Lewis Hamilton staked his claim on victory at next week s British Grand Prix after going quickest of all during a crucial three-day test session at Silverstone, much to the delight of his adoring home fans who turned up in their droves to will the Briton on.
The McLaren ace didn t disappoint and quickly stormed to the top of the timesheets with a lap time of 1m. 19.170, over a second quicker than Kimi Raikkonen, the man most likely to thwart the Briton s hopes of victory on home soil.
Hamilton who has had a torrid few weeks in the press after his pit-lane disaster in Canada and subsequent penalties in France was relishing throwing his revised and upgraded MP4-23 around the demanding Northamptonshire circuit.
“Today s test was really encouraging,â€ enthused Hamilton. “The changes we ve made in the last few tests have really improved the car. I haven t back-to-backed the new parts so I don t have a benchmark, but the car feels strong around here and I can t wait to be racing in front of my home crowd again.â€
The Monaco GP winner was taken aback by the swathes of support that followed him around the circuit on each of his 88 laps: “Driving into Silverstone this morning felt really cool I couldn t believe how many fans were at the track so early in the morning; they re pretty special, the most dedicated F1 supporters in the world.â€
“At the start of the day, I was really eager to get out on the track this place is so super-fast that it feels amazing in an F1 car.â€
Timo Glock emerged as Hamilton s closest challenger, underlining the step forward in performance that Toyota have made in recent races and showing that team are well-poised to repeat the success that Jarno Trulli enjoyed in France. But the German s day was marred by a collision with Red Bull Racing s David Coulthard at the end of the hanger straight.
“It was a misunderstanding – when I turned in at the end of the Hangar Straight David was there,” explained Glock. “I just didn’t see him so I apologise for that. The mechanics did a really good job to get the car back into shape and they worked hard all day because we had a lot to do.
“We’ve made a good step in the last couple of weeks and the last two results have given the team a boost. Now we have to keep up the form at Silverstone next week.”
Kimi Raikkonen completed 60 laps without any major problems and lapped slightly slower than team-mate Felipe Massa who was at the helm for Ferrari on the opening days of testing.
“Normal day of testing, but too many red flags; more than usual actually,â€ Ferrari s spokesman Luca Colajanni told Forumula1.com, hitting out at a session which was interrupted by incidents no fewer than six times.
Fernando Alonso had a fraught day with an engine problem thwarting his morning running and a spin in the afternoon adding to the Spaniard s woes. But a quick lap late in the session saw the Renault driver catapult up the timesheets he eventually wound up fourth quickest ahead of under pressure BMW driver Nick Heidfeld and Kazuki Nakajima.
“It was a good day’s work,â€ reflected Alonso. “We spent the day working on improving the set-up of the car to be ready for the race next week and all the changes that we made took us in the right direction.â€
“By the end of the day I was much happier with the car. However, the track conditions were quite difficult as it was windy here today, but that is what you get at Silverstone, and we will have to cope with this in the race.â€
Heidfeld showed that BMW had made some improvements to the car ahead of the British Grand Prix after going the wrong way with the development of the F1.08 in France. The German was just over a tenth of a second slower than Fernando Alonso and short of his team-mate s best time on Wednesday by a similar margin.
“We completed 93 laps today as planned,â€ commented Heidfeld. “Unfortunately it was a bit windy. It was the same as yesterday which made it a bit difficult to test properly but still we managed to everything that we planned.â€
Adrian Sutil was in action for Force India and paced an impressive seventh quickest, only a few hundredths of a second shy of Nakajima and ahead of Rubens Barrichello (Honda) and Sebastien Bourdais (Toro Rosso).
David Coulthard s preparations for the British Grand Prix got off to a disastrous start. The Scot managed to complete only 29 laps after his run-in with Timo Glock and then an engine problem late in the session severely hampered his running.
“Unfortunately I did not get much running,â€ rued Coulthard. “As the high-speed nature of Silverstone means it helps to get your eye in, I will be slightly on the back foot going into practice for the British Grand Prix.â€
“But I think that, as a team, we are strong enough to deal with that, so I hope to have a good home race.â€
Today's times: Pos Driver Team Time Laps 1. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.170 88 2. Glock Toyota 1:19.815 79 3. Raikkonen Ferrari 1:20.321 60 4. Alonso Renault 1:20.862 78 5. Heidfeld BMW-Sauber 1:21.011 93 6. Nakajima Williams-Toyota 1:21.059 70 7. Sutil Force India 1:21.331 71 8. Barrichello Honda 1:21.344 94 9. Bourdais Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:21.432 76 10. Coulthard Red Bull-Renault 1:22.232 31