The home favourites here at Silverstone, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, had a pretty inauspicious start to their British Grand Prix weekend, finding themselves eighth and thirteenth on the timesheets.
However, Hamilton puts this apparent lack of pace down to the fact that McLaren spent the day testing new parts, and insists that there is still more to come from the car. He also tried to convey the special atmosphere and reception he was getting at his home race.
“It's a fantastic feeling to be racing at home again,” he said. “You feel that the most when you launch from the pitlane exit and see so many fans on the banking – and they're all waving at you! And when you're driving, you really can pick out all those rocket-red caps all around the track, even on a Friday. And that support is definitely a bonus. The fans always make my weekend – the Silverstone fans are the best in the world.
“We spent both sessions running with the new components. I definitely feel we've made a step forward from the last race. This circuit is a bit like Barcelona, where we were one second behind Red Bull – I don't think we'll be seeing that sort of gap tomorrow though, hopefully.
“It was fun to try the new track configuration for the first time. The new section is very fast and flowing, and I don't think it interrupts your rhythm too much. It still feels a little weird turning right at Abbey rather than left, and there's a big bump there too, but that just makes it more exciting.
“We haven't got the optimum out of the car yet, there's still more to come.”
Button agreed that there is still more speed to be found from the car set-up between now and qualifying and, like Hamilton, was very impressed by the reception from the fans. He also praised Silverstone’s new arena section.
“It's great to be back at Silverstone,” exclaimed Button. “Hearing all the fans cheering you when you first walk into the garage makes it such a special atmosphere – it was a really great start to my day. And the number of rocket-red caps in the grandstands was unbelievable – when I first saw them, I thought it was for another team, then I realised they were for us, which was amazing.
“And I think the new layout works, too. I put this circuit up there with the best in the world, like Spa and Suzuka, and getting a good balance around here is such a good feeling. There are a couple of new grandstands down at Turn 13, where there's a good opportunity for overtaking, particularly if somebody gets out of shape at Turn 11. If I was a spectator around here, I think I'd want to be at that corner, because there could be a lot of action there.
“Our day was a little trickier than we'd expected. I couldn't get a set-up with the new package. We improved through the day, but there's still a lot of work to do, and we're not where we want to be with the balance yet. As always, the Red Bulls look very fast, and it's going to be tough to challenge them. So we've just got to hope we make a good step forward tonight.
“But I'm still positive; I remember in Turkey last year, I really struggled on Friday, and yet I won the race. And I'd really love to win my home grand prix in front of all the fans here. This is a special weekend for everyone in our team – we want to get the best out of car, and put on a show for all the thousands of people who'll be cheering us on.”
Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, also predicts that performances will pick up as the weekend goes on, and says that the whole team are working hard to ensure a good result at their home race:
“We have a new package for Silverstone, and as is often the case with new packages we've had to work hard to make it work today. As a result, the drivers haven't got really comfortable with it yet.
“But, just as our engineers and mechanics worked really hard last night – they were still hard at it well after midnight and a batch of parts arrived at 1.30am – so also they'll work really hard tonight. To be honest, I find their commitment truly inspirational.
“I also find Silverstone truly inspirational. Its 'camp-site' atmosphere is incredibly refreshing – unique in fact – and as you drive in to the circuit every morning you can somehow sense the heritage in everything you see and hear, and you can definitely feel the enthusiasm of the crowd, numerous already before breakfast time. It's a truly special place.”