SILVERSTONE, United Kingdom (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton carries the hopes of home fans and several leading championship contenders when he bids to halt Sebastian Vettel's seemingly-irresistable surge towards a fourth drivers world title at this weekend's British Grand Prix.
The 28-year-old Englishman, who won the race for McLaren on the way to his championship triumph in 2008, is the only British winner on home soil in 12 years since Scot David Coulthard succeeded twice in succession for the same team.
That experience, and the potential competitive performance of his much-improved Mercedes car - he has qualified on the front row of the grid four times in the last five races - suggest he is the best hope of home success again.
In the wake of last week's controversial "secret tyre testing" tribunal hearing, Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate and friend, Monaco winner Nico Rosberg of Germany, will be crowd favourites as they seek to stop the Vettel express.
But Vettel, the defending triple world champion, has won three of this year's seven races in his Red Bull machine - built in nearby Milton Keynes - and not been outside the top four this season as he has built up a formidable 36-points lead ahead of Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
Alonso, like everyone else, knows that another Vettel demonstration of supremacy at the exhilarating high-speed Silverstone track could give him a truly significant advantage even before the 19-race season reaches the halfway mark.
Alonso, like Vettel's Red Bull teammate Mark Webber, has won twice at the famous old former war-time airstrip, which was an original part of the inaugural 1950 world championship, in recent years and will be seeking to complete a personal hat-trick.
But he knows that it is almost more important to end Vettel's run, and so restrict his chances of increasing his lead, than to grab more personal glory.
As a result, if he cannot do it himself, he would be happy to see Webber's Red Bull or Hamilton's Mercedes take pole position and push Vettel off the top step of the podium.
After several years of frustration, Hamilton believes he has a good chance this time.
"It's definitely closer than it has been for a couple of years," he said.
"I am looking forward to seeing what the car can do. I think the car will go really well." He warned: "I definitely feel we'll be competitive through the weekend but I don't know where the time is being lost on Sunday.
"The car feels great generally throughout the weekend. It's just their car (Red Bull and Ferrari) is feeling even better on a Sunday. For some reason, the Red Bulls and Ferrari seem to have 0.3-0.5secs on long-run pace. I don't know where that is."
He added: "I am massively excited about the British Grand Prix. It's been a bit of a long break since the last race, but the build up to this one is always the most exciting."
Hamilton is fourth in the title race with 77 points behind Vettel on 132, Alonso on 96 and Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus on 88.
His compatriot and former team-mate Jenson Button of McLaren, who has never won at Silverstone, has admitted already that he and teammate Mexican Sergio Perez have little or no hope.
McLaren used one of their allotted "straight-line" test days in Spain on Tuesday to trial their Silverstone upgrade package and gain a better understanding of the MP4-28.
"The only issue with our car is we lack downforce and that is what we are trying to create at the moment," said managing director Jonathan Neale.
Perez said: "I think we are very far from thinking of success. We have to do big updates, big improvements. At the moment, we are one second per lap slower - so we are not in the position that we want. You don't win races by being one second off the pace."
Scot Paul Di Resta of Force India may give the British crowd more to cheer than Button in his home race while rookie Max Chilton of Marussia will be delighted to beat his best finish so far of 14th in Monaco.