An inspired pit stop saw fans’ favourite Lewis Hamilton claim the Britsh Grand Prix at Silverstone as 140,000 Formula One fanatics descended on Northamptonshire today.
It was a shaky start for the Brackley-based Mercedes team after title leader Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg were jumped off the line by both Williams drivers, with Brazilian Felipe Massa taking an early lead.
But when rain started to fall on the historic South Northamptonshire circuit two thirds of the way through the race, it was Hamilton who made the call to switch to intermediate tyres more suited to wet conditions, while others snaked around on the slippy surface.
On the winner’s podium the British driver thanked the sellout Silverstone crowd for its support.
He said: “Thank you everyone for coming out today and making my weekend.”
He added: “I could see you in the corner of my eye and I just felt you spurring me along, so thank you so much.”
The one-two finish for Northamptonshire’s Mercedes team was matched with a strong showing for Silverstone-based Force India, which saw its drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez finish seventh and ninth respectively.
While today’s damp race provided a thrilling spectacle for Formula One fans, the run-up to the Britsh Grand Prix was awash with fears over the future of the event remaining in Northamptonshire.
On Friday managing director of Silverstone, Patrick Allen, said that, with older circuits in Germany and France dropping off the F1 calender this year and Italy’s historic Monza circuit under threat, the Northamptonshire circuit needed to keep moving with the times in order to survive.
Speaking to the Chronicle and Echo today Mr Allen said: “I think it’s the other events we put on here. We need to smarten the place up a little bit more, give people a little bit more comfort, but really, more entertainment.”
Among many of the fans there was little doubt that Silverstone remains one of the most popular circuits of the Formula One season.
Producer, DJ and racing super-fan Goldie, said: “Silverstone, it’s the best in the world isn’t it, apart from Monaco - if you can get there.”
And former Britsh Formula One driver Johnny Herbert, added: “Silverstone, great circuit, historic.”
“It’s a challenge to the drivers, the drivers love coming here, the fans love coming here, we’ve got 140,000 people here to watch the 2015 British Grand Prix so it’s important because we need to have motorsport, hey as a driver it’s the best in the world.”
Former formula One World champion John Surtees, added: “All the European grand prix are very special.”
A total of 350,000 spectators have poured through the doors of Silverstone since the event opened on Thursday.
With attendances remaining strong, fans were also optimistic about Silverstone remaining on the Formula One calender for years to come.
Northampton man Anthony Wilson, 55, who was a the race today with wife Karen, said: “We have been to over 150 grand prix and Silverstone is still one of the best for fans.
“The only other race anywhere close is Australia.
“Bernie (Ecclestone) keeps threatening to drop it, but to lose the British Grand Prix here would be such a huge blow to Formula One.”