The 2008 Formula 1 season was a hotly contested Championship race between veteran drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa, and British young-gun and 2007 World Championship runner-up Lewis Hamilton. By the time racing moved to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix, the ninth race on the calendar that year, Ferrari’s Massa had secured three wins to his teammate, and reigning Formula 1 World Champion, Räikkönen’s two, while Hamilton for McLaren had also celebrated two victories.
It was an eventful Grand Prix weekend all round, with more off-track drama than on-track action in the lead up to race day. While the Silverstone Circuit was celebrating its 60th Anniversary, the FIA announced the British Grand Prix would move to Donnington in 2010 while Red Bull’s David Coulthard, a member of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, announced he would retire at the end of the season.
The Saturday practice and qualifying sessions were eventful and action-packed; taking place in constantly changing weather conditions. The morning brought heavy rain, soaking the circuit and leaving a wet track for the final practice session. The incident-filled qualifying delivered a first Formula 1 pole position to Heikki Kovalainen, while his McLaren teammate Hamilton had to settle for a fourth-place start on the grid.
Black ominous clouds blanketed the dark grey sky on race day, threatening another heavy downpour. During the formation lap it was evident how wet the track was with substantial spray being thrown up from the cars. Hamilton, hoping for victory in front of a hometown crowd, had a lucky start; Räikkönen was boxed in behind Kovalainen and Webber, allowing the Briton to storm through from fourth position and briefly take the lead from teammate Kovalainen. As their cars knocked wheels coming into the first corner, Hamilton’s Mercedes-powered McLaren held second place.
Drivers were struggling for grip off the start and battling the standing water on the track. The casualties came early: Webber spun coming into the Hangar Straight and ended up at the back of the field, as did Massa who spun exiting the Abbey Chicane. Coulthard, in his last outing at Silverstone, and Sebastian Vettel both spun off into the gravel at the Brooklands turn forcing them to retire without completing a full lap.
Hamilton kept up the pace and pressured his teammate before asserting himself and taking the lead on the fifth lap. As the track began to dry out, he quickened his pace and increased the gap with Räikkönen in second and Kovalainen in third. The rain returned just as the pit stops started, with cars aquaplaning and spinning their way to race retirement. While Hamilton skilfully kept his car on the road, Jenson Button, Giancarlo Fisichella, Robert Kubica, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Adrian Sutil all fell victim to the slippery conditions.
As the race continued, rain showers fell and eased; then an unexpected downpour hit the circuit. Even the race leader was not immune, losing control of his McLaren and bumping over the grass before continuing on. But he handled the conditions superbly; his hunger for victory on home soil showing on each lap as he used his knowledge of the track to find and maximise grip.
The 23 year-old Hamilton, competing in only his second Formula 1 British Grand Prix, masterfully raced his way to victory; finishing 68.5 seconds ahead of second-place Nick Heidfeld in spectacular fashion. The 90,000 strong crowd blared their air horns and cheered riotously as the hometown hero, now equal first with Massa and Räikkönen in the Championship, received the winner’s trophy for the 2008 Santander British Grand Prix.
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