Button and Hamilton both target home triumph under British rain
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Friday 08 July 2011
The rain tumbled down in sheets over Tower Bridge yesterday. "Beautiful day," said Jenson Button, deploying that effortless grin as he peered towards the Tower of London. "I've brought my girlfriend. She said to me – is this summer in England?"
Button and his McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton were soon spotted by a group of Italian tourists who heckled them good naturedly as they passed with cries of "Ferrari, Ferrari" before the rain drowned them out. The two Britons smiled. Bad weather is good news for them.
If conditions are similar at Silverstone this weekend there will not be two happier men than the home hopes; Hamilton looking for British Grand Prix win No 2 and Button his first. "Red Bull will be very difficult to beat," said Button, "but if it's mixed conditions or wet it gives us a better opportunity. We enjoy driving in the wet – we are both used to it!"
These two have form in the rain, although the forecast for the weekend offers only qualified encouragement; rain today and at tomorrow's vital qualifying session but for race day the prediction is all dry.
Hamilton's victory in 2008 came with a dazzling mastery of dreadful conditions as he finished 68 seconds clear of his pursuers. Afterwards Hamilton described it as his best-ever victory and it remains his pick of 15 Grand Prix wins. "It was very special," said Hamilton. "It was one of the worst conditions I have driven in and I don't really know how I managed to get round."
Button, who sits second in the world championship, albeit a distant 75 points behind the relentless Sebastian Vettel, enjoyed his sole win this season in the rain in Montreal last month. The Canadian Grand Prix was suspended for more than two hours – in all the race spanned four hours, the longest in Formula One history – with Button later splashing to victory. "It is not so good for fans sitting in it," said Button, "but in terms of our pace in the wet and in terms of result, wet weather could be good."
Both men, Button relaxed and chatty, Hamilton quieter and composed, claim to savour the week of their home race, even though it is their busiest of the calendar with the demands of sponsors – yesterday's photoshoot saw them beaming alongside London taxi drivers, windscreen wipers working furiously on the black cabs.
"I don't feel any pressure," said Button, convincingly. He compares how easy it feels to drive a Grand Prix as opposed to playing in a Wimbledon final – he was watching from the Royal Box on Sunday.
"You could feel the pressure on the finalists. We can sit there beneath our crash helmets and be at one with the car. It takes you away from the outside world."
Button's record in the British Grand Prix is one of frustration, last year he was half a second off securing a first podium place at the 11th attempt. "As a racing driver," he said, "you want to be world champion, win Monaco and win your home race and I haven't achieved that yet."
"The older races are more special," added Hamilton. "You grow up watching drivers create history and now you are living the dream. It's the biggest sporting event in this country."
The two, Button five years Hamilton's senior at 31, seem relaxed together. They discuss the driver relationship, a much-speculated area of any F1 team's affairs. "On the circuit you want to beat everyone," said Button. "Off it you have to work together. If there is fighting it causes a bad atmosphere among the team." Hamilton put it this way: "Sometimes there are personality clashes. In the past that has been the case but we get along very well."
Button unfurled that disarming grin again. "We're positive but you have also got to look at the previous race – Red Bull are very, very strong. But it's a different style of circuit and if the weather stays like this it will be one hell of a weekend."
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