Lewis Hamilton is no stranger to controversy, but putting his own fans offside ahead of his home grand prix risked opening a dramatic new chapter in the 32-year-old’s history.
The Briton’s no-show at a Formula One-organised London street demonstration — the only driver absent of the sport’s 20-driver grid — was met with raised eyebrows among his peers and boos and jeers from the ordinarily adoring British crowd.
The backlash was fierce, but when called before the infamously aggressive English press to answer for his absence, Hamilton stayed cool.
“It’s been a pretty intense season so far, and I felt for me I needed to prepare the best way that I could this weekend,” he said. “The season’s the most important thing for me.”
Hamilton, after all, knew what the British crowd really wanted to see — a British driver win the British Grand Prix — and by the time the race had come and gone none could doubt his commitment to the cause.
Pole position by half a second, victory by more than 14 seconds and the fastest lap of the race — Hamilton may have missed the London demonstration, but he turned Silverstone into his own personal festival.
“The energy that I get from the fans, there is no other driver that gets this sort of energy anywhere,” Hamilton said reflecting on his weekend. “I really do think it boosts you, just lifts you up.”
Hamilton emerged from the weekend having equalled iconic British driver Jim Clark’s record of five wins and five poles in England, but his victory is as meaningful for 2017 as it is for the history books.
While he serenely paraded his way through 51 laps of the British Grand Prix, chief title rival Sebastian Vettel fumbled his way through the race, first getting caught behind Max Verstappen’s slower Red Bull Racing car at the start, then suffering an extraordinary tyre collapse on the penultimate lap.
The contrasting fortunes of F1’s protagonists slashed Vettel’s 20-point championship lead and turned the title into a single-point competition at the season’s halfway point.
Mercedes’s dominant victory is the latest sign of a performance trend towards the reigning three-time constructors champion and away from the resurgent Ferrari, which is mounting its first serious title campaign in years.
The German marque has taken three wins in the last four races — a record that would have been perfect had Hamilton’s headrest not come unfastened at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix — and has grown its qualifying advantage substantially since its off-colour Monaco Grand Prix showing in May.
“This year we have been for the majority of the year a match,” Vettel said. “It has been probably true that in the last couple of races Mercedes have been stronger, but the real game changer is qualifying.
“They are able to turn up the engine — they are gaining 0.6secs on the straights. If you have the cars in front for the first lap, the race looks different.
“There is no reason to panic or to worry, but for sure we need to be aware. There are a couple of advantages we need to work on and then it could be a different picture.”
The next grand prix in Hungary on paper suits Ferrari better than Silverstone, the Hungaroring’s tight and slow corners swinging the pendulum back towards the Scuderia as it did in Monte Carlo.
But just as his dominance at Silverstone is becoming integral to Lewis Hamilton’s legacy, his five victories in Budapest mark it too as a stronghold of Briton, making the Hungarian Grand Prix (30 July) a decisive final race before Formula One’s month-long midseason break.