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Michael Bailey , Formula One correspondent
Thursday, July 12, 2012
There are few press rooms where the assembled media break into spontaneous applause – at Silverstone, it happened regularly.
• GW – Mark Webber: As good as it gets – more Silverstone success, a new Red Bull contract and a trip to the speedway at King’s Lynn. A popular man and a serious title contender.
• BW – The Brits: That home success I was trying to talk up last week? Well McLaren bombed and Paul di Resta bailed early on. The fans – outstanding all weekend – deserved better.
It had to be earned: Mark Webber’s overtake of Fernando Alonso in the closing stages, and subsequent victory; and in turn, Alonso’s exquisite qualifying effort through Saturday’s lakes and rivers.
That is the respect these journalists have for those giving everything for the unique glory Formula One can reciprocate.
The paddock had similar for the congregated support – impressive throughout the weekend. From Friday’s frustration, to saturated Saturday and Sunday’s sunny surprise – the likes of Martin Brundle, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button made clear their unreserved admiration for the passion of those who laid money, time and short-term health on the line to watch the sport they love.
Indeed, as someone banging my head against the steering wheel in a five-hour jam trying to get into Silverstone on Friday, I hold my hands up to those who had bought tickets for free practice, only to spend the day staring at the back of a Vauxhall.
"He is a stupid driver. We all have concerns about him. He doesn’t know we are risking our lives; he has no respect"
At no point did I see a temper or hear a cross word from anyone outside my own car. And while I could eventually dump my vehicle on the side of the road and walk to catch the afternoon’s press conferences, others had to sit, wait and ultimately leave none the wiser on the day’s action.
Sadly those fans were not afforded the same respect from circuit officials, who failed to keep them informed of the worsening situation.
The very fact Silverstone seemed to be without a proper contingency for wet weather – hardly a major surprise during a British summer – was not good enough and must change by the time Formula One returns.
Pastor Maldonado had plenty of respect when he showed a glimmer of the driver he can be with his maiden win at Barcelona. But that now seems to have dried up along with his driving skills. The Venezuelan arrived in F1 with a reputation for liking walls and other cars – and there is no sign of that diminishing any time soon.
It was good to see Bernie Ecclestone not put the boot in on Silverstone – not in public, anyway. At the last weather debacle in 2000, the F1 supremo made clear his displeasure. This time, he simply shrugged off the rain.
And then there was Mark Webber. Given the issues he’s endured with Red Bull at Silverstone in recent years, maybe he is also starting to grab his own slice of backing.
From winning against the backdrop of labelling himself the team’s number two as his spat with team-mate Sebastian Vettel escalated in 2010, to being told to “maintain the gap” to the second-placed German as he chased in 2011. This time Webber’s race was a clean as you like – and that just made you wonder how far the Australian could go this year.
While McLaren flounder, you suspect few Brits would begrudge Webber his greatest season in the sport come Brazil at the end of November – and with it the drivers’ championship.
And the very fact he has earned that respect says it all.
• Formula One access remains something special – and it was great to enjoy some proper time with Caterham as they went about their business at their home race; and where is soon to be their racing home.
The team’s Hingham base gets turned over to Caterham’s composite company after the summer, while the racing teams will be based at Leafield, just down the road from Silverstone.
Here’s hoping their luck in that part of the world is better than their last two race visits.
Heikki Kovalainen had forgotten their early double retirement in 2011 when I brought it up on Thursday. But when Vitaly Petrov didn’t even make the start of the race on Sunday due to his Renault engine blowing between the pits and start/finish straight, I’m sure others began to remember.
Fortunately Kovalainen did start and finish the race – although that was probably about it for noteworthy incidents. But they are in better form than their Silverstone results showed, and the feeling from Petrov and his team-mate over the car’s upgrades was clear.
So if there is a bit of dry running for the team at Hockenheim in 10 days’ time, expect to see proof of the step forward they have made.
For Hethel-backed Lotus, the form is good. Kimi Raikkonen was solid, while Romain Grosjean – but for his usual early clash – was one of the drivers of the day. Enstone’s problem remains the fact they need to be closer to the front when they start to find their race pace. It’s the only thing missing from a team with a very strong car.
The support series completed the Norfolk interest at Silverstone, where Caterham’s F1 luck continued to the rung below. But fellow GP2 boys, Carleton Rode-based Isport certainly enjoyed things – with Jolyon Palmer superb in the opening race and Marcus Ericsson driving his heart out in the sprint.
A season-best for Alex Brundle in GP3 rounded it all off nicely. Norfolk boys done good – again.