SILVERSTONE, United Kingdom (AFP) –
Lewis Hamilton was quickest at Friday’s miserable and soggy practice for Sunday’s British Grand Prix with Mark Webber sympathising with fans who endured traffic chaos and then received a soaking.
On a day of consistent and torrential rain when few drivers did any serious running the 2008 champion Hamilton did his best for the spectators by steering his McLaren through the puddles and floods in spectacular style.
An 80,000 crowd was expected, but a combination of the weather, appalling road conditions and dire traffic management meant that fewer than that number made it through the gates to join those inside who were left drenched by the downpours.
“It is horrible,” said Australian Webber, who did not run in the afternoon session in his Red Bull car.
“They don’t always understand why we don’t run, especially when the conditions are going to be pretty similar over the weekend.
“Today though most of us had our hands tied with the weather. We would want to get the practice in to get on top of those conditions, but for us unfortunately there is no point being top of the pops today, doing loads of mileage, loads of wearing tyres out because we don’t get any points today.
“It is very frustrating for the fans and we do feel for them.”
Webber added: “Today we all feel, all the teams, drivers, engineers, mechanics, we all feel for the fans.
“It is cold and miserable, it is the middle of the summer, it has been a very, very tough day for everybody and it is just incredibly frustrating because they did not get to see what they would have liked to have seen.”
The Silverstone race organisers issued a warning that anyone travelling to the Grand Prix on Saturday can expect similar delays.
They also promised a full investigation into the chaos that left thousands of cars locked in traffic jams outside the circuit for much of Friday.
They blamed part of the chaos on confusion created by campsites around the track being flooded and rendered unusable.
Silverstone’s spokeswoman Katie Tyler said: “The problem is that the campers are turning up at their campsites and being turned away because of the ground.
“The farmers who own the private campsites and our own official one – Silverstone Woodlands – are saying; ‘We can’t take any more, we’re going to relocate you.’ Local radio and Silverstone radio are putting a message out, to say ‘if you haven’t booked, don’t turn up.’”
As the fans outside the circuit bemoaned the weather, those inside were treated to little action to keep them diverted from the rain with few drivers venturing out until the final minutes.
The session offered few, if any, clues to the weekend ahead as more than an hour was lost to the weather before Bruno Senna, in a Williams, crashed heavily on Hangar Straight, seriously damaging the left side of his car.
The session was red-flagged to a halt and it was only after the debris was cleared that the fans were treated to some action.
By the end of the day only four drivers, including Webber of Red Bull, had not turned a wheel.
Hamilton, showing virtuoso sensitivity in the conditions, threw his McLaren around the track in thrilling fashion, frequently rescuing it and himself when he appeared to be sliding off.
His dramatic effort, during the final 20 minutes of the day’s action after heavy rain had wrecked all the previous practice time, provided bright, if limited entertainment.
Japanese Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber was second fastest and also delivered several exciting laps ahead of seven-times champion Michael Schumacer of Mercedes, who showed flashes of his old mastery of such treacherous conditions.