Lewis Hamilton takes F1 Rac­ing for a spin around this clas­sic track, and ex­plains how to put in the per­fect race-win­ning lap

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

ARMS RE­LAXED AT THE STEER­ING WHEEL,

Lewis Hamilton is ready to put in one more lap. You could cer­tainly say that he knows his way around the 3.66 miles of as­phalt stretch­ing out ahead of him. Wet or dry, his record on this windswept, for­mer RAF aireld is ex­cel­lent: four poles, four wins. He’s no ash in the pan; over the past decade, Lewis, 32, has be­come an es­tab­lished star on home soil, and now, sit­ting at the wheel of the fastest E-class Mercedes have ever built, he blips the loud pedal. He’s all set to un­leash 612bhp and is ready to re­veal the se­crets of his Sil­ver­stone suc­cess.

The home of the Bri­tish Grand Prix does have its crit­ics, of course. There are those who can be re­lied on to moan about the weather or the trafc, but they’re miss­ing the point. The prize as­set is the awe­some rib­bon of track that threads its way through the Northamp­ton­shire and Buck­ing­hamshire coun­try­side. We love it; Lewis loves it.

The balls-out 300km/h cor­ners and the wheel-to-wheel spec­ta­cle it gen­er­ates makes the Bri­tish GP one of the most thrilling joy rides on the world cham­pi­onship cal­en­dar. The other thing for us, Lewis in­cluded, is that it’s home. Stir­ling Moss and Tony Brooks, Peter Collins, Jim Clark, Jackie Ste­wart. James Hunt and John Wat­son, Nigel Mansell, Da­mon Hill and Johnny Her­bert. DC, too. They have all tri­umphed on their home turf. So, is there re­ally such a thing as home ad­van­tage?

The door to the E63S closes with a sat­is­fy­ing clunk. The revs rise and Hamilton steers out of garage num­ber 26, be­neath the Sil­ver­stone Wing, for this ex­clu­sive run around the fa­bled grand prix cir­cuit. The early sum­mer sun­shine glints off the Wing’s win­dows as we exit the pit­lane and head for our rst port of call, be­yond Abbey, to the tight right-han­der at Vil­lage. Lewis gets out and stands on the high-apex kerb­ing there, reect­ing on what Sil­ver­stone means to him: “It’s the home of For­mula 1, isn’t it? When you come to the UK and see it all green with beau­ti­ful weather, there’s just no place like it. This place holds great mem­o­ries for me.”

Aside from his four poles here, Lewis has claimed six podiums (in­clud­ing the four wins) and two fastest laps – and that’s just in F1. Don’t for­get his vic­tory on this track in For­mula Re­nault in 2003 and that awe­some dou­ble suc­cess in GP2 here in 2006, when he won both the fea­ture race and the sprint. And back in the car, as we bomb down the Welling­ton Straight we reect on a win that got away – the 2013 Bri­tish GP, when he stormed into the lead be­fore his left-rear tyre ex­ploded, tak­ing him out of the run­ning.

As we ap­proach the left-han­der at Brook­lands, with the BRDC club­house po­si­tioned on the out­side of the cor­ner, Lewis’s eyes light up. He ea­gerly jumps out of the ma­roon Mercedes, an­nounc­ing: “This is one of my

favourite cor­ners here. It doesn’t look all that spe­cial, but be­cause it’s so long…” He trails off, seem­ing some­what dis­tracted as he gazes out to­wards Lufeld. “Can you feel that breeze we’re get­ting here? There’s al­ways a head­wind and there are some driv­ers who use that wind and other driv­ers who don’t. You can brake su­per-deep into Brook­lands and have un­der­steer. Be­cause of the wind the car picks up downforce and it’s like be­ing in a wind­tun­nel. You re­ally need to utilise it.”

Right there. That’s one of the se­crets of mas­ter­ing this old-school track. It was the site of an aireld for a rea­son. It’s al­ways windy at Sil­ver­stone.

“This cor­ner is a real strength of mine be­cause it’s a trail-brak­ing cor­ner,” Lewis con­tin­ues. “Be­cause you brake late while turn­ing, you over­sat­u­rate the front end and get a bit of un­der­steer. But as soon as you come off the brakes, you pick up grip. Look at the in­side here,” he says, scufng his shoe on the black rub­ber and bi­tu­men ground deep into the apex kerb­ing at Brook­lands. “There’s so much grip, you can feel it.”

In both 2011 and 2014 he out­braked his fel­low Brit Jen­son But­ton into this cor­ner, and on two other oc­ca­sions dived up the in­side of Lufeld (the long right-han­der that fol­lows) to pass two other ri­vals, Fer­nando Alonso in 2009 and Paul Di Resta in 2013.

