SILVERSTONE, ENGLAND (AP) - Away from the gridlocked roads and rain-soaked Formula One paddock, Lewis Hamilton was one of the few people happy about soggy Silverstone on Friday.
Yes, he was concerned that the treacherous conditions had left thousands stranded in traffic unable to watch the practice sessions for the British Grand Prix and organizers fearing a financial hit of more than $1.5 million.
But the McLaren driver believes the deluge might give him the edge this weekend.
The Briton is third in the drivers’ standings _ 23 points behind leader Fernando Alonso _ but he set the pace ahead of Sunday’s race, with a fast lap of 1 minute, 56.345 seconds across the two 90-minute sessions.
Hamilton’s only British GP win came in 2008 after he mastered sodden conditions that caused many of his rivals to spin off the drenched circuit.
“I don’t mind rainy days,” Hamilton said. “I grew up racing in this, so I’m very much at home … it opens up the window a little bit more, particularly as we’re not really sure in the dry we will be quickest. So it gives us a little bit more of an opportunity in the wet.”
However, the track’s difficulties in coping with the storm troubled Hamilton.
“There was a lot of standing water, it doesn’t seem to have enough drainage,” he said. “That’s just an improvement we can make for next year.”
Teammate Jenson Button said he found it “quite scary out there” as he recorded the sixth-fastest time in the afternoon and raised fears about safety if the race is run in similar conditions.
“You wouldn’t want to be racing in those conditions, going wheel to wheel, because you can’t see the aquaplaning until you arrive,” the Briton said. “I can’t see us being allowed to race in these conditions.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said he was just relieved to finish the day with the two cars fully intact “with all their wings and appendages still attached.”
The dangers were clear when Bruno Senna spun out of control in his Williams and crashed into a barrier, leading to the red flag being brought out for 10 minutes in the second session.
Alonso struggled with braking on the wet track, his Ferrari sliding onto the grass and hitting a barrier to lose his front wing.
The incidents appeared to vindicate the cautious approach adopted by the teams, but the reduced time on track denied the limited number of fans in attendance much of a spectacle.
“I was more concerned for the fans, there were so many great fans here today and don’t remember seeing so many on a Friday,” Hamilton said. “It was terrible weather and we didn’t have enough tires to go out and keep them entertained … it must have been a little bit boring for them to sit there and not to see many people going round.”
Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber was 0.129 seconds adrift of Hamilton. Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher was third fastest, nearly two weeks after coming in third at the European GP for his first podium finish since returning to racing.
Alonso was one of three drivers who failed to set a time in the morning when spray hampered visibility. He was 10th fastest in the second session, while two-time defending series champion Sebastian Vettel was 13th.
“If there’s too much standing water on track we can’t go out, as we aquaplane pretty quickly,” Vettel said. “Senna went off, and it shows how quickly it can happen … I think weather will be the most important factor in determining the rest of the weekend.”
Silverstone’s management described the conditions as a “nightmare” as fields used for parking and camping were flooded, leaving thousands unable to make it to the circuit in the worst chaos at the event for 12 years.
F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone was told by organizers not to attempt to travel to Silverstone on Friday.
There was a line five miles along the main road leading to Silverstone by Friday lunchtime and the situation could be exacerbated at the weekend with further rain anticipated.
Organizers, who had anticipated 100,000 watching Saturday’s qualifying session, have told up to 20,000 ticketholders who planned to park at the circuit not to come.
Silverstone managing director Richard Phillips said the need to refund so many people could cost $1.5 million and turn the event from profit into loss.
“I’m a bit sick today,” Phillips said.
Rob Harris can be reached at www.twitter.com/RobHarris
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