Before him an exhibition of exotic cars gleamed and preened on their stands, evoking the history of the motorcar. The double Formula One world champion, in expansive mood in the Hamilton Suite, was in an altogether more personal nostalgic reverie as he recalled his greatest Silverstone moments, including his two wins.
Hamilton goes into Sunday’s race as favourite, with four wins out of eight this season and a 10-point lead in the world championship – but nothing will eclipse his victory in his second season, in 2008.
He said: “My favourite British Grand Prix is still that win in the rain. I qualified fourth but then the heavens opened and I knew that it was my day. I got a great start and I just followed the lines that I took from my experience of Formula Renault days. It was a great race and everybody was standing every single time I went through Abbey, in the pouring rain with umbrellas up. That was a really special time. I won by 68 seconds.
“It is difficult to say which is the greatest one because they are all so different but definitely wet races are the trickiest and that was a seriously tricky race. There was the aquaplaning and it was so difficult to keep temperature in the tyres. It was definitely one I thoroughly enjoyed.”
Hamilton’s stock has never been higher. He won his second British Grand Prix, and another world title, last year and was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year for 2014. At a time when the sport is being talked down by so many people, he remains its solitary superstar, helped by a certain absence of shyness away from the track.
The Spoty award clearly moved him. “I was shocked at how many fans called in. I really didn’t think I had that kind of support. I knew I had a lot of fans but I thought Rory McIlroy was going to win, so I was really shocked.”
Silverstone holds an immense appeal, for Hamilton and the reception he receives there evokes the Nigel Mansell mania from the halcyon days of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
Speaking at a Petronas event, Hamilton said: “Silverstone is where you have the biggest turnout of support. For me and Jenson Button [who has never won a podium place there] it is particularly special. You have all of the British flags there and all the people who have literally only just turned up to support you.
“It’s the biggest buzz, definitely. I felt it for the first time when I got pole position in 2007. I was like: ‘Wow.’ I could see everyone but I couldn’t hear them. Then, watching the replay, I was really surprised.”
For Hamilton, however, Silverstone means more than the race itself. “It is just the whole week really,” he says, “knowing that you are going to be seeing the fans, seeing the messages on social media, so you know that it is going to be a big turnout during the weekend.
“I remember my first time there. It was a British Go-Kart GP when I was about eight or nine. It was a straw bale track many years ago. Then I did Formula Renault there. Then I remember standing at the back of the garage at McLaren thinking: ‘One day I want to be in one of those. I want one of those driver’s seats.’
“Now to go there, even though I have been going there for a long time, I still particularly remember that day, standing at the back of McLaren.”
Mansell’s name still fires Hamilton’s imagination. “I remember watching Nigel holding the union flag in the car. It was like the Olympics, like a gold medal, having the flag in the car after winning the grand prix. It is the closest thing I can imagine to having a gold medal.”
Hamilton says he is surprised by the increase in the support he receives at Silverstone each time he returns. “It is huge. I hope that I can go there and make people proud.”
He just wishes trophies, like the cars, could receive upgrades. “Last year they gave me this plastic thing and I’m like: ‘This is not the trophy. It’s like a GP2 trophy not the Formula One trophy.’ It would be great if each country had a real trophy with character that grew over the years because of the history. The last one in Austria was wooden. The whole thing was wooden. The base was like lead, I mean, what? It was supposed to be silver!”
With the title race looking tight again, however, Hamilton would probably settle for another “plastic thing” on Sunday.
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