“Af­ter ex­it­ing Brook­lands you do need to swing back a lit­tle bit to set your­self up for Lufeld,” says Lewis point­ing to­wards the bend. “And this is an O.G. cor­ner…” When this is met with a blank ex­pres­sion, he elab­o­rates: “You know what an O.G. is, right? It’s an ‘Orig­i­nal Gang­ster’. This is an orig­i­nal, au­then­tic cor­ner be­cause if you run wide, you’re in the gravel. It’s one of the only orig­i­nals re­main­ing on this track. If you make a mis­take you’re in the gravel and that’s how it should be. Now they have all th­ese run-off ar­eas, which I hate.”

With F1 Rac­ing’s ur­ban dic­tionary duly up­dated, Lewis re­turns to his de­scrip­tion of tack­ling Lufeld: “If you come halfway across the track, you can at­tack it and make more of a ‘V’– run wide and cut back in – oth­er­wise you brake ear­lier and hug the kerb in more of a ‘U’. When you at­tack Lufeld you have a tail­wind, which you can lean on to help turn the car. This whole ag­gres­sive se­quence re­ally suits my driv­ing style. There are a num­ber of lines you can use that have grip, and that’s un­usual. There’s some­thing about English Tar­mac; it of­fers a lot more grip ofine – and that was par­tic­u­larly true of the old cir­cuit.”

At that mo­ment, Lewis looks wist­fully over the bar­rier at the bridge that ran across the old at-out, 280km/h right-han­der. “I do miss Bridge and I loved Pri­ory [the left-han­der im­me­di­ately af­ter it]. It was ac­tu­ally a re­ally hor­ri­ble cor­ner be­cause it was re­ally hard to drive. You would come up, dab the brakes and run a lot of speed through there. It was so easy to lose the rear end and there was not a lot of run-off.”

One of Lewis’s great­est drives at Sil­ver­stone, in­deed one of his most me­morable per­for­mances ever, came dur­ing the tor­ren­tial rain of the 2008 Bri­tish Grand Prix. High­lights from that race showed car af­ter car fac­ing the wrong di­rec­tion. Driv­ers were spear­ing off and clam­our­ing for the Safety Car to be de­ployed in what were truly hor­ren­dous weather con­di­tions. But one man kept his ma­chine point­ing for­ward, de­spite a small ‘off’ at the old Abbey chi­cane. Hamilton nished over one minute ahead of ev­ery­one else and lapped all but two of his fel­low com­peti­tors.

That week­end McLaren were run­ning two dif­fer­ent rear sus­pen­sions, one of which was strong through Pri­ory but weaker through the rest of the lap. For what­ever rea­son, Hamilton was strug­gling with his sus­pen­sion, and due to his lack of pace sug­gested that his team-mate, Heikki Ko­valainen, run less fuel in qual­i­fy­ing and take the quicker race strat­egy. Ko­valainen duly set pole, while Hamilton started fourth. Then, on Sun­day morn­ing, the heav­ens opened: “And I said, ‘thank God!’” he re­calls now, laugh­ing.

“I wish that it would rain at ev­ery sin­gle race be­cause I’d be in a much bet­ter po­si­tion than I am in now. But in that race, no one was us­ing the wet line around this track. Where did those kids go to school? I used the lines that I rst found when I was rac­ing here in For­mula Re­nault. No one told me about them, I just found the grip and that’s what helped me in 2008. The lines I used that day en­abled me to keep gen­er­at­ing heat in the tyres while ev­ery­one else was frick­ing – well, I don’t know what they were do­ing! Why would you drive the dry line here?”

Top tip num­ber two. Learn to un­der­stand a cir­cuit when you’re grow­ing up. What you dis­cover in those oh-so-im­por­tant for­ma­tive years will stay with you for­ever. That’s why Ayr­ton Senna cred­ited the UK for his wetweather mas­tery. He’d learnt to drive in the rain here. At Sil­ver­stone, you can al­most gam­ble your house on it, at some point over the week­end – bring the sou’wester – it’s go­ing to chuck it down.

“The se­cret to win­ning this race is to be dy­namic with your driv­ing,” says Lewis as he re­turns to the seat of the twin turbo 4-litre V8. “It’s an open track, so the wind is chang­ing – there are gusts in dif­fer­ent places. The weather is up and down – it can be wet in one part of the track and dry in an­other. So it’s all about be­ing on your toes the whole time – and be­ing ready to pounce.”

