Lewis Hamilton revelled in his moment. Arms aloft, blowing kisses to an adoring mass of fans before launching himself into their arms to crowd surf briefly at the conclusion of the British Grand Prix he clearly wanted it here, more than anywhere else, to be communal.
This was racing as rock’n’roll and Hamilton wanted to connect in the spirit of Morrison, Curtis and Cobain. For once the platitudes that entomb modern sport were banished by an outbreak of genuine emotion on both sides of the fence.
Sticking to the party line is the secondary instruction document that now comes with that giant manual that explains the switches on the steering wheel and it is adhered to by drivers with remarkable regard; Mark Webber’s absence is noticeable in this department.
Turn up at any of the many poorly attended tracks around the world that have little or no redeeming features and teams and drivers will trot out the usual lines about how pleased they are to be there and of the magnificence of the fans. Hamilton is no exception but, come Silverstone, come the huge numbers that flock here to watch for three full days, it is as if the curtain has opened on a real performance.
A day has not passed this past week in which Hamilton did not fulsomely praise the numbers and support of the British supporters. After qualifying he was attributing an almost spiritual element to it. “I want to say how amazing and grateful I am for all the fans,” he said. “The energy and the wave that they send is just mesmerising.”
With which it is hard to argue. Silverstone was glorious and they brought an atmosphere that is unmatched around the world. The sudden downpour that had preceded the start proved to do little more than make the circuit glimmer as the sun began to shine and Hamilton took to his task in front of a sea of union flags and, pointedly, one sign that read: “Nico: Caution. Corner approaching. Don’t forget to turn.”
Partisan but good-humoured, 139,000 of them packed the old airfield from tip to toe. The grand sweep of Copse was rammed to the rafters and the outside of the Vale chicane a seething mass. Hamilton has his detractors but they were not here and the world champion duly served up exactly what the faithful demanded. The fervour that attended his third win in a row at Silverstone had the air of the devotion with which they took to Nigel Mansell’s win after he clocked fastest lap after fastest lap to chase and then gloriously pass Nelson Piquet up the inside of Stowe in 1987.
Il Leone’s win, of course, was extraordinary but fascinatingly, given the rapturous reception he received, Hamilton’s was almost textbook. It was not even his best drive here, an honour still belonging to his debut win in 2008. That run, a truly exceptional drive in the wet, where he was a class apart from the entire field and at times lapping four to five seconds faster than the competition – finishing more than a minute ahead of second-placed Nick Heidfeld – was definitive notice of how far his talent might take him. Eight years on and he has fulfilled the promise and now the home crowd were eager to celebrate a success story that has longevity. This must be what it feels like to support the German football team. They come with high expectations. Hamilton delivers.
That said, it had not been a cakewalk but that Hamilton was a class apart was clear. In the wet at the start he had a clear advantage over his team-mate, Nico Rosberg, and, while experienced campaigners such as Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were struggling, Hamilton was ensconced on the island. He went wide but once, on the wet patch at Abbey that caught out so many, but ultimately managed his lead and his tyres to ensure he was unchallenged at the front.
The roar followed him the whole way, with Rosberg, after his failure to turn right in Austria, now cast as the pantomime baddie. Max Verstappen’s superb pass going though Becketts and round the outside of Chapel was greeted with an enthusiasm beyond its deserved acclaim. But this is a crowd who always acknowledge a good move regardless of the driver and have the right to some vocal schadenfreude.
Even the booing of Rosberg on the podium seemed little more than a spot of tit for tat after Hamilton’s reception in Austria and it was quickly over as the British driver descended once again to greet his fans. He had thanked them again from the top step but what was clear when he reached them, as he and they began celebrating all over again, was the obvious joy it brought both parties. Thank you and goodnight, Silverstone.
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