When home isn’t so sweet

Nigel Mansell was in no doubt whatsoever. The adrenaline still pulsing through his veins following his stunning pursuit and pass of Williams teammate Nelson Piquet to win the 1987 British Grand Prix, the Englishman knew what had powered him to one of the most memorable Formula One victories of the last 30 years. Yes, the Honda powerplant in the back of the FW11B played its part, but Mansell had another explanation for how he’d overcome a 29-second deficit to Piquet in just 28 laps, lowering the Silverstone lap record a stunning 11 times en route before passing the Brazilian on the penultimate lap.

“As soon as I knew I was catching Nelson, the crowd all around the circuit for the last 15 laps … they were waving to me through all the corners and down the straights,” he said.

“It was willing me on. It helped tremendously, and I’ve got to thank them for the win.”

Mansell later commented that the home crowd was worth “a second a lap” in his pursuit of Piquet, something he’d clearly convinced himself of in his relentless chase. But is there really something to be gained from racing at home? Recent history would suggest, despite the fan support, circuit familiarity and numerous other factors that should make racing at home a positive, that “home ground” advantage in F1 is largely irrelevant.

Looking back over the last 10 years of F1 Grands Prix, from the opening round of 2003 in Australia up to and including the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal a fortnight ago, there have been 188 races contested – and home drivers have won just 10 times. Of course, having more than one race in your home country helps in that regard, perhaps explaining why Michael Schumacher (four wins at home) is the most successful driver in his own backyard in the last decade. In 2004 and again in 2006, the German won his home race at Hockenheim and the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

The only driver to win at home in the last five years is Fernando Alonso, who took this year’s Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya to go with his memorable win at Valencia in the European GP of 2012. Other than that, home hasn’t exactly been sweet for those drivers with a true home race, with 12 of this year’s 22-driver field having a race scheduled in the country of their birth.

In Australia, the subject of a home Grand Prix win and Mark Webber’s chances of saluting at Albert Park comes up year after year, particularly in the context of the success two-wheel compatriot Casey Stoner has enjoyed at his home race in recent years. Stoner and Phillip Island seem perfect for one another, with the Australian’s run of six consecutive MotoGP wins at home only to be broken this year by his premature retirement.

Webber at home, even after his stunning fifth place on debut for Minardi way back in 2002, doesn’t have such a glittering record. The Australian has started just once from the front row (2010) in 12 Albert Park outings, and finished no better than fourth (2012). Some 13 of the 17 circuits that featured in Webber’s first F1 season of 2002 are still on today’s calendar, and it’s only Melbourne and Monza where he’s never stepped onto the podium, an extraordinary stat.

Alonso excepted, there are plenty of other drivers who struggle at home. Who can forget poor Rubens Barrichello’s 11 retirements – in 19 races – at Interlagos? Webber’s own teammate Sebastian Vettel, who has seemingly won everywhere else in his last three world championship-winning campaigns, hasn’t stood on the top step of the podium in Germany in five attempts.

Which brings us to next weekend’s British Grand Prix, back in Mansell’s playground of Silverstone, and the prospects of one Jenson Alexander Lyons Button. The Briton’s home record at Silverstone is even worse than Webber’s at Albert Park, with Button failing to even record a podium finish in 13 previous home appearances. What could have gone wrong generally has for Button at Silverstone, even when he finally had a race-winning car in 2009, his world championship season. Having won six of the first seven races of the season in the all-conquering Brawn machine, Button could only qualify and finish sixth on the sweeps of Silverstone.

Back-to-back second-row starts for BAR in 2004-05 saw him slip backwards, his three appearances for Honda in the years following are best not spoken about, and on the one occasion he’s qualified near the front in his three British outings for McLaren, a wheel fell off the car after a pit stop in 2011.

What would Button, a three-time Australian GP winner, and Webber, twice a victor in the British Grand Prix in the last three years, give to swap some of their success in one another’s home race?

Unfortunately for British fans (and perhaps British GP organisers hoping for bumper attendance figures), we shouldn’t expect much to change next weekend. McLaren’s 2013 season has been little short of a disaster, with Button languishing in 10th place in the world championship, already more than 100 points adrift of Vettel after just seven races. In Montreal last time out, neither Button nor teammate Sergio Perez finished inside the points, the first time McLaren has had both cars not score in 64 races.

For Button next weekend, a top-10 finish would be a must, a podium an unexpected (and seemingly unrealistic) bonus. And a win, despite the support he’ll get from the Silverstone crowd that urged Mansell to that memorable success a generation ago, sadly appears to be little more than a pipedream.

The 10* home Grand Prix wins in the last 10 years

2004 European Grand Prix: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2004 German Grand Prix: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2006 Spanish Grand Prix: Fernando Alonso (Renault)
2006 European Grand Prix: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2006 German Grand Prix: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2006 Brazilian Grand Prix: Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
2008 British Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
2008 Brazilian Grand Prix: Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
2012 European Grand Prix: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
2013 Spanish Grand Prix: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)

(* – Kimi Raikkonen’s 2005 Hungarian Grand Prix win for McLaren, given the number of Finnish fans in Budapest that weekend, almost counts as a ‘home’ win …).

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