Lewis Hamilton takes F1 Racing for a spin around this classic track, and explains how to put in the perfect race-winning lap
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 aireld 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 trafc, 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, reecting 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 reect 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 Lufeld. “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 aireld 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, scufng 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 Lufeld (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 Lufeld,” 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 Lufeld: “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 Lufeld 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 ofine – 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 Lufeld 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 Lufeld, 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 benet 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 signicantly 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 electried 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