Hamilton hopes to keep grip again, while it's catch-up time for Button
British pair pin faith on McLaren upgrades to keep the home flag flying in the wet
Saturday 07 July 2012
Could there be a greater contrast right now between McLaren team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, as both aim to put McLaren on top and to win their home race against strong opposition from Red Bull, Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes?
Last year Hamilton was on the back foot, Button dominant. Now the boot is on the other foot. Hamilton is still third in the title chase on 88 points despite his collision with Pastor Maldonado in Valencia, while Button is eighth on 49. As the odds favour Hamilton repeating his fabulous 2008 success on a track he adores, Button is looking for redemption and, perhaps, his first podium at home.
Hamilton is clearly in a much better place than he was towards the end of a troubled 2011 season, but he admits that even he has no real idea how he walked on water here four years ago as rivals slithered into oblivion. He won by more than a minute and was the one ray of sunshine on a dreary British summer day that seems set to be repeated tomorrow.
"I think I had one moment in the 2008 race when I went straight on at Abbey, but otherwise it was quite a smooth race," Hamilton said. "I really still don't know today why it all came together. But it was obviously a combination of the tyres, good pit stops, good call strategies and maximising the grip on a track which I'd learnt for a few years before I'd even got into Formula One. I knew where that grip was and was able to put that knowledge into play."
Ah, pit stops – McLaren's Achilles' heel this season. Down at the Woking factory they have been practising them so assiduously that they are confident this weekend of repeating their 2.6sec record from Valencia, without any of the snafus that at times in 2012 have hurt Hamilton's chances in particular.
That practice, and a heavy upgrade of the McLaren, have left Hamilton very confident. "I'm really, really excited to see how the upgrades behave on the car and if they actually deliver what we think they're going to deliver," he said. "I don't know if it's as big as what Red Bull brought at the last race, but who knows? I think our car generally goes a little bit better on high-speed circuits than it does at low-speed circuits, so fingers crossed it will be a little bit stronger this weekend.
"I get an incredible energy boost from racing at home, where all the flags are being waved for you. I first experienced that here in 2006, in GP2. Silverstone is more than just my home race, it's a giant of a circuit, a real racer's track. The support you get from the fans is fantastic. And although I've won here before, of course I'd love to win it again."
Hamilton let it be known earlier in the season that agreeing a new deal with McLaren after his current one runs out at the end of this campaign was not a priority, as he focused on his championship challenge. But he admitted this weekend: "I am ready to get it done."
That suggests that he will be staying with the team for which he first signed a contract at the tender age of 13, even though seats are likely to be available at Red Bull and Ferrari, and possibly Mercedes, in 2013. And even though team chief Ron Dennis very pointedly hinted recently that Hamilton's last contract had been signed at a time when the economy was much more buoyant.
Button's case is very different. His contract has at least another year to run, but he hasn't struck pay dirt in a race since the third round, in China in April. Since then the man with the reputation as the smoothest and easiest on his tyres has struggled to find the sweet spot of the high-degradation Pirellis. Nothing would suit him better than overcoming that, and pulling a big result out of the hat, at home.
"At the last race, everyone was quite excited about how quick the Red Bull was," Button said. "Their pace was phenomenal. They had a big aerodynamic package and it worked in the low-speed corners. That's an area where it's very difficult to get a car working aerodynamically because we are so limited with blowing the rear diffuser. It's an area where we are lacking at the moment, but that shouldn't matter for us because it's a high-speed circuit and it's high-speed where the updates work for us."
McLaren's new package should realise an advantage of as much as three-tenths of a second – more than enough to help Button make up places at a time when thousandths can mean the difference between respectable and midfield placings.
"We're seeing a step, but I don't think we're going to see a massive step," he said. "With the regulations being so limited aerodynamically, it's difficult to find a massive step like you could last year.
"But we do have a few bits aerodynamically and mechanically. There is some stuff which is very exciting; we have bits that should help us around here. But I think even without the extra bits we would have had a pretty good car around here."
Of course, that's exactly what both drivers want in this race that matters so much to them on the emotional level. In Button's case there is also the unspoken subtext that his own championship challenge really needs it.
Best of British: Five famous drives
Lewis Hamilton 2008 After starting fourth on the grid, Hamilton took the lead on the first corner and never looked back, despite the wet weather. McLaren's decision to provide Hamilton with intermediate wet tyres paid dividends.
David Coulthard 2000 Starting fourth on the grid, the Scot made his assault on the front three at the first corner; overtaking flying Finn Mika Hakkinen. Coulthard later passed the leader, Brazil's Rubens Barrichello, on the outside and held on to his lead in dramatic fashion.
Nigel Mansell 1991 At a remodelled Silverstone, Mansell dominated in front of a delirious home crowd. Mansell started the race on pole and it was only the late, great Ayrton Senna who posed any real threat.
James Hunt 1977 The blond bombshell had endured a poor start to the season, but won in his McLaren M26, edging out the first turbocharged F1 car, a Renault RS01, for victory.
Johnny Herbert 1995 Herbert powered to victory for his first Formula One win, successfully defending a number of cut-and-thrust moves from Coulthard.
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