It was a tough day today for Lewis Hamilton and the signs are that McLaren face a tough weekend with its main opposition looking strong.
The 2008 champion crashed in the rain in morning practice, hitting the tyre barriers hard and causing quite a bit of damage to his car.
“It was very, very slippery, ” he said. “What was actually a relief was when I came back and everyone explained to me how it occurred. I hit the limiter and upshifted and I spun the wheels. Obviously a moment which I tried to correct and didn’t correct it well enough or whatever, and it put me off onto the grass. And I was just a passenger.
Hamilton has taken several memorable wins in the wet, notably Silverstone 2008 and Fuji 2007, but the conditions caught him out today.
He recovered later on in the drier afternoon session to set the seventh fastest time on the harder of the two tyres, while most of the front runners ran the super soft Bridgestone has brought its most extreme range of tyres to Hockenheim as an experiment and the signs are that with the rain washing the track clean of rubber, the super softs will be quick in qualifying, but will grain quickly in the early part of the race, leading to early pit stops.
Hamilton’s performance on the hard tyres is encouraging, as was the long run his team mate Jenson Button did. Getting the front tyres to warm up will be challenging for some teams.
McLaren looked like they were still dealing with overheating of components at the rear of the car due to the blown diffuser and they haven’t quite sorted out the handling issues the device entails, but Hamilton indicated that they are likely to stick with it for the weekend, unlike Silverstone where they were forced to abandon it after Friday practice and this was confirmed tonight by McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh.
Ferrari’s strong performance today – Alonso was fastest and looked good for it – and the improved pace of the Mercedes has increased the pressure on McLaren at the front. It will be very interesting to see what the outright pace of the leading four cars is, presuming we have a dry qualifying session.
As the rain around Hockenheim seems quite localised – it was dry 20kms north of the circuit during free practice – it’s hard to predict what might happen weatherwise tomorrow.
Hamilton said that he does not feel confident about holding on to his championship lead in the face of stiff competition, in what is turning out to be a wonderfully open championship,
“It’s just about doing a better job than anyone else, and that’s why we are leading the championship,” he said. “But it’s not because we have been the quickest. I still think today we are not quickest. We are quick, but it’s not enough. But we’ll get there. If we are able to make that step in pure pace then we should be smiling. But let’s see.”