Lewis Hamilton has long been considered perhaps the most talented driver in Formula One, even above the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. Today in qualifying for the British Grand Prix, he showed why. Hamilton took pole position for tomorrow’s race by almost half a second from his team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton’s been struggling this season at Mercedes. It’s not obvious to the casual observer, because Hamilton has finished on the podium three times and is currently fourth in the Drivers’ Championship. But he has been struggling to get comfortable in the car, particularly under braking, where confidence is so crucial for a good lap time. This weekend, he has complained publicly of not being comfortable in the car, but has nonetheless been quick in every session.
Today, however, everything finally came together for the 2008 World Champion, and he showed his speed, taking pole position with a stunning lap that included fastest times in each of the three sectors of the lap. He was faster than everyone else, everywhere. That is unusual. Normally the pole-sitter will be quickest in at least one sector, and perhaps two, but to be fastest all the way round the lap is rare.
Unfortunately for Hamilton, tomorrow’s race is likely to go rather differently to qualifying. Mercedes have been struggling with tyre degradation all season, and there is no particular reason to believe that their problems will magically disappear by tomorrow. Close behind are the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who have also had tyre-wear issues but not to nearly the extent of Mercedes.
If his tyres hold together, there is no doubt that Hamilton can challenge for victory at Silverstone tomorrow. He has shown his speed today and he’s demonstrated before that he knows how to win. The deciding factor will be the tyres. But even if he doesn’t win tomorrow, Hamilton has given the F1 community a special treat today: a qualifying lap worthy of the special talent that he is.
Kamui Kobayashi: “I’m really looking forward to this race, and my expectations are quite high. Silverstone is one of my favourite circuits. Our cars were always good in medium and high speed corners, but with the Sauber C31 we have also improved the performance in slow corners, which means we should have no problems with the new part of the track, which was introduced in 2010. Despite the fact I have to cope with a penalty, which will send me five places down the grid, I’m optimistic for this race. I believe we have the potential to achieve something special in England and I hope for a little more luck as well.”
Sergio Pérez: “I really like the Silverstone circuit. I have won there in Formula 3 and in GP2 and also last year my first Formula One race was good. I came seventh and this was actually my best race result in 2011. Back then it was a crazy race in difficult weather conditions with the track drying. I think our car will be good in Silverstone and I want to fight for another podium there. In my view in Silverstone it is even more difficult to overtake than it was in Valencia, therefore qualifying is high priority on the job list. I need a better grid position than recently. I like the fast and fluid corners a lot, so this is a very enjoyable part of the track. The race in Silverstone is a special Grand Prix – because of the fans and the atmosphere and also for me personally. I lived in Oxford for three years and I have quite a few friends in England.”
Giampaolo Dall’Ara, Head of Track Engineering: “The Silverstone circuit is very different from the last two tracks we’ve been racing on. It has some challenging high speed corners and requires a set-up which is optimised with regard to aerodynamics as well as changes of direction. Silverstone has the charm of some of the older tracks with a surface that is not perfect and quite bumpy in some places. It also offers some real challenges for the drivers. The straights are not very long, therefore we can afford to run quite a lot of downforce. The DRS zone is in the same place as last year, in the section that was built a couple of years ago. Its length is quite limited which means overtaking is not so easy. We will be running the soft and the hard tyre compounds, which I expect to suit this track nicely, and also warming-up should not be an issue. An important factor in Silverstone is always the weather, an aspect we need to take into consideration when preparing for the race weekend, and something which we might to need to adapt to during the race. Our Sauber C31 will get an aerodynamic development package, which includes some modifications of the engine cover and the rear of the car. Looking at the layout of this track and the characteristics of our car, I think we can approach this race weekend with a lot of optimism.”
Heikki Kovalainen: “Silverstone is a great track to race at, both because it’s one of our two home races and because it’s a proper driver’s track. Even with the changes that have been made over the years it is still what F1 is all about – high speed corners that really push the performance of the car. The new section is probably the least exciting bit of the track from inside the cockpit but the classic corners from Copse and Maggots to Beckets is right up there with some of the best corners on the calendar.
“Honestly, I can’t wait to get back in the car and see what we can do at this year’s British Grand Prix. At the last race in Valencia we clearly made improvements, enough to help me put the car into Q2 on merit and we have more upgrades coming for Silverstone. For this race it’s important that we carry our qualifying speed and good reliability through into Sunday as issues like the KERS problem I had in Valencia impact all the hard work the team is doing at the factory and in the wind tunnel to get us where we want to be. If we can do that I think we can have another very good weekend and I’m really looking forward to giving our home fans something to cheer for.”
Vitaly Petrov: “The British Grand Prix is one of the best races of the calendar for several reasons. It’s a fantastic place to race at because of the exciting atmosphere and the special love the British fans have for motorsport. As the UK is home to a lot of the teams, including Caterham F1 Team, the whole place is always full of fans, whether it’s raining or the sun is burning everybody! They are some of the most knowledgeable, passionate fans in the world and they give the whole place a special atmosphere all weekend.