As we head past the old pits, Lewis stops on the grid mark­ings, while we show him a video of his wheel-to-wheel rac­ing with Alonso here in 2009. From the in­side of Lufeld they are along­side each other all the way to Copse, be­fore he brakes later and turns in ahead of his fel­low world cham­pion. The TV cam­eras then cut to a shot of the crowd stand­ing on their feet, all go­ing wild with de­light.

“The fans here are just frig­ging amaz­ing,” he says with an enor­mous smile. So would he agree that his fans give him a speed ad­van­tage, as Nigel Mansell used to claim?

“I know past driv­ers have made up some lap-time num­ber, but the fans do ab­so­lutely one thou­sand per cent make a dif­fer­ence. We go to dif­fer­ent sorts of cir­cuits, and some­times there are au­then­tic fans and other times the peo­ple there are more tourists, just be­cause of the na­ture of the event. What re­ally makes this event is…” Lewis pauses as he looks over at the thou­sands of empty blue seats that make up the grand­stands at Lufeld, which stretch around the out­side of Wood­cote.

“If th­ese seats are not lled, then it’s not the same. The fans re­ally cre­ate the at­mos­phere and the en­ergy. It’s like be­ing at a con­cert arena. If there are no fans, then it’s just mu­sic. What the peo­ple do is cre­ate some­thing that the band or artist draw en­ergy from. And it’s the same for me. There’s no place like Sil­ver­stone with the his­tory and the fans that ll this place.”

It’s a cir­cuit that is packed with so many mem­o­ries, be­cause grand prix cars have been dic­ing here since 1948. Whether your era was the open pad­docks of the 1960s and ’70s, the burnt bar­be­cues and warm cans of beer in the 1980s, or the ag-wav­ing, mud-avoid­ing 1990s, as a sport­ing arena,

THE SE­CRET TO WIN­NING THIS RACE IS TO BE DY­NAMIC WITH YOUR DRIV­ING

IT’S ALL ABOUT BE­ING ON YOUR TOES THE WHOLE TIME – AND BE­ING READY TO POUNCE

Sil­ver­stone truly is one of the coun­try’s best. And that’s in part thanks to the next se­quence of cor­ners: the fear­some Copse and the awe­some Mag­gotts and Beck­etts com­plex. Other, newer cir­cuits, such as the Cir­cuit of The Amer­i­cas in Austin, have tried to em­u­late, but failed to grasp the sheer speed and thrilling change of di­rec­tion of th­ese bends. And stand­ing now in the mid­dle of Copse cor­ner, the sun on his back, Lewis looks as if he’s in heaven.

“This is one of the great­est cor­ners in For­mula 1,” he states em­phat­i­cally. “I re­mem­ber my very rst time driv­ing through here and it’s still very sim­i­lar to­day. Ar­riv­ing at such high speed, dab­bing the brakes, some­times you don’t touch the brakes, you just run the speed in, de­pend­ing on how good your car is. It’s crazy to think you’re trav­el­ling at close to 200mph here and you’re still at-out when you turn in! Stand­ing here, it just doesn’t make sense – it’s like pi­lot­ing a ghter jet at this cor­ner and it’s nar­row, too. Some of the cir­cuits they build to­day are too bloody wide, it’s a shame there is all that run-off area on the out­side; you just don’t need it.”

One of the over­tak­ing moves that ce­mented Hamilton’s place as a fu­ture star was his three-abreast 2006 GP2 pass that started at Copse and was com­pleted at Beck­etts. Nel­son Piquet Jr (re­mem­ber him?) was bat­tling Clivio Pic­cione (who he?) when Lewis got a dou­ble tow from both of them and dived down the in­side at the right-han­der at Beck­etts – at at chat.

“That was awe­some!” he says, laugh­ing at the mem­ory. “It was all about set­ting it up at Copse. Yes, you carry a lot of speed in, but there’s a long straight af­ter­wards so it’s all about nd­ing the right bal­ance. The dif­fer­ence be­tween get­ting on the power fur­ther back or at the apex means that you carry more speed down to­wards the next cor­ner. So if you have to lift, do it ear­lier in the cor­ner and get your foot down. And Piquet went off. Amaz­ing! That’s all I have to say about him…”

Back on board the four-wheel drive Merc, he guns it to­wards Beck­etts, charg­ing up through the gears of this ex­ec­u­tive beast, which is ca­pa­ble of do­ing 0-100km/h in 3.4 sec­onds. The rst two kerbs are taken at-out in an F1 car and this year will be quicker than ever. “It’s ac­tu­ally pretty tight con­sid­er­ing we do 190mph through here,” says Lewis. “It’s frick­ing fast – and to think the car ac­tu­ally gets around it!” He hooks the crim­son Merc through the rst part, and then sets it up to change di­rec­tion and trans­fer the car’s weight for the nal se­quence.

