F1

Hamilton earns historic victory in British GP

Hamilton earns historic victory in British GP

All anyone wants is an opportunity in life. But one must be ready to seize it when it arrives. Even if it's slippery. For Lewis Hamilton, Nick Heidfeld and Rubens Barrichello, opportunity arrived rain-soaked Sunday at Silverstone Circuit, and...

All anyone wants is an opportunity in life. But one must be ready to seize it when it arrives. Even if it's slippery.

For Lewis Hamilton, Nick Heidfeld and Rubens Barrichello, opportunity arrived rain-soaked Sunday at Silverstone Circuit, and the threesome seized like crazy to take podium places at the British Grand Prix.

Start of the race: Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren Mercedes leads Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes and Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Hamilton's victory, the first for an Englishman at the British Grand Prix since Johnny Herbert's in 1995, will rank among all-time memories of the sport. In weather conditions that changed throughout -- from rain to drying to heavy rain and back again -- and with his McLaren Mercedes team timing perfect choices in tire selection, the Englishman rooster-tailed off the starting line from fourth to second -- and nearly first -- by the first corner.

Hamilton and teammate Heikki Kovalainen, the pole-sitter, touched slightly in the rush away from the starting line. Hamilton made the pass to take the lead on the Hangar Straight on the fifth lap then so grabbed the race by the throat while others spun and slid off around him that he finished more than a minute ahead of second-placed Heidfeld. Hamilton lapped all but the podium placers.

Rounding out points places were Kimi Raikkonen for Ferrari, Kovalainen, Fernando Alonso of Renault, Jarno Trulli of Toyota, and Kazuki Nakajima of Williams. Also finishing were Nico Rosberg of Williams, front-row starter Mark Webber for Red Bull, Sebastien Bourdais in a Toro Rosso, Timo Glock for Toyota, all a lap down, and Felipe Massa for Ferrari, who finished two laps down.

The outcome spells vindication for the three top finishers.

After starting the season with victory in Australia in what many assumed would be a walk to his first World Drivers' Championship, Hamilton, who last year was the most successful rookie in the history of Formula One, co-runner-up in the driver standings, had fallen to fourth in the rankings. Penalty-earning mistakes in the two most recent races, Canada and France, had him feeling pressure as critics took voice. Victory moves him into a three-way tie atop driver standings with Massa and Raikkonen, who suffered miserable races. Massa spun repeatedly and finished without points. Raikkonen, who worked his way to second early, was caught out on tire choices; he let Hamilton lap him on the 53rd of 60 laps.

"This was the toughest race, but also one of the best ones I have ever driven," Hamilton said. "It was so extreme and slippery out there, very similar to the Japanese Grand Prix in Fuji last year. I had troubles with my visor and tried to clean it a couple of times. I thank my team for a great job; they did fantastic work and we always made the right decisions with the tires in the difficult conditions. When I came round the last time, I saw the crowd standing up and I prayed: 'Just finish, just finish.'

Podium: race winner Lewis Hamilton celebrates.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"It was a very emotional moment to win my home grand prix, and I want to dedicate this victory to my family. As everybody knows, I had some troubles over the past few weeks, and they have always been there for me and supported me."

Heidfeld's season had found him outqualified, outpointed and overshadowed by his younger BMW Sauber teammate, Robert Kubica. The runner-up finish that included key on-track passes, pulls the German into fifth place in driver standings, 10 points behind Kubica. Hedifeld's best move was moving ahead of second-placed Barrichello when the Brazilian made his final pit stop.

"It was a good race," Heidfeld said. "I am happy with second place because today it was the best I could achieve. Qualifying went well and in the race we did everything right. Obviously, it was crucial to make the right tire decisions. At the first stop we were wondering if we should stay with the used set of inters, but luckily we then decided on new tires. We were expecting a small shower, but when I drove down Hanger Straight and saw a black wall in front of me, I thought I should expect more than that!

"The most difficult moments in the race were when cars were overtaking me who had been lapped but were just on better tires for the conditions at that time. There was so much water, and I couldn't see where it was lying. Once before Abbey I almost spun but just managed to keep the car on the track."

