Formula One

Hamilton sets pace in rainy practice for British Grand Prix

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Associated Press
7/6/2012 12:30:23 PM
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SILVERSTONE, England -- Away from the gridlocked roads and rain-soaked Formula One paddock, Lewis Hamilton was one of the few people happy about soggy Silverstone on Friday.

Yes, he was concerned that the treacherous conditions had left thousands stranded in traffic unable to watch the practice sessions for the British Grand Prix.

But the McLaren driver believes the deluge may have given him the edge this weekend.

The Briton is third in the drivers' standings -- 23 points behind leader Fernando Alonso -- but he set the pace ahead of Sunday's race, with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 56.345 seconds across the two 90-minute sessions.

Hamilton's only British GP win came in 2008 after he mastered sodden conditions that caused many of his rivals to spin off the drenched circuit.

"I don't mind rainy days," Hamilton said. "I grew up racing in this, so I'm very much at home ... it opens up the window a little bit more, particularly as we're not really sure in the dry we will be quickest. So it gives us a little bit more of an opportunity in the wet."

The track's difficulties in coping with the storm troubled Hamilton, however.

"There was a lot of standing water, it doesn't seem to have enough drainage," he said. "That's just an improvement we can make for next year."

Teammate Jenson Button said he found it "quite scary out there" as he recorded the sixth-fastest time in the afternoon, and raised fears about safety if the race is run in similar conditions.

"You wouldn't want to be racing in those conditions, going wheel to wheel, because you can't see the aquaplaning until you arrive," the Briton said. "I can't see us being allowed to race in these conditions."

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said he was just relieved to finish the day with the two cars fully intact "with all their wings and appendages still attached."

The dangers were clear when Bruno Senna spun out of control in his Williams and crashed into a barrier, leading to the red flag being brought out for 10 minutes in the second session.

Alonso struggled with braking on the wet track, his Ferrari sliding onto the grass and hitting a barrier to lose his front wing.

The incidents appeared to vindicate the cautious approach adopted by the teams, but the reduced time on track denied the limited number of fans in attendance much of a spectacle.

"I was more concerned for the fans, there were so many great fans here today and don't remember seeing so many on a Friday," Hamilton said. "It was terrible weather and we didn't have enough tires to go out and keep them entertained ... it must have been a little bit boring for them to sit there and not to see many people going round."

Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber was 0.129 seconds adrift of Hamilton. Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher was third fastest, nearly two weeks after coming third at the European GP for his first podium finish since returning from retirement two years ago.

Alonso was one of three drivers who failed to set a time in the morning when spray hampered visibility. He was 10th fastest in the second session, while world champion Sebastian Vettel was 13th.

"If there's too much standing water on track we can't go out, as we aquaplane pretty quickly," Vettel said. "Senna went off, and it shows how quickly it can happen. It's a real shame for the fans sitting in the grandstands waiting for the cars to come out ... but for us it's not so useful, as you can't really try anything in these conditions.

"I think weather will be the most important factor in determining the rest of the weekend."

Silverstone's management described the conditions as a "nightmare" with an unexpectedly large demand for campsites at the circuit adding to the chaos caused by the downpour.

"This is the first year we've had such bad problems (for 10 years), which is largely down to all the fields giving out," Silverstone communications head Katie Tyler said.

There was a tailback of five miles along the main road leading to Silverstone by Friday lunchtime. The situation could be exacerbated at the weekend with 100,000 people expected on Saturday and a sell-out of 125,000 on race day.

"If we get more rain, we have to be honest about it -- it will be slow and there will be problems," Tyler said. "We've loaded all the hard-standing car parks today, but we have used some of the other car parks that aren't hard-standing. They may well be in a bad state tomorrow."

Lewis Hamilton (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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