“You want to be down­shift­ing round about here,” he an­nounces at mid-cor­ner, “which puts the weight on the nose, then, if you’re far enough to the left, you can open up the last part of the cor­ner at Chapel. Pop off the brakes and run tonnes of speed down here. The ear­lier you are on the power, the more you can carry all the way down the Han­gar Straight.” He nails the 4-litre V8 un­der his right foot and the Mercedes gob­bles up the as­phalt. “This car is awe­some,” he whoops with de­light. “I love the sound of it!”

As we ap­proach Stowe, even from our van­tage point it is im­pos­si­ble to pick out the apex as it drops away to­wards Vale. “Did you see that turnin marker on the straight?” asks Lewis. “That’s where we brake here – but this year it’s go­ing to be so fast it’ll be in­sane. I don’t know if there’s go­ing to be that much brak­ing for this cor­ner be­cause there’s so much downforce now. And ac­tu­ally, you can take this cor­ner and be a car’s width away from the apex and still be quick, with an­other quite long straight on the exit – it’s more im­por­tant to get on full power early.”

The rst part of Club is the tight left-han­der be­fore the dou­ble righthander that leads to the start/nish line. Back in 2011 Hamilton was passed by Massa in the brak­ing zone (on the out­side) on the very last lap, be­fore he cut back to the in­side, and the pair ran side-by-side across the line. Lewis nabbed fourth by just 0.024 sec­onds.

“First mis­take. I shouldn’t have let him through,” he says to­day. “Look di­rectly op­po­site the turn-in: there’s a grand­stand on the out­side of Club cor­ner. That’s the one where I see ev­ery­one wav­ing and cheer­ing ev­ery time I come through it.” He sits on the kerb­ing and in the breeze and sniffs the air, which is sud­denly lled with the un­mis­tak­able waft of freshly cut grass. “Smell that?” Does it take him right back to his child­hood, we won­der? “Yeah, well I’m ac­tu­ally al­ler­gic to grass. It’s a smell that has gen­er­ally given me pain for years! But I do love that English smell. You don’t get that any­where else in the world.”

In 2014, Hamilton dis­cov­ered a great benet of rac­ing at home – know­ing that he could lean on his fam­ily for sup­port. In qual­i­fy­ing he backed out of his nal lap, see­ing on his dash that he was a sec­ond down. What he hadn’t ex­pected was that the nal sec­tor had signicantly dried up and his team-mate Nico Ros­berg had kept go­ing to thrash him by three sec­onds, leav­ing a dis­traught Lewis only sixth on the grid. That evening he left the cir­cuit and went to see his fam­ily. “I had home-cooked food, chicken and rice, and my fam­ily were all su­per-sup­port­ive. So much so, that when I came back the next day I de­stroyed it. I won that race, didn’t I?”

YOU TRAVEL AT 200MPH AND YOU’RE STILL FLAT-OUT WHEN YOU TURN IN!

COPSE IS ONE OF THE GREAT­EST COR­NERS IN FOR­MULA 1

With the end­less week­ends away in ho­tels, your home race is a chance to be with your friends and fam­ily. A mo­ment to sam­ple some real food and to sleep tucked up in your own bed. Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the ad­van­tage that can give you.

As we re­turn to the pits, there is a whole ar­ray of old Wil­liams ma­chin­ery be­ing prepped for a cel­e­bra­tion of the team’s 40 years in For­mula 1. Lewis catches a glimpse of Nigel Mansell’s 1992 race win­ner and ex­claims ad­mir­ingly: “That’s one of my favourite old cars!”

In the hands of Mansell, the FW14B elec­tried Sil­ver­stone’s fans. That car and driver com­bi­na­tion is wo­ven into the folk­lore and fab­ric of this grand cir­cuit. A legacy and nar­ra­tive that Lewis is striv­ing to cre­ate for him­self, to­day. If he wins the Bri­tish Grand Prix this year, he’ll be only the sec­ond four-time con­sec­u­tive win­ner of this event, match­ing Jim Clark’s achieve­ments over the pe­riod 1962-65.

“One thing I’ve no­ticed is that the love from the Bri­tish fans is dif­fer­ent to how it used to be,” he says thought­fully, as he pulls the Merc into the pits, our lap com­plete. “I’m not sure why, but it makes me feel proud to be a Brit. I guess they’ve grown up with me or have at least be­gun to tol­er­ate me! Or maybe it’s be­cause I wasn’t a one-hit won­der.”

F1 Rac­ing shows Lewis a video of his epic 2009 over­take on Alonso here, set up at Luffield and ex­e­cuted at Copse to the fans’ de­light

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