As the Formula One circus descended on the Northamptonshire circuit this weekend, fans were greeted with typical British weather. Heavy rain, mud and traffic jams were the order of the day Friday, as the venue struggled to cope with the deluge of rain and heavy traffic coming into the venue.
Friday’s difficulties led Richard Phillips, Managing Director of Silverstone Circuits, to ask up to 20,000 paying fans to stay away from the circuit on Saturday, so that car parks could recover from the heavy rain on Friday, in the hope that conditions would improve for the race on Sunday.
Normally very quick to criticise Silverstone, even Bernie Ecclestone praised the way in which they coped with the difficulties. He said: “The people at Silverstone got over things very well and I’m very happy.”
Saturday’s Qualifying session was eventful to say the very least. Wet conditions still hampered not only the circuit, but the drivers too. The session was red flagged into Q2 with only six minutes remaining. Sadly, Jenson Button had already fallen foul of the weather having only managed to put his McLaren on 18th; disappointing to say the least for his and his team’s home Grand Prix.
When proceedings resumed, almost an hour and a half later, it would be Button’s teammate Hamilton that would suffer. Coming out on full wet tyres, he hadn’t realised the state of the circuit had improved enough to justify Intermediate tyres. Returning to the pits to change, he lost significant time which saw him only able to put the McLaren on the fourth row of the grid in eighth.
Hopes were high for either Button or Hamilton to storm through the field on Sunday and deliver the fans a much desired British winner. Having decided to start on the harder tyre, Hamilton’s strategy looked to be paying off when he went further into his first stint than Alonso, and he briefly took the lead.
His second and third stints however were off the pace, and all Hamilton could manage was a lowly eighth, exactly where he started. Button faired a little better, he had managed to promote the McLaren up to tenth place, following a battle with Bruno Senna and Nico Hulkenberg, the latter seemingly suffering from extreme tyre degradation.
The race was not without incident, as on lap 11, Pastor Maldonado was again making a name for himself by colliding with Sergio Perez. Maldonado insisted the crash was accidental. “It was unlucky this time because I lost the car on the entry to the corner, right on the apex with the front and then the rear,” he said. “I did the braking on DRS, and actually even braked before my normal braking place.”
Perez was vociferous in his statement regarding the incident; “he is a very dangerous driver and he can hurt someone”. Despite this, the Stewards who included former World Champion and Silverstone winner Nigel Mansell, only delivered a reprimand and a €10,000 fine.
Lap 39 saw Kamui Kobayashi get it all wrong as he came into the pits. Completely misjudging his entry speed, he collided with two of his Pit Crew, knocking them both to the ground. Thankfully, it was later reported that the injuries suffered by the pair were minor. Kobayashi later admitted he was at fault and apologised to the team, citing that he had no practice running in the dry and was unsure how much he could push.
The battle for the lead was where all eyes were in the closing stages of the race however; Alonso and Webber battling it out in what seemed to be their own private race. Alonso’s demise would begin on lap 38, having pitted earlier than expected for his final stop.
By this time, Webber’s pace was significantly better than Alonso’s and with only six laps remaining, his lead to the Australian only 0.5 seconds. With just three laps remaining, Alonso was obviously suffering with tyre degradation. Webber had a look into turn two, but thought better of it, deciding to sit in the Ferrari’s slipstream and await a better opportunity.
This would come, perhaps quicker than both expected, as Webber bravely decided that he would make his move around the outside at Brooklands. As he approached the Chequered Flag, Webber had managed to develop a two and a half second lead over the Spaniard, only demonstrating the level of degradation he was suffering.
With the next round heading to Hockenheim in two weeks, expectations remain high for the McLaren pair, Hamilton and Button. Their poor performances at the weekend will surely spur them, and their team on to deliver an acceptable level of performance.
Hamilton said: “We will keep our heads down, stay focused and hopefully at some stage we will get a car to challenge at the front.” Button added: “You can see where our weaknesses are. I just don’t think we are very quick at the moment. I don’t think we did anything wrong with strategy, we just were not quick enough today. We need to find some pace. It is not just the Red Bulls and Ferraris who are quicker than us, a lot of cars are. We have a lot to work on.”
Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh confirmed there were concerns with the cars performance, but admitted that he was “not seriously worried”. He added: “We have a reasonable upgrade package for Germany and we’d like that to be as successful as we can and make sure we can make it for Germany.”
With Hamilton and Button both seeing themselves slip in the standings following promising starts, there will certainly need to be a lot of hard work, and late nights, at the McLaren Technology Centre in the build-up to the German Grand Prix.