raikkonen emerged victorious from a late-race battle with Alonso and Kovalainen to finish fourth. Kovalainen got past Alonso in the closing stages for fifth, ahead of seventh-placed Trulli and Williams Kazuki Nakajima in eighth. Nakajimas team mate Nico Rosberg, who had started from the pit lane, finished ninth. After spinning on the opening lap Webber endured a terrible race and took 10th, ahead of Toro Rossos Sebastien Bourdais, Glock and Massa, who span his Ferrari at least six times. Button crashed out despite his extreme wets, as did Piquet, both Force Indias, Vettel and Red Bulls David Coulthard.
For Hamilton, the rain couldnt dampen his celebrations. Describing the race as the toughest of his career, he left Silverstone tied for the lead of the championship with Massa and Raikkonen, all three on 48 points.