7th July 2008 | Nigel Roebuck for MotorSport magazine
British Grand Prix
As Lewis Hamilton went out for his final qualifying run at Silverstone, the message over the radio was firm: "Don't over-drive!"
On his previous run he had done just that, and had run off the road, and into a spin. The lurid tail-out style was wonderful to watch, but Lewis looked like a driver on the edge, and although his last lap was better, it was good only for fourth on the grid. His McLaren-Mercedes team mate Heikki Kovalainen, meantime, eclipsed everyone, and took the first pole position of his Formula 1 career.
Therefore, the omens for Hamilton's British Grand Prix were not the best. Since winning at Monaco he had scored not a championship point, and on top of that there were suggestions that a relentless PR schedule, plus an active social schedule, were having an adverse effect on his driving. While other drivers slapped Kovalainen on the back after qualifying, Lewis started vacantly into space, as if in a trance.
Twenty-four hours on, his world was looking rather better. If rain had merely threatened on Saturday, on race day it arrived, and inevitably one thought back to Fuji last autumn, when conditions were truly appalling, and Lewis faultlessly left everyone behind.
At Silverstone he did the same again, giving notice on intent right from the off. Both Mark Webber (a stunning front row qualifier for Red Bull) and Kimi Raikkonen were dispensed with before Copse, and as he turned into the corner Lewis showed every sign of wishing to snatch the lead from Kovalainen.
Heikki is no patsy, however, and made the most of a better line in. Momentarily the two McLarens touched, but no damage was done, and as they went away towards Becketts it was Kovalainen-Hamilton.
Although Kovalainen led Hamilton by over a second at the end of the first lap, Lewis was soon on his tail, and on lap five took the lead, which he proceeded to extend by three- or four-tenths a lap. Heikki appeared able to contain Raikkonen, but on lap 10 he spun, which elevated the Ferrari to second place.
By now the track was drying significantly, and it wasn't long before Raikkonen began to catch Hamilton, and at quite a rate. Both made their first stops at the end of lap 21, and they were pretty much nose to tail when they came in.
In fact, it was at this moment that the outcome of the race was settled, for while McLaren put a new set of Bridgestone intermediates on Lewis's car, Ferrari opted to leave Kimi on his original set.
It was a throw of the dice, and it could have gone either way. Had the track continued to dry out, Raikkonen would have been in the pound seats with his nicely worn inters, but within a lap it was raining again, and suddenly semi-slicks were emphatically not the thing to have. As the track glistened Hamilton pulled away, to the tune of five and six seconds. Kimi's bolt was shot for the day.
Felipe Massa won in France two weeks ago, but at Silverstone on the opening lap Massa had the first of five spins, and made absolutely no impression. Altogether it was an atrocious performance by a man who arrived in Britain as the World Championship leader.
In the end there was only one real story at Silverstone. By comparison with his debut season in 2007, Lewis Hamilton has had a patchy time of it thus far this year, and many had begun to question whether or not his career was being directed - and that's the word for it - in the right way. But this drive at Silverstone, before a home crowd, was not less than a masterpiece.
"This was," he said, "the toughest race I have ever had, but also one of the best I've ever driven - it was so extreme and slippery out there. When I came round the last time I saw the crowd standing up, and I prayed, Just finish, just finish..."
Lewis's winning margin? Just 68.577 seconds.