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‘Super weird’ Silverstone to race without loyal fanbase

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Briton Lewis Hamilton, celebrating victory with his fans at last year’s British Grand Prix, is gunning for a seventh win there on Sunday. AFP

‘Super weird’ Silverstone to race without loyal fanbase

Fresh from two dominant triumphs, Lewis Hamilton will seek to complete an early-season hat-trick and extend his home wins record to seven without his usual impassioned supporters in “super weird” circumstances at this weekend’s British Grand Prix.

The six-time world champion and current standings leader has always drawn energy from the big crowds that support him at Silverstone, but this year’s event will be run behind closed doors in front of empty grandstands.

“The British Grand Prix is the best and that’s particularly because of the fans – thousands and thousands always turn up to create a great spectacle,” said the Briton.

“So, it is going to be super weird to be there without them.”

For Hamilton, that means no crowd-surfing celebrations and keeping his feet on the ground as he bids to add to his wins at the Styrian and Hungarian Grand Prix as the coronavirus-delayed 2020 season returns.

This Sunday’s race will be the 71st British Grand Prix and 54th at Silverstone and is followed one week later by a race at the same venue to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the inaugural world championship event in 1950.

After his recent victories, and given his great record at Silverstone, Hamilton will start as favourite, but can expect a strong challenge from his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who won the season-opener in Austria.

‘Fastest F1 cars ever’

Already the two “black Arrows” drivers have demonstrated the clear supremacy of their unbeaten W11 cars, dubbed “the fastest F1 cars ever” by team chief Toto Wolff this week.

He said: “We will miss our fans at Silverstone – but we know that they will be rooting for us from home so we are determined to show our gratitude by putting on a great show.

“These are the fastest F1 cars ever built. They have broken the track records at both Spielberg and Budapest and it will be thrilling to see them on the iconic Silverstone circuit.”

The high-speed track’s demanding and fast corners are expected to suit the Mercedes cars, but Wolff said he is taking nothing for granted.

“We’ve had a good start to the season,” he said. “We resolved the issues that troubled us on the first weekend, won three out of three races and scored a good amount of points, but they highlighted a crucial factor – the importance of reliability in this shortened season.

“We’re one of only two teams that have finished all the races with both cars this year and we know how quickly a DNF [did not finish] can make a points lead disappear.”

Arriving at Silverstone, Hamilton leads Bottas by five points with Max Verstappen of Red Bull third, 30 points adrift, but hoping to close the gap.

The Racing Point team’s base is only a few hundred metres from the circuit entrance and, after demonstrating their speed and potential in Austria and Hungary, they hope to be in a scrap with Red Bull to secure a podium finish before Renault lodge another expected protest at the integrity of their “pink Mercedes” car.

Ferrari, the only team to have interrupted Mercedes’ supremacy at Silverstone in recent years, when Sebastian Vettel triumphed in 2018, are likely to continue their struggle for competitive form after a lacklustre start to 2020.

Vettel, in his final season at Ferrari, has this year emerged as a close supporter of Hamilton in backing the sport’s anti-racism stance and the wider Black Lives Matter movement, which has not seen clear and unambiguous backing from the drivers.

Hamilton called for more unity and leadership on the issue following a confused and muddled pre-race “taking the knee” ceremony in Hungary.

McLaren’s Lando Norris, 20, said this week that the drivers would react and he expected to see “a better structure and a better plan in place” than at previous weekends.

The Briton suggested that Formula One management would be allocating proper time for a ceremony.

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