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GP Week : Issue 18
F1 BRITAIN >> H E described it as his best ever win and he wasn’t wrong. Lewis Hamilton’s British Grand Prix performance was nothing short of stunning – a staggering rebuff to the doubters who had ramped up the pressure on the 23-year old in the run up to what could yet be seen as the make- or-break race of his 2008 championship challenge. Coming on the back of a two-race streak without points, the Briton was in fighting spirit, and following a disappointing qualifying performance knew the start would be crucial. It was. As his rivals struggled for traction, Hamilton blasted up into second from fourth to sit on his team-mate and pole- sitter Heikki Kovalainen’s rear wing for the opening laps. It took him four laps to find a way past, which he achieved with a stellar move at Copse. With the entire field on intermediate tyres and the track drying, Hamilton was doing all he could to pull out a lead, but his cause was not helped when Kovalainen spun at Vale, allowing Kimi Raikkonen into second and with a clear shot at the Briton. Hamilton and Raikkonen exchanged fastest laps in a breathtaking battle of wills, but soon it became obvious that Hamilton was struggling to match the Ferrari in the middle sectors. By lap 21 the gap was under a second and Hamilton was under serious pressure. Fernando Alonso had pitted on that lap from fourth and kept his old tyres on, expecting the track to keep drying and gain an advantage from what were, by now, almost slicks. When Hamilton and Raikkonen pitted one lap later the duo would pick different tyres and the race was won and lost. McLaren and Hamilton’s decision to change onto fresh intermediates was inspired, for while Raikkonen kept his old tyres and was the quickest after the stop, two laps later the rain returned. Hamilton was five seconds faster than Raikkonen over a lap on fresh rubber, as the Finn slipped and slid all over the place. When Kovalainen and then Heidfeld took Raikkonen on lap 27, things started to look ominous for the Ferrari driver. But Heidfeld wasn’t content with just Raikkonen’s scalp as he swept past Kovalainen too and took second spot. Raikkonen dropped like a stone as up in front Hamilton was flying. By lap 33 the Briton held a 24 second lead over Heidfeld. And then it really started to rain. The British weather erupted with a colossal rain storm, completely soaking the track. Raikkonen now had no choice but to pit for new inters, but the damage had been done and his race winning chances were shot. A handful of drivers took a gamble on extreme wets … among them Rubens Barrichello who emerged at the back of the field but soon started setting the soaked track alight. At one point Barrichello was 10 seconds faster than anyone else, and he simply scythed his way through the pack and just six laps after pitting was up to third. Hamilton meanwhile was doing something which the amassed media found almost impossible to contemplate. Not only was he leading, he was pulling away from Heidfeld by setting similar times to Barrichello – on Inters! He was, by now, over seven seconds a lap faster than anyone else on inters. He took new tyres on just after the mid-point of the race and never looked back, eventually winning by one minute and eight seconds from Heidfeld, and Barrichello, who were, at the race’s conclusion, the only drivers on the same lap as the Briton. Fourth went to Raikkonen, who made up for the team’s failed tyre gamble with some solid work over the final laps. Fifth went to Kovalainen, who never quite made good on the promise he had shown all weekend. Fernando Alonso remained calm despite his failed tyre gamble to finish sixth with Jarno Trulli seventh and Kazuki Nakajima eighth. Mark Webber’s day had turned sour on the opening lap. Eclipsed by both Hamilton and Raikkonen off the start, the Aussie lost the Red Bull and spun to the back of the field. Despite some good recovery laps, he was never a factor thereafter. It had also been a day to forget for Felipe Massa. As a title favourite, he blotted his copy book with a race of numerous errors and spins which renewed the early season doubts in his all-weather abilities. Robert Kubica, too, had a tough race and fell victim to the conditions by finishing in the gravel. But the day belonged to Hamilton who soaked up the adulation of the crowd. He now leads a three-way title tie on 48 points with Raikkonen and Massa with Kubica two points back in fourth. Ferrari now heads the constructors’ championship on 96 with BMW Sauber on 82 and McLaren on 72. 29