The opening round of the Formula Renault UK championship took place on Saturday as part of a double-header supporting the British Formula Three Championship. Mike Conway eventually took a convincing victory, helped early on by a backmarker, and pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton finished second.
Hamilton then set about trying to pull out a lead, something that was always going to be difficult with a charging Conway right behind him. After making a mistake on lap two and losing 0.4 seconds, Hamilton managed to pull out half a second and maintain that lead for a couple of laps. Conway, however, managed to pull half a second out of somewhere and close up right behind Hamilton and put him under immense pressure. Hamilton started to respond.
Then disaster struck. Paul Lau hadn't set the world alight during qualifying, setting a time six seconds off the pace. His race pace had been even slower -- his first few laps were nine seconds slower than the leader. Inevitably he quickly fell into the clutches of Hamilton and Conway, and this happened approaching the slow Russell Bend (which is effectively a chicane in all but name) before the long uphill drag along the pit straight.
Hamilton went for the pass, Lau moved across into his path and Hamilton swerved on the grass, desperate to get out the way and keep his momentum. Hamilton rejoined the track and held his lead, but by a mere 0.15 seconds across the start line and several mph slower than the 122mph at which Conway was travelling. Conway pulled out of the slipstream, alongside Hamilton, and the inevitable happened. Conway exited the first corner one car length ahead.
Hamilton, furious about the incident with Lau (the Hong Kong driver was withdrawn from the race after being shown the "Driving Standards" flag), backed off towards the end to save his car for tomorrow's race. Meanwhile a delighted Conway crossed the line with his arm high in the air and nearly nine seconds ahead to win the opening round of the championship. Third was James Rossiter who followed Alex Lloyd at a distance for most of the race, until Lloyd made a couple of mistakes on the closing laps avoiding the slowing Lewis and this allowed Rossiter to close up and pass.