LONDON • The escalating title rivalry between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton is expected to rouse something of a pantomime atmosphere in England this weekend, when the duo resume their battle at the British Grand Prix.
Less than a week after a somewhat flat Austrian contest in the Styrian Alps, where Valtteri Bottas triumphed for Mercedes and the two main protagonists finished second and fourth, a more feisty and fizzy affair at the flat but high-speed circuit is expected.
A raucous home crowd will likely give Hamilton great support while his rival, like any good "panto villain", should be ready for something else.
But that is only the personal level of the background to what this year has developed into a fascinating duel between two great teams - the well-heeled, well-paid and stylish Italians from Ferrari, and the more pragmatic and modern Mercedes, champions of the last three years.
This is sure to be understood well by the big crowds at Silverstone, where more than 120,000 fans are likely to attend on Sunday.
Hamilton, also, has good reason to wish to claw back some points by winning his home race for a fourth year in a row and a fifth overall, to draw level with Alain Prost's record.
The three-time world champion's boss at Mercedes, Toto Wolff, believes Hamilton has had his fair share of bad luck and hopes that the momentum will swing back his way in front of his home crowd.
HOPING FOR HOME ADVANTAGE
We've let him down with the head-rest and we've let him down with the gearbox and now it's about time to fight back and hopefully that's going to happen at Silverstone.
TOTO WOLFF, Mercedes team principal, about Lewis Hamilton, who missed an F1 event in central London on Wednesday to go on a two-day holiday to Greece.
"We've let him down with the head-rest and we've let him down with the gearbox and now it's about time to fight back and hopefully that's going to happen at Silverstone," he said.
Recent events including Vettel's "road rage" attack in last month's Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where Hamilton missed out on victory because of a loose head-rest, and his five-place grid penalty in Austria for an unscheduled gearbox change, have conspired to see him drop from 12 to 20 points behind the German.
And off the track, Hamilton has also often said that he wants to get closer to the fans, especially at the British Grand Prix.
"I just wish that, when I go to those grands prix, there was more time to see more of the fans," the 32-year-old had said previously.
But his words will fall on some deaf ears after he chose to miss a Formula One event held in central London on Wednesday to go on a two-day holiday to Greece.
The event, organised by the sport's new owners, Liberty Media, was the first time Formula One cars had driven in London since 2004.
Nineteen drivers hit the streets with revving engines and wheel-spinning displays of smoking rubber.
Vettel had plenty of fans in the crowd and said that he enjoyed getting close to fans and seeing all the cheering and waving.
"I don't know why he's not here," added the four-time world champion, when it was suggested to him that maybe Hamilton did not fancy sharing the stage with him after their Baku confrontation.
"We left some marks... it's great fun to go so close to the people. It's been really fun. I'd love to do more laps but we'll wait for the weekend."
Liberty Media were understood to be incensed at Hamilton's absence.
He is a key part of their plans to attract fans to the sport and the disappointment was clear.
A statement said: "We invited teams and drivers to join us at F1 Live London and had a fantastic response from all the teams and 19 drivers."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON