Formula 1 returns to London with iconic event ahead of British GP
Huge crowd turns out to see F1 cars and drivers in action on capital's streets; Lewis Hamilton not present, but cheers for Vettel
By Jonathan Green and James Galloway in London
Last Updated: 18/07/17 12:12pm
A bumper crowd turned out to watch Formula 1 cars run up and down Whitehall on Wednesday night as the sport returned to the streets of London for the first time in over a decade.
History was made in the centre of the capital as all the teams and all the drivers - bar one conspicuous absentee - drove cars old and new, while there was music, interviews and much more on a Trafalgar Square stage.
While Lewis Hamilton was absent, championship leader Sebastian Vettel was warmly cheered onto stage three weeks on from causing controversy when he drove into his British rival in Azerbaijan.
Formula 1 in London: The best bits...
The Formula 1 Live in London event made for spectacular viewing on Sky Sports F1
"It's been really, really special," Vettel said. "They shut down central London which is nice and we left some marks which was also great. It's great fun going so close to the people and you can see them cheering and waving."
But where was Lewis?
The high-profile absentee from the event was Hamilton.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Mercedes driver tweeted: "To my loving fans, I can't wait to see you in Silverstone. Until then, I'm away on a two day break. God Bless you all. Love, Lewis".
Hamilton then uploaded a video on Twitter of himself holidaying.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff couldn't shed too much light on the absence of his three-time world champion when he spoke on stage, but said: "Lewis feels he is in such a tough championship fight and he needed the days off after Austria."
Valtteri Bottas was present for Mercedes and drove their car up Whitehall, while his predecessor and reigning world champion Nico Rosberg also attended. Another world champion, Jenson Button, drove the F1 two-seater.
"I don't personally understand but I don't know if he has personal reasons or not," Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo told Sky Sports News HQ's Craig Slater. "We're all here
"I know a home race can be hectic. I try and make it a fun one but it is so busy that it's hard to embrace it. We'll see, I'm sure he will give his response."
F1 wows London: The verdict from street-side
James Galloway, F1 Reporter:
"This is the start of the new regime, taking it back to the people who love F1" - Ross Brawn.
F1's new American owners have been thinking big since taking control of the sport at the start of the year and the London Live demonstration in Trafalgar Square was the first example of just how big that is.
Any sceptism about the event would have been wiped up when it became clear just how many Londoners, tourists and general passers-by were attracted to witnessing F1 cars up close - and in one of the most iconic parts of one of the world's most iconic capital cities.
Leaning out of windows from buildings down Whitehall, standing on chairs from adjacent pubs and restaurants, and lining the streets several rows deep, the crowd were treated to all that should be best about F1 drivers and their cars - noise, speed and showmanship.
While Lewis Hamilton's absence meant the Mercedes driver was on the receiving end of some ribbing, and even some boos from the crowd, the Briton is still almost certain to receive his usual massive support at Silverstone as he goes in search of a fourth home win in a row this weekend.
More significant was the warm London ovation afforded his title rival Sebastian Vettel, both on his walk up Whitehall and then when he arrived on stage in Trafalgar Square. So much for a British Baku backlash against the Ferrari driver.
So a timely PR 'win' for the championship leader and, most certainly, a huge success for F1 as a whole. Bring on Silverstone…
The sights and sounds of F1's capital display
Could the next step be a race in London?
Wednesday night's event will inevitably spark speculation that a grand prix could be held in the English capital in the near future.
That prospect moved a step closer in April following a law change allowing motorsports to take place on public roads and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has admitted he has spoken to F1's new owners and declared: "Watch this space".
"Clearly, if it's the case that talks have broken down with Silverstone, I'm happy to talk and listen to F1," Khan told Sky Sports News HQ.
"There are some hurdles we'll have to overcome. I've met the new leadership of F1, they're a breath of fresh air, they're very exciting, they've got cracking ideas, and if they want to have a conversation with me, I'm really happy to talk, listen, and work with them to make it happen.
"I'm sure F1, working with us, can in the future have an F1 race in London. Watch this space."
The demo comes amid uncertainty over the British GP's future after 2019 with Silverstone's owners, the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) activating a break clause in their contract.
The circuit has a contract to host the race until 2027, but with the fee to host the GP increasing each year, Silverstone has taken up the option of ending the contract early.
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