Proving he's still got it, Barrichello's podium is Honda's first since 2006. The driver with the most starts in F1 history, Barrichello demonstrated level-headed calm, used all his experience, and took advantage of perfectly timed tire decisions to carve through the field on full wets. He leaps ahead of the likes of David Coulthard of Red Bull and Williams drivers Rosberg and Nakajima in the driver table to 10th place, just behind Alonso.

"It's a great feeling to be back on the podium today after such an exciting race where the weather conditions really helped us to get the best out of the car. The most important decision of the race for us was switching to the extreme wet tire when the heavy rain started to fall at half distance. I had a real moment at Club, going off at high speed and almost hitting the wall, and that made me realize that we needed to make a quick decision. After fitting the extreme wets, I was able to overtake the cars in front easily, which was a great feeling. Making such a crucial decision at a key time comes from experience and from the team having the confidence in me to make the call.

Rubens Barrichello, Honda Racing F1 Team leads Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"I would like to say a big thank you to the team today -- to everyone back at the factory and also in Japan. Life is about learning from your experiences, and we have been through some tough times over the last couple of years. But I always had faith that there were good times ahead and I know there are plenty more to come."

Raikkonen's fourth pushes him past 500 F1 points scored. His team's decision not to change tires on the first stop was the effective end for the world champion, who nevertheless set fast lap at 1 minute, 32.150 seconds. Raikkonen was running second to leader Hamilton when the two stopped together on the 22nd lap. Rain that appeared in the next two laps left the Finn flailing as Hamilton pulled out a five-second advantage.

"I am disappointed, but I am equally aware that things could have been much worse," Raikkonen said. "We had the possibility to win the race but we made a mistake at the first pit stop, keeping the same set of tires, because we expected the track conditions to improve. It was a joint decision. We are a team, and we win or lose together. Things are not going too well for me at the moment, given all that happened in the last few races, but I am leading the championship, even if it is on equal terms with Felipe and Lewis. We know we have a great potential, but we have to put everything in place to get the most out of it."

With the amount of water on track changing the racing line throughout, great dices, passing aplenty and drivers working their way up from the back after spins put on a show for spectators. But for Hamilton, maintaining concentration and pressing ahead, none of it mattered.

Webber's best start in a Red Bull spun away from him before the end of the first lap, before the end of the first half-lap, even.

"Unfortunately, I dropped it on the entrance to Becketts on the first lap," he said. "I was quite close to Kimi and just got on the white line. I lost the car on the exit and had to let the field go past, so it was clear to spin back round. After that it was about making the right call for the right conditions. It was a difficult day to go car racing and it just didn't go our way today. The guys did a good job all week and it's a shame we couldn't convert our good qualifying performance."

Kimi Raikkonen, Scuderia Ferrari, F2008.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Nakajima and Massa went off on the first lap as did Coulthard and Sebastien Vettel, who touched. The over-so-soon event was a sad ending to his home racing efforts for the Scot, who announced he will step out of a race seat at the end of the season.

"The visibility was incredibly bad as you can imagine," said Coulthard, who qualified 11th. "I was very close to Sebastian after Abbey, as he had a wobble coming out of there. There was a clear gap down the inside, but, unfortunately, it was closing as I made the move. I'm sorry for him that we made contact and went into the gravel, I'm sorry for Red Bull, too, as it was two cars out in one hit. I'm extremely disappointed for this to happen at my last British Grand Prix."

Vettel, mooted for Coulthard's race seat at Red Bull, which could open a seat for GP2 sprint race winner Bruno Senna at Toro Rosso, had shown great promise by qualifying the Toro Rosso eighth.

"Massa spun going into Bridge, which caused a lot of confusion and meant the cars were all running very close," Vettel said. "Then in Turn 14, I got hit on the rear left and it spun me around. I tried to save it, but I got stuck in the gravel. I thought there might have been a chance of being pushed out, but when I got out of the cockpit I saw the gravel was much too deep."

Besides Coulthard and Vettel, retirees included Force India's Adrian Sutil, who went into the gravel trap at Abbey on the 10th lap, and Giancarlo Fisichhella, who spun off on the 27th lap; Renault's Nelsinho Piquet, who had worked up to fourth before spinning off on the 37th lap; Jenson Button of Honda, who spun off, and Kubica, who spun off while in seventh place.

The circus moves to Hockenheim for the German Grand Prix in two weeks.

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