Lewis Hamilton gives cause for optimism after encouraging showing ahead of British Grand Prix weekend

Hamilton went second fastest in Friday’s second practice session ahead of qualifying on Saturday, with Carlos Sainz top of the leaderboard and Lando Norris in third

Whether it be fighting Formula 1’s battle against discrimination for the umpteenth time or warding off prods about the jewels on his body, the ever-eccentric life and times of Lewis Hamilton have been particularly chaotic and intense in British Grand Prix week.

While one issue in the form of the jewellery row dissipated on Friday – with the Mercedes man backing down and removing his nose stud – another video emerged of Nelson Piquet using a racial slur and also homophobic language to describe Hamilton last year, on top of the widely-condemned clip which resurfaced on Tuesday.

So when matters on track, with first practice on a gloomy Silverstone Friday, were rendered irrelevant due to consistent sprinkles of rain, the sport’s biggest star must have felt he would never catch a break on his favourite weekend of the year. Yet in a Mercedes which has flattered to deceive this season, Hamilton did have cause for optimism ahead of qualifying on Saturday as he went second fastest in a dry second practice as afternoon turned to evening in Northamptonshire.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz topped the timesheets in the only meaningful session of the day, 0.163 seconds ahead of Hamilton, with McLaren’s Lando Norris completing the top-three in a promising session for the Brits.

Hamilton, who was disconsolate after second practice two weeks ago in Montreal, was satisfied with his first day of running here despite complaining of bouncing in high speeds on team radio.

“It has been a good day, feeling pretty good,” he said afterwards. “We’ve still got work to do but it does feel like a small step forwards. This track is much smoother than two weeks ago, a bit like Barcelona. But this is the best track to drive. We’ve definitely made a bit of progress… and we’re going to work as hard as we can overnight to get the fans the best result.”

Championship leader Max Verstappen was fourth-fastest, with Charles Leclerc placed fifth and Fernando Alonso in sixth. George Russell was eighth and was complaining of a lack of grip in the latter stages of the session, though only one second split the top-10 from Sainz in first and Lance Stroll in 10th - encouraging signs ahead of the serious stuff tomorrow.

Mercedes have long since targeted Silverstone as a track where their underperforming W13 could finally unleash its long-heralded potential. Glimpses of front-row setting speed in Miami and Barcelona were quickly forgotten as the Silver Arrows continued to struggle with the erratic porpoising which has characterised this breed of car in the most recent races in Baku and Montreal.

Verstappen drives ahead of Hamilton in second practice on Friday

Signs of progress in Canada – where Hamilton recorded only his second podium of the season – lead nicely into Silverstone, just eight miles from Mercedes’ HQ in Brackley. Toto Wolff and his team of engineers have brought big upgrades too, in what is effectively a last-chance saloon to mount a serious challenge at the top in 2022.

Hamilton and Russell were notably first out amid the wet of first practice which was quickly hampered by showers and dampness on track. Hamilton actually finished second – setting a quick lap late on with soft tyres – with former team-mate Valtteri Bottas fastest for Alfa Romeo.

Championship leader Verstappen has also had to deal with an element of the fallout from this week’s racism scandal, with three-time world champion Piquet the father to the world champion’s girlfriend Kelly.

And a year after that memorable collision with Hamilton on lap one – and the subsequent 51G crash into Copse corner – the world champion was just two-tenths off pace-setter Sainz. He nonchantly described it as “not amazing... but not bad” in the pen post-session.

Yet despite the timesheets, all lenses remain fixed on Hamilton. In spite of continued challenges thrown at him, a season-turning performance here this weekend – and the most unfathomable ninth Silverstone triumph come Sunday night – may well prove more impactful and inspiring than any words could in this week of all weeks.

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