Lewis Hamilton gave the bedraggled spectators what they wanted at Silverstone yesterday as he set the fastest practice time – before the British Grand Prix descended into a farce that shamed Formula One.
Thousands of fans were still log-jammed angrily outside the gates in an ingress debacle that was far worse than the 2000 race and made Thursday's drama on the M6 toll road seem like a minor hiccup.
For a start, the majority of drivers did not run until the final half-hour of the 90-minute afternoon session. Their wish to save wet-weather tyres might have been understandable given the forecast for the rest of the weekend, but inevitably added to the anger of the paying public, who already felt aggrieved when the Force Indias of home hero Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg, and 2011 winner Fernando Alonso's Ferrari, stayed in the garage during the morning session. In the afternoon Mark Webber's Red Bull, Romain Grosjean's Lotus, Daniel Ricciardo's Toro Rosso and Pedro de la Rosa's HRT likewise did not participate.
The Saubers of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez set the initial pace as the major runners kept their powder dry, figuratively and literally, and it was not until the final part that the big guns emerged. That was when Hamilton pushed his McLaren to the top of the timesheets, 0.129sec ahead of Kobayashi.
The session was red-flagged for 10 minutes after Bruno Senna lost control of his Williams and crashed head-on into the tyre wall after going straight on at the fast Chapel Corner, which leads on to the Hangar Straight. The Brazilian was unharmed.
"I had some fun out there today," said Hamilton, but he was definitely in the minority. "I got to do a good few laps too, which was good, because I was concerned that the fans wouldn't get to see much action. There were so many of them out there today. I can't remember seeing so many people at a racetrack on a Friday before – it was incredible. British Formula One fans are the best in the world!
"I would like to have gone out and done even more laps – but we simply didn't have enough tyres to do that. Perhaps that's something we can look at for the future.
"There was a lot of standing water out there, and tons of aquaplaning. That's to be expected when there's heavy rain, of course, but I have to say that there doesn't seem to be that much drainage around the circuit. You're aquaplaning almost all the time, to be honest, so you need to be very in tune with your senses or you're very likely to lose control."
Hamilton's McLaren team-mate Jenson Button felt he'd learned a few things – "mainly that it's often wet at Silverstone and the fans always come out in force even when it's chucking it down". He added: "I'm glad we were finally able to do some running as it hasn't been the nicest of days for them.
"It was very tricky out there – there was lots of standing water. You wouldn't want to be racing wheel-to-wheel in those conditions, as you wouldn't see the puddles until it was too late. I think we learned throughout the day where the biggest rivers on the circuit were situated – one of the biggest is along the Hangar Straight just before Stowe. You're travelling at 180mph and you hit a river that gives you wheelspin and when that happens your car can snap out of control very easily.
"When you're driving alone, it's not so bad, because you can pick your way around and lift off whenever necessary, but in the race you can't do that. So, pretty obviously, I hope there won't be as much standing water around on Sunday."
Sadly there was still plenty last night. Unlike the McLaren drivers, the organisers appeared to have little regard for the people who had paid to watch their race. At the end of a day of disorganised insanity that shamed British sport, campers were told via Silverstone Radio that due to waterlogged conditions they were being evacuated. Though they had paid for their sites, they were blithely advised either to go home or make alternative arrangements for the evening.
Silverstone: Practice times
FIA Formula 1 British Grand Prix, Silverstone
1 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus-Renault 1mins 56.552secs
2 D Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:56.827
3 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1:57.174
4 S Perez (Mex) Sauber 1:57.664
5 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:58.119
6 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 1:58.463
7 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber 1:58.483
8 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:58.493
9 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:58.942
10 J-E Vergne (Fr) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:59.076
11 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault 1:59.414
12 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham-Renault 1:59.614
13 V Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault 1:59.733
14 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham-Renault 1:59.787
15 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault 2:00.125
16 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault 2:00.253
17 J Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 2:01.834
18 T Glock (Ger) Marussia-Cosworth 2:01.835
19 P de la Rosa (Sp) HRT-Cosworth 2:04.341
20 D Clos (Sp) HRT-Cosworth 2:05.022
21 C Pic (Fr) Marussia-Cosworth 2:11.760
22 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari no time
23 P Di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes no time
24 J Bianchi (Fr) Force India-Mercedes no time
1 L Hamilton 1:56.345
2 K Kobayashi 1:56.474
3 M Schumacher 1:56.545
4 N Rosberg 1:56.567
5 S Perez 1:57.493
6 J Button 1:57.948
7 H Kovalainen 1:58.580
8 K Raikkonen 1:58.897
9 N Hulkenberg 1:58.943
10 F Alonso 1:59.015
11 P Di Resta 1:59.429
12 P Maldonado 1:59.472
13 S Vettel 1:59.476
14 J-E Vergne 1:59.854
15 F Massa 2:00.565
16 T Glock 2:00.820
17 B Senna 2:01.099
18 V Petrov 2:01.348
19 C Pic 2:03.719
20 N Karthikeyan 2:04.774
21 R Grosjean no time
22 D Ricciardo no time
23 M Webber no time
24 P de la Rosa no time