BRITISH GP: Great start to Silverstone weekend for Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton enjoyed a near perfect start to his British Grand Prix weekend after soaring to the top of the timesheets while title rival Nico Rosberg's troubled week took another turn for the worse.
Hamilton, who is bidding for a third consecutive victory in front of his home fans, completed a practice double at Silverstone on Friday.
But Rosberg, leader of the Austrian Grand Prix until his final-lap collision with Hamilton saw him limp home only in fourth, was forced out of the second practice session with a mechanical issue.
Rosberg, just 0.033 seconds slower than Hamilton in opening practice, suffered a water leak on his car, which his Mercedes team were unable to resolve.
It meant that as Hamilton completed 36 laps and posted a best time of one minute and 31.660 seconds at the Northamptonshire circuit, Rosberg was left watching the 90-minute session from the back of the Mercedes garage.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo assumed the position as best of the rest, 0.391 seconds down on Hamilton, with his team-mate Max Verstappen one spot further back.
It had been feared that Mercedes would introduce team orders here following the fall-out of Hamilton and Rosberg’s crash in Austria which boss Toto Wolff described as ‘brainless’.
But Formula One’s all-conquering team instead issued a final warning to both their drivers, informing them that they could be fined - or worse banned - if they collide again.
The decision by Mercedes not to implore team orders will come as a welcome relief to Hamilton, and indeed a record, partisan crowd of nearly 140,000 spectators expected at the Briton’s home track on Sunday.
Earlier on Friday, Ferrari ended speculation surrounding their driver line-up for the 2017 campaign by retaining Kimi Raikkonen for one more season.
And Raikkonen’s Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who was fourth fastest and nearly one second slower than Hamilton, also trialled a modified version of the halo in the opening moments of the first 90-minute session.
The so-called ‘halo 2’, which is set to become mandatory next season, is a lighter, modified version of the driver-head safety device which was first trialled in winter testing.
Hamilton subsequently described the concept as the ‘worst looking modification in Formula One history’, and the latest version is unlikely to appease the world champion with its aesthetics remaining largely unchanged.
Instead the shape of the halo has been altered to avoid a driver hitting his head on the structure in an accident. It is also lighter than the first version, too.
For Jenson Button, the 2009 world championship, this could yet be his last British Grand Prix.
Button, out of contract with McLaren at the end of the season, finished a middling 12th and ninth in the respective practice sessions. Jolyon Palmer, the British rookie, was 18th in the order, two places ahead of his Renault team-mate Kevin Magnussen.
“I felt good today, I was definitely feeling strong, so I am generally really happy with where we are and hopefully we are heading towards,” Hamilton said.
“Seeing the support we have is just insane, and every time I come here, there is such a great roar.
“I always want to make sure that I am at my best, and particularly on this weekend, so I can absorb their great energy. When I looked at the screen everyone was wearing my cap which was just awesome so I hope I can perform for them this weekend.”
Rosberg, 11 points ahead of Hamilton in the championship, remained confident that the issues which plagued his running on Friday afternoon will be resolved overnight.
“It is a pity that we were not able to get out, but I really felt good this morning in the car so I am not that worried,” he said.
“I was listening to what Lewis was doing, watching his data, and trying to learn a few bits and pieces. It will be fine on Saturday.”