And so it came to pass, worse even that he feared. If this is to be Jenson Button’s Silverstone swansong the end was at least in keeping with what had come before. As Lewis Hamilton survived the twin assault of Williams and weather to edge closer to the British greats with a third success here, Jenson Button endured a career reprise, out on his ear before the first lap was done.
When Button was king of the road in 2009 his Brawn fell apart in the rose of the shires. What chance did he have in his McLaren pony and trap? Not a podium does he have to show for 16 seasons grafting on the F1 grid. Fourth three times is the best of it, not what he imagined in 2000 when as a 19-year-old boy he saw off Brazilian Bruno Junqueira for his dream drive at Williams.
On this occasion circumstance rather than his sad apology of a car did for him, Button rammed off at turn three, ironically enough by team-mate Fernando Alonso, himself the victim of a collision between Lotus drivers Romain Grosjean and Pator Maldonado.
Button was grateful to endure for one more year at McLaren but with nil sign of improvement might just volunteer for early retirement. Honda are thought to be nowhere near providing the British thoroughbred with a competitive engine, and, if fears play out, won’t be next year either. Only a radical rules shift promised for 2017 akin to those that ended Ferrari hegemony a decade ago and last year killed Red Bull’s four-year dominance, offers McLaren a hint of reprieve.
The sympathy vote appears all that is left for Button. His name appeared alongside Hamilton’s on many of the flags lining the pit straight, and on the way back to the garage riding pillion on a scooter with more grunt than his motor there was the love of the faithful to help him bear the pain. “The crowd has been amazing all weekend. They were even clapping and cheering me after my race. It’s been such a nice atmosphere – very special – and I just wish I could have done more for them today.”
For 19 laps there was excitement beyond the Mercedes motor home that had nothing to do with skies filling with water. Those old garagistas Williams were racing like it was 1997, the last time Sir Frank’s eponymous outfit toasted victory at the British Grand Prix.
That was the occasion of the team’s 100th win in Formula One, delivered by Jacques Villeneuve. Back then it was possible to believe the days of glory would be theirs forever. Earlier that decade Nigel Mansell won his only world title in a Williams. On Thursday, 23 years after that champagne moment, Mansell returned to Silverstone as a race steward only to have his entry denied by a gate operator who did not know who he was. Who’d be a hero, eh?
Felipe Massa’s ambush of both Mercedes off the line, quickly followed by team-mate Valtieri Bottas, who jumped Hamilton after the early safety car, had the old airfield jumping. Suzie Wolff, the Williiams test driver who’s husband Toto pays the wages at Mercedes, was out of her seat, threatening the dinning arrangements should the season’s natural order not settle on the race.
It did, of course, Hamilton making superiority tell through the pit stop mechanism. Just like Michael Schumacher in the days of Ferrari hegemony, Hamilton stepped on the metal with new tyres to pull out the necessary gap. Thereafter only the barometer could reign him in.
The atmospheric pressure was dropping quicker than an aitch in Lancashire, ushering up the Thames corridor a Mancunian weather pattern. First Reading then Oxford received the bad news, bringing a temporary end to barbecue Sunday. Pit radios crackled with bulletins “rain 15 minutes away…ten minutes…five minutes.”
When the time came Hamilton described his switch to intermediate tyres as the best of his career. Team-mate Nico Rosberg thought he’d done a Monaco and inherited a victory that was never intended to be his. Off he sped in to the clear air vacated by Hamilton only to run into the waters breaking over the far side of the circuit.
Thus a random intervention from above had come to the rescue of sport rapidly running out of gas. Williams’ early strike was but a diversion that could never survive the power of Mercedes to crush dissent. Thankfully for the 140,000 flag bearers in attendance Silverstone’s endless capacity for drama served up the race of the season.
An event that began with temperatures in the 30s ended with values in the teens, and the slam dunk of a rain shower that spiced the show without killing it. The track was already drying out when Hamilton tipped his wings at the pit wall to celebrate victory. Cue the mother of all pitch invasions.
This is the point in the weekend when the legions claim the stage, which was rather more palatable than the pageant beforehand when the boards were given over to Alesha Dixon, who dipped into her best Americana to turn God Save the Queen into a version of the Star Spangled Banner.
It did not improve much with Frankie Dettori’s post-race ceremonials on the podium. Dettori can ride a horse like few others but his practiced comedy schtick does not play out in a setting that better rewards expertise above buffoonery.
Never mind. Hamilton had given the priesthood the winner they wanted, his approach to the final corner broadcast on the big screens so that when he entered the final breaking zone the klaxons were ripping through the scales to welcome him home.
The waving of the chequered flag remains one of the great set pieces in all of sport, especially so at a cathedral such as this when a Briton is first past the post. Hamilton’s victory takes him within one of Mansell and two of Jim Clark on the domestic honours board. What poor, old Button would give for a piece of that action.
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