Hamilton wins British grand prix

hamilton_wins.jpgAfter enduring a week in which doubts had been cast on Lewis
Hamilton’s way of life and the recent trajectory of his career the
23-year-old won the British grand prix yesterday with a drive of
magisterial virtuosity in conditions severe enough to catch out just
about every other driver on the grid. On a typical Silverstone day
intermittent showers required him to overcome the hazard that most
clearly separates the very great drivers from the rest. Having lapped
all but two of the finishers, he crossed the line more than a minute
ahead of his nearest pursuer to set the seal on what he called "by far
the best victory I’ve ever had".

The sun appeared, for the first
time in the day, exactly on cue as the grandstands rose in a standing
ovation for the first Englishman to win this race since Johnny Herbert
in a Benetton in 1995. Now, after his third win of the year and with
exactly half the season to go, Hamilton is back sharing the lead in the
world championship with Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen.

had some troubles in the last few weeks and it’s been really tough,"
Hamilton said, referring both to his error-strewn races in Canada and
France and to the flak he has attracted for undertaking such a heavy
schedule of promotional commitments and public appearances that have
nothing to do with his work as a racing driver.

"I’d like to
dedicate this win to my family, who’ve always been there," he
continued. "I wasn’t feeling great when I got up this morning but, when
I got to the track and saw my family and met some of the fans at the
gate, their support gave me energy."

Although the modern world of
formula one is not inclined to spend too much time contemplating the
past, history was on many minds yesterday as Hamilton guided his
McLaren-Mercedes between the puddles and through the spray. He has
always looked at ease in these treacherous conditions, where a driver
needs a combination of extreme sensitivity to momentary changes in
adhesion and the confidence to cope with such reduced visibility, but
yesterday he went a step further and officially joined the ranks of the
rainmasters, the most exclusive club in motor racing.

Those with
long memories were making comparisons with the day in 1961 when
Stirling Moss, in an outclassed Lotus-Climax, overcame the might of the
Ferrari team in the rain over the old 14-mile Nürburgring, with its 174
corners per lap. Also being cited were demonstrations of extreme skill
in wet conditions by the likes of Rudolf Caracciola, Bernd Rosemeyer,
Jackie Stewart, Jacky Ickx and Michael Schumacher.

The name on
everybody’s lips, however, was that of Ayrton Senna, with particular
reference to the great Brazilian’s win at the wheel of a McLaren on a
cold and damp day at Donington Park in 1993, when he swept from fifth
to first place in the opening lap and won the race at a canter, lapping
every driver in the field except Damon Hill.

Asked to rank
Hamilton’s effort among the team’s greatest wins, Martin Whitmarsh,
McLaren’s chief operating officer, gently hedged his bets. "In the
euphoria of the moment," he said, "you can be disrespectful to the
great achievements of the past." The rest of us need not be so
circumspect. Hamilton’s drive yesterday was a masterpiece.

Senna did 15 years ago, he made light of a qualifying performance that
left him in fourth place on the grid and was contesting the lead with
Heikki Kovalainen, his team-mate, by the time they reached the first
corner. Showing great maturity, he decided not to force the issue until
the fifth lap, when he slipped inside the Finn as they turned into
Stowe Corner. From that moment his thoughts were directed to the
business of staying on the sodden track while gradually increasing his
lead until it reached almost embarrassing proportions.

Not that
his race was without incident. When conditions were at their worst he
was flipping his visor open a couple of times each lap to disperse the
fogging that hampered his ability to see where he was going. Two small
alarms, first when he locked his brakes at Brooklands and later when a
sudden shower blocked his vision at Abbey Curve, were not allowed to
disturb his composure. Others, however, were faring less well. Massa,
after starting the day as the championship leader, provided a kind of
peripatetic cabaret, entertaining the crowd – although not his team –
by spinning off at virtually every corner on his way to finishing in
13th and last place.

Even in the closing stages, when Hamilton’s
lap times were five or six seconds better than those of his
competitors, he resisted the temptation to ease off. "I didn’t want to
slow down because when you do that you can lose concentration," he
said. "And if I’d come off at that stage, it would have been

His was not the only revenge on view yesterday.
Silverstone ridiculed both those who questioned its credentials as a
grand prix venue and the poseurs in linen jackets and white jeans
attempting to parade up and down the rainswept paddock on a rainswept
morning. And, after an unforgettable race, the day finished with the
odour of effluent suffusing the paddock, possibly caused by Lewis
Hamilton tipping the stuff over his suddenly silenced critics.