Santander British Grand Prix 2008

               The Lewis Hamilton Factor energises Silverstone!

The Formula 1 Circus arrived at Silverstone on the weekend of the 6-8th July 2007 for round 9 of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. With it came an air of great expectation that Britain's new kid on the block Lewis Hamilton would continue his meteoric rise to the top of world motor sport and extend his superb running streak with another spectacular display but this time in front of his home fans. Other less savoury activities and headlines were also threatening to engulf the sport and bring it into disrepute as the 'spygate' scandal involving Ferrari and McLaren was beginning to escalate with Ferrari launching legal action over the alleged loss of its intellectual property to McLaren. As the circus arrived in Northamptonshire another local team looked likely to become embroiled in the controversy. Honda team principal Nick Fry had apparently been approached by the main protagonists in the transfer of data namely Mike Coughlan and Nigel Stepney regarding potential employment opportunities although he was at pains to stress that at no time did any confidential data get discussed. It was against this backdrop that the teams took to the track and everyone breathed a sigh of relief that perhaps just for a few days at least we could all just enjoy some good racing and hopefully the British fans would be rewarded by a virtuoso performance by their new found hero. Lewis had not taken the opportunity to take part in the pre Grand Prix test days at Silverstone and one could not help but wonder whether this would slow his progress in setting up the car for this important race. The Friday morning free practice did not disappoint the masses as Lewis outpaced his team mate Fernando Alonso (4th) and the two Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. Nico Rosberg put in a sterling performance for the Williams team with 5th ahead of the rapidly improving BMW Saubers of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld. Alex Wurz, Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello rounded out the top 10 in the opening session. Session two saw the two Ferrari drivers begin to assert their authority as they occupied the top two places with Raikkonen ahead of Massa. The Friday sessions are always difficult to judge as you can never be sure what strategy the teams are following and hence it is not possible to draw too many conclusions. With this in mind it was not too much of a surprise to see the Toyota of 'on-off' Ralf Schumacher in 3rd place with Hamilton dropping back down to 4th. In 5th was the other Toyota of Jarno Trulli and 6th the McLaren of Fernando Alonso. Nico Rosberg eased back to 7th with Alex Wurz, Mark Webber and Anthony Davidson rounding out the top ten. Lap times continued to fall in the Saturday morning free practice session as the teams began to get their set ups sorted in readiness for the all important upcoming qualifying session. Raikkonen remained at the head of the field but this time it was Fernando Alonso who skipped up the order into 2nd place displacing Felipe Massa down into 3rd and Hamilton retaining his 4th fastest place. Nico Rosberg looked consistent if not threatening to the front runners with 5th, Ralf Schumacher faded to 6th ahead of Vitantonio Liuzzi with Kovalainen, Heidfeld and Davidson completing the top 10. The qualifying session got underway and after the first two knock out periods Lewis Hamilton appeared to be struggling, possibly wilting under the weight of the expectant demands of the partisan crowd. As the final runs approached it was an on the limit Kimi Raikkonen that looked set to snatch pole position but with only seconds to go in the dying moments of the session the crowd gasped as Lewis headed on to his final lap secure in the knowledge that if he delivered no one would have the time to beat him. the atmosphere was electric as the McLaren driver set a good first sector time just a tenth off Raikkonen but ahead of Alonso. The second sector was the banker with Lewis outpacing Alonso and Raikkonen and beginning to look in with a genuine chance of grabbing the pole. As he drove through the final sector he made no mistakes and the crowd was on the verge of eruption as he exited Luffield and crossed the line one tenth faster than the Ferrari of Raikkonen. No one cared that Alonso was 3rd fastest, Massa 4th or Kubica 5th, all you could hear as Lewis made his way around that slowing down lap was the ecstatic cheering of the home crowd and nowhere were they more vociferous than at the Luffield complex where the sound built up into a crescendo that could be heard across at the other side of the  circuit. There was an electric atmosphere at the circuit from the moment the gates opened and the fans began to rapidly fill the terraces, grandstands and spectator banks, it was distinctly reminiscent of the Mansell mania years. By the time the red lights went out the excitement had reached fever pitch, but instantly there was drama. As Hamilton blasted off the grid chased by the howling pack, the red Ferrari of Felipe Massa stood silently in their wake forcing a restart. The hapless Massa was pushed to his pit and his car was restarted with ease by the Ferrari mechanics. The furious Brazilian made his way to the end of the pit lane where he would start the race. Hamilton got away well again at the restart pursued by Raikkonen, Alonso and Kubica. Lewis looked uncomfortable from the start and although he put up a valiant fight up to the first pit stop window, but it was Fernando Alonso who emerged in front with Raikkonen second and Hamilton dropping back to third. The first seven front runners pretty much held station until Alonso dived into the pits on lap 37 for an early second stop, with Hamilton Following on lap 38. Raikkonen meanwhile was pressing home the advantage and continued for a further five laps pitting on lap 43 and returning to the track without losing the number one spot. Felipe Massa had made meteoric progress back though the field after his start line disaster fighting his way back up to 3rd place by lap 42. As the second pit stop sequence worked its way through with Raikkonen leading from Alonso, Hamilton, Kubica, and Massa, the latter having dropped to fifth following his second pit stop, very little was to change. Alonso and Hamilton were unable to pressure Raikkonen who duly took the flag for Ferrari. Nick Heidfeld took 6th for BMW ahead of the Renaults of Kovalainen and Fisichella. Barrichello and Button rounded out the top ten for Honda. The hordes of British fans were denied a Hamilton victory on this occasion but for sure he will return to reward them in the very near future with a long awaited British triumph on home ground. Hamilton's lead in the championship was still intact but Alonso, Raikkonen and Massa are all poised to strike and capitalise on any weakness as Lewis's dream season progresses.

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