“As we’ll be bringing more new parts to the British Grand Prix I think it’s another race where we’ll be able to take a step forwards. I’m sure everyone else will be bringing upgrades so we need to make sure that we don’t just make gains, but we improve more than our nearest rivals. That’s a big challenge but after seeing the gap to Toro Rosso shrink in Valencia we have a clear target just ahead and that gave the whole team a real boost. Hopefully we’ll be able to make similar levels of progress at Silverstone – if we do I think the British Grand Prix could be very interesting. The team made great progress in Valencia and I really hope that we will continue in the same manner at the next race.”
Mark Smith, Technical Director: “We left Valencia after a very positive weekend for the whole team. One of the most pleasing aspects for me was seeing that the numbers we had predicted for the upgrades we brought there matched what we did on track, and that gives us a lot of confidence that future upgrade packages should continue the trend we are seeing of the gap to the teams ahead shrinking.
“For Silverstone we will be bringing a number of new parts, including new rear bodywork, a revised exhaust layout and a number of smaller updates in other bodywork areas around the car. I do not want to make any predictions at this point on what they could be worth, but if we repeat the step forward we made in Valencia we should have another positive weekend.”
Tony Fernandes, Team Principal, Caterham F1 Team: “The European Grand Prix was a very significant race for our team as it was the first time we took on and beat an established midfield team in a straight fight on merit in qualifying. Yes, Heikki’s benefited from the issues Mark Webber had on Saturday, but we are now quick enough to take advantage of that sort of opportunity and knock one of the established teams back into the positions we have been filling since we started in the sport just over two and a half years ago.
“Our performance on Sunday was also extremely positive, with all areas of the team performing at 100% to help us record our best positions of the season, despite both cars being forced to change nosecones after contact with the Toro Rossos. We said at the start of the season that our goals for this year are to score our first point and to join the midfield and I think it is fair to say that we are achingly close to being able to achieve those targets.
“Silverstone will give us another chance to show that we can make good on those objectives and the upgrades we are bringing will give both Heikki and Vitaly the chance to repeat our qualifying performance in Valencia, and, more importantly, to be able to fight for their track positions from the moment the lights go out on Sunday, right to the end of the race. To see our cars racing a team who were 1.6 seconds ahead of us in qualifying for the first race this year is obviously a very good feeling, for me and my fellow shareholders, our partners and sponsors, our fans and the whole team.”
Pedro de la Rosa: “Silverstone is a beautiful and classic circuit; it’s a place I really like. I’ve raced in many categories there: Formula Ford, Formula Renault, Formula 3 and Formula 1. It’s a quick, high downforce track with a lot of quick corners linked together. It’s very demanding on the tyres, so the logical thing is to go for three stops. Strategies will play a big part. It’s not the most favourable circuit for us so we’re going to have to grind our teeth because, apart from that, it’s also one of the toughest tracks for a driver. We’re going to try and continue the good work from the last grands prix, finish this race and improve on our result in Valencia. That is our objective.”
Narain Karthikeyan: “I’ve got very good memories of Silverstone as I’ve raced a lot there in the past in junior categories, it’s one of my favourite tracks on the calendar and a place I expect to do well. Copse and the Becketts complex are special corners and are up there with the most exciting ones in the championship but I don’t know the new part of the circuit as I didn’t race at Silverstone last year so it will take me a few laps to adapt. After a positive weekend in Valencia, with a good performance in qualifying, I’m hoping to continue from there and build on it in Great Britain.”
Dani Clos: “I’m very happy to step into the F112 once again in Silverstone, a place where I’ve got good memories since I’ve made the podium every time I’ve been in GP2. After Barcelona I’ve really been looking forward to this new opportunity. The work we’re carrying out with the team is positive and I think that I can make a good contribution. I will be able to run in better conditions than in Barcelona because the car was new back then and I had to carry out various aero tests. Now I’ve got a new opportunity, not to prove anything but to work with the team and evolve as much as we can.”
Luis Pérez-Sala, Team Principal: “In Valencia we had a positive weekend and were able to confirm the good sensations we’d felt in the last few races. Silverstone is one of the most emblematic and historic circuits in the Championship and racing there is always something special. We want to see how our car performs at the British track with the latest upgrades because it’s a track that contains various quick turns and that’s where we suffer most. On another note, I’m happy that Dani will have a new opportunity to sit behind the wheel of the car for the first free practice session. This time he’ll be able to get more out of the session because in Barcelona there were many things to test and he had to focus on them, but now he’ll be able to get the most out of the experience. Besides, it will be the second time he drives the F112 this season so he won’t be stepping into the unknown and won’t need a period to adapt.”