Alonso makes the biggest splash of all
Spaniard takes pole for British GP as fans are told to come in 4x4s today and bring their wellington boots
Weather be damned. All doors to the British Grand Prix were declared open last night. All you need is a 4x4 and a pair of Wellington boots. That was the advice offered by Silverstone after a frantic 24 hours shoring up car parks butchered by the July monsoon. A statement invoking the spirit of Dad's Army if not Dunkirk read: "Please leave plenty of time to arrive at the circuit and, where possible, travel in 4x4 vehicles, on motorcycles or car share. In order to park vehicles safely, fans should be prepared for a longer walk than usual. Please wear sensible shoes and clothing."
It read like a missive from Captain Mainwairing to Pike. For those not familiar with the Seventies sit-com, think stiff upper lip facing impossible odds in a war. Everything that could go wrong did, with comic endings brought about by an overwhelming desire to do the right thing. Silverstone have done all and more to ensure there is no repeat of yesterday's blockade and that all ticket-holders will get in today. Their instincts are right but one fears for the sanity of the organisers after another epic dousing swamped qualifying, forcing suspension for 90 minutes.
It is hard to see how chaos will be avoided with further rain predicted. Executives will gather tomorrow to determine the refund packages. The result is likely to be as ugly as the weather with compensation expected to reach seven figures.
The malevolent influence of the displaced jet stream extended to the circuit during the second qualifying session, by which time Jenson Button had already taken his leave. Button's season has nosedived with the climate. In March, when drought was declared, Button was at the top of the championship, having won in Australia. The idea that he might challenge for victories in July is as ridiculous as a hosepipe ban. A yellow flag in the final sector dropped him to 18th on the grid.
"I would rather have put on a much better show but that is the story of my year, so I am not too upset. And I know I can drive a racing car in the wet," Button said.
An hour into the rain delay, behaviour patterns as weird as the weather erupted at Mercedes, where Nico Rosberg emerged from the garage to conduct an impromptu Mexican wave. The crowd loved it, even more when team principal Ross Brawn joined in. No sign of Michael Schumacher in the chorus line, but he reprised his great days in claiming third spot on the gird, a quarter of a second behind pole man, Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
It is the Spaniard who was brought to Maranello to do what Schumacher did at the turn of the century. The demand at Ferrari is not only to be quick. Were that the case, Kimi Raikkonen might still be there. The requirement is also to lead, to dominate and to crush. Ferrari is an institution apart, the marque without which this sport could not do. It took Schumacher five seasons to end a championship hiatus that extended back to 1979. Alonso is in his third year. He leads the championship and is not in the season's best car.
His victory here last year went some way to reconciling him with this country following his acrimonious departure from McLaren in 2007 after one explosive year. The experience hurt him and left in a delicate state his sentiments towards all things British. McLaren's loss was Ferrari's gain. Alonso won from 11th in Valencia a fortnight ago. In these conditions there are no guarantees, but who if not him is best placed to manage the predicted chaos today?
Alonso is a different beast in the rain, posting a qualifying time a second quicker than his team-mate, Felipe Massa. That is not a new experience for Massa, who was done all ends up by Alonso at the Nurburgring during one of the few highlights of his season at McLaren. Massa did not even bother to defend as Alonso ripped past him in the wet en route to an imperious victory.
The forecast is for changeable weather, which is more disruptive than a deluge since it requires rapier reactions to shifts in conditions. A failure to intuit correctly the state of the track yesterday led to Lewis Hamilton starting the final qualifying session on extreme wet tyres when intermediate was the optimum option. The error forced him back into the pits, and led to his worst qualifying position of the season, eighth, if not his lowest start, which came at the back in Valencia under penalty.
At least Hamilton is sleeping in his bed of choice at the Hertfordshire home of his family. Not so Alonso and Schumacher, unwitting victims of force majeure. Both were compelled to desert the camper van experience, albeit at the top of end of the market, to seek alternative accommodation. Alonso lasted one night. Schumacher stuck it out until yesterday. Nothing a helicopter and a Mayfair hotel could not fix, of course, a plan B not available to the common man.
Not to worry. Silverstone managing director Richard Phillips extends a welcome to all today, however threadbare the prospect of trouble-free motoring. "It is still going to be tricky. The car-park entrances have been repaired and strengthened but the grass car parks are not in a great state. Hopefully people will get in. Another day like yesterday would have killed the staff. British fans are amazing, quite humbling."
How to tame Silverstone
Avoid carnage in the first corner
They say that you can't win a race at the first corner, but you can certainly lose one there. So the first rule is, be aggressive but don't risk putting yourself in a vulnerable position.
Cut delay caused by a pitstop
Pitstops aren't just about the time spent having tyres changed. The "in" lap upsets a driver's rhythm but can be a rich source of time advantage. Alonso is brilliant at racing right up to the pitlane speed-limit line, then slamming on the brakes and getting back on the pace the moment he crosses the exit line. In Malaysia Hamilton's best pitlane time was 24.1sec; Webber's and Button's were 23.7 and 23.4 respectively; Vettel's and Alonso's were 22.8 and 22.6.
Cut time spent stationary in the pits
A sub-3sec pitstop is fast, but in Valencia McLaren managed a full tyre change in a record 2.6sec. Any time saved here can translate into valuable advantage once the driver is racing again.
Look after your tyres
The operating window of Pirelli's "made to degrade" tyres is so narrow that you have to look after them. As we've seen countless times this season, once they drop over their performance cliff a driver can become easy prey for those who have done a better job of conservation. Softly, softly can be a sound philosophy.
Pick your fight
As Lewis Hamilton demonstrated in Valencia, there comes a point when discretion can be the better part of valour. In such a tight championship fight, sometimes settling for points and losing one battle can help you to win the overall war.
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