x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The sun always sets on the British drivers

While drivers from the home of Silverstone have moved away and set themselves up in warmer climes, it is foreign racers who now call the UK home, writes Gary Meenaghan.

McLaren-Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton, left, and Jenson Button have both swapped the UK for Monaco.
McLaren-Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton, left, and Jenson Button have both swapped the UK for Monaco.

Speak to the three British Formula One drivers set to take part in this weekend's British Grand Prix and they all talk proudly of British heritage, British culture and British traditions. Yet all three men live in Monaco. And one quick check of the local weather forecast provides a glaring indication of why.

Even by the soggy standards of Silverstone Circuit, this weekend is going to be torrentially wet. Meteorologists yesterday suggested the surrounding area could be hit by a month's worth of rain over the next two days. Forget the Union Jack umbrellas, vendors should be stocking up on rubber dinghies.

And yet nobody is complaining. In an erratic season of racing that has redefined the meaning of unpredictable, a sodden English afternoon is the one thing all drivers are sure to expect. Silverstone is as synonymous with the wet stuff as the new country of residence of Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Paul di Resta is with glitz and glamour.

All three Britons spent their formative years racing karts around the UK in the rain and feel they are better equipped to deal with wet conditions at Silverstone because of it. Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes's 27-year-old Englishman who won here amid a downpour in 2008 on the way to the F1 world championship, joked that "us Brits should be pretty good in the wet".

"A lot of my success in the wet has come down to my experience in wet races growing up here," Hamilton said.

"I competed in a lot of wet races all over the country and all the experience in karting has contributed to the success I have had nowadays, so I am quite grateful to the changeable conditions throughout my career. And also I'm quite grateful to the good weather nowadays."

Di Resta, the field's sole Scotsman, said travelling all over the UK and taking part in rain-hit go-kart races while growing up helped him develop into a dominant driver in wet conditions.

"I wouldn't change it because it has got me to where I am at the moment," he said.

Formula One's British drivers are not the only men to benefit from the country's inclement weather. The majority of the 24 racing drivers in the sport have spent some period of their careers based in the UK. Brazil's former drivers Ayrton Senna and Rubens Barrichello shared a house in Cambridge while racing in F1. The Spaniard Fernando Alonso lived here for a period while driving for Renault.

Alonso conceded he struggled after moving to Oxford due to his lack of English - "it was not an easy time at the supermarket," he joked - but added that it helped him become a better driver in tough conditions.

"I have been lucky to drive good, winning cars, so while driving in wet conditions that helps," said Alonso, who won in Malaysia earlier this year when a monsoon hit the Sepang International Circuit.

"Racing here in the early categories helped a lot. The first races I did in Formula One 10 or 11 years ago, I made a lot of mistakes, but now I try to avoid. The more you do, the better you feel."

Bruno Senna, the Williams driver who followed in his uncle Ayrton's footsteps by relocating to England to benefit his racing career, said the decision has helped him develop.

"For sure, I have had many tests and races in this land with rain," he said.

"The last time I raced here at this track it was in the rain, so going through that learning process in the rain always helps."

Daniel Ricciardo and Mark Webber, the field's two Australian drivers, both continue to live in England despite being in a position where they could live almost anywhere in the world.

Webber owns an old-fashioned British pub near to his home in Buckinghamshire, while Ricciardo is known to tell a comical story of turning up in the country unprepared and having to buy a woollen hat. The first he found had a Manchester United crest on it and he has been a supporter ever since.

Heikki Kovalainen, the Finnish driver with Caterham, lived in Northampton between 2002 and 2006 before moving to Oxford for two years. In 2008 he moved to Geneva, Switzerland. "As a young driver, growing up in the UK was excellent," he said. "I spent a lot of time with my team, learnt to speak English and really understood what was required to become a Formula One racing driver."

However, Kovalainen can understand why British drivers such as Hamilton - who lived in Geneva before moving to Monaco at the start of this year - have moved abroad.

"The UK is quite a small country with a lot of traffic jams," said Kovalainen, who used to watch compatriots Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen testing at Silverstone.

"It is the total opposite of where I was born in rural, northern Finland. I enjoy the quietness, the open fields, and Switzerland is much more like that.

"Plus, Swiss people don't know F1; I never get recognised. In England, you get a lot of attention, which is cool, but it can be stressful as well. And the weather is better, too."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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