Lewis Hamilton received a boost ahead of his home race of the Formula One season after Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was dealt a five-place grid penalty for the British Grand Prix.
Bottas, the 27-year-old Finn fresh from his victory at the last round in Austria, continued his impressive form by edging out Hamilton in both practice sessions at Silverstone yesterday.
But Bottas can start no higher than sixth in tomorrow’s race after his Mercedes team were forced into an unscheduled gearbox change.
Hamilton served a five-place grid drop last weekend after he, too, had to take on a new gearbox following damage sustained at the previous round in Azerbaijan. He started only eighth before he recovered to finish fourth.
Mercedes have been the class of the field at Silverstone, and – with Bottas effectively out of the running for the number one spot on the starting grid – Hamilton will be overwhelming favourite to secure his 67th career pole today. Such a feat would leave him just one behind Michael Schumacher’s all-time record.
Hamilton, who is also bidding for a record-equalling fifth victory on home soil, has seen his preparations this week overshadowed by his no-show at a Formula One promotional event in London on Wednesday.
He won from pole here in 2015, and again last year, and now the Englishman could do with another dominant victory as he bids to trim the 20-point margin to rival Sebastian Vettel at the summit of the championship.
‘It has been a really good start to the weekend and it’s great to be back at Silverstone,’’ Hamilton said, before news of Bottas’s grid penalty broke.
‘’The track is absolutely incredible with these new cars. It was already one of the very best circuits in the world, but with this car and the speed we are able to carry through the corners, it’s just phenomenal, it’s like the greatest rollercoaster ride ever. We worked through all the sessions, fine-tuning the balance and we’re in a good position.’’
Hamilton, on a charm offensive after his name was jeered in London on Wednesday, added: ‘’Each time I left the garage I gave the fans a wave and I could see them waving back. I just want them to know that I really appreciate all the love and support.’’
Vettel, who has been so consistent this season, was only fourth here, four tenths of a second slower than the Mercedes pair. His Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who spun off the circuit during the second session, was also faster after he ended the day third in the order.
Aside from Hamilton’s bizarrely-timed two-day holiday with friends to the Greek island of Mykonos – leading to him missing F1’s live parade through London – the other talking point this week has been the decision taken by the British Racing Drivers’ Club to trigger a release clause in its F1 contract after 2019. Such a move means this could be one of the final grands prix to be staged at the Northamptonshire circuit unless a new deal with F1’s owners Liberty Media is agreed.
As expected, the fans were out in force yesterday, with 350,000 expected over the weekend and a near sell-out crowd for tomorrow’s race.