Whether he’s fighting Formula 1’s battle against discrimination for the umpteenth time or rejecting his body jewellery, Lewis Hamilton’s always eccentric life and moments were particularly chaotic and intense during the week of the British Grand Prix.
While one issue in the form of the jewelery line was dispelled 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 him Hamilton last year, over the widely condemned clip that resurfaced on Tuesday.
So when things on track, with first practice on a gloomy Silverstone Friday, became irrelevant due to persistent rain, the sport’s biggest star must have felt he would never catch a break on his favorite weekend of the year. However, in a Mercedes that has been flattered to deceive this season, Hamilton had reason for optimism ahead of qualifying on Saturday, going second fastest in a dry second practice session as afternoon turned to evening in Northamptonshire.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz topped the timesheets in the day’s only meaningful session, 0.163s ahead of Hamilton, with McLaren’s Lando Norris completing the top three in a promising session for the Briton.
Hamilton, who was frustrated after the second practice session two weeks ago in Montreal, was satisfied with his first day running here, despite complaining that he was bouncing at high speeds on the team radio.
“It was a good day, I feel really good,” he said afterwards. “We still have work to do, but it feels like a small step forward. This track is much smoother than two weeks ago, a bit like Barcelona. But this is the best track to drive. We’ve certainly made some progress… and we’ll work as hard as we can overnight to give the fans the best result.”
Championship leader Max Verstappen was fourth fastest, with Charles Leclerc fifth and Fernando Alonso sixth. George Russell was eighth and was complaining of a lack of grip in the latter stages of the session, although just one second separated the top-10 from Sainz in first and Lance Stroll in 10th – encouraging signs ahead of the serious stuff tomorrow.
Mercedes has long targeted Silverstone as a circuit where the underpowered W13 could finally unleash its heralded potential. Glimpses of first-row setup speed in Miami and Barcelona were quickly forgotten as the Silver Arrows continued to race with the erratic seal that has characterized this breed of cars in the most recent races in Baku and Montreal.
Signs of progress in Canada – where Hamilton recorded only his second podium of the season – lead nicely at Silverstone, just eight miles from Mercedes’ headquarters in Brackley. Toto Wolff and his engineering team have also brought major upgrades to what is essentially a last-chance saloon to mount a serious challenge at the top in 2022.
Hamilton and Russell were particularly early, amid a wet first practice, which was quickly made difficult by the showers and humidity on the track. Hamilton actually finished second – setting a quick lap late on soft tires – with his former team-mate Valtteri Bottas fastest for Alfa Romeo.
Championship leader Verstappen also had to deal with some of the fallout from this week’s racism scandal with three-time world champion Piquet, the father of the world champion’s girlfriend Kelly.
And a year on from that memorable first-lap collision with Hamilton – and the subsequent crash of the 51G at Copse corner – the world champion was just two-tenths off pacesetter Sainz. He casually described it as “not amazing… but not bad” in the post-pen session.
However, despite the timesheets, all lenses remain fixed in Hamilton. Despite the constant challenges thrown at him, an upset performance here this weekend – and Silverstone’s most elusive ninth triumph coming on Sunday night – may well prove more impressive and inspiring than any words this week of all weeks.