London – Formula One drivers hit the streets of central London with revving engines and wheel-spinning displays of smoking rubber on Wednesday, but triple world champion Lewis Hamilton stayed away.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff told the crowd at the F1 Live event in Trafalgar Square: "Lewis feels that he is in such a tough championship fight that he needed the days off after Austria – but you can see him at Silverstone."
Hamilton had announced on social media that he was taking a two-day break, posting a picture of him and friends on the steps of his private jet. He is due to face the media at Silverstone on Thursday.
Mention of the country's most successful racing driver, a man with 56 wins to his name and huge support who will be favourite for a fourth consecutive British Grand Prix victory on Sunday, drew some boos.
Hamilton was the only absentee of the 20 drivers who performed tyre-smoking spins, or "doughnuts", in their cars on individual runs along Whitehall to the crowded square and back.
'It's great fun to go so close to the people'
Ferrari's championship leader Sebastian Vettel, 20 points clear of Hamilton after last weekend's Austrian Grand Prix, had plenty of fans in the crowd and was not shy in his title rival's absence.
"I don't know why he's not here," smiled Vettel, who banged wheels with Hamilton in a "road rage" incident in Azerbaijan in June, when it was suggested to him that maybe Hamilton did not fancy sharing the stage with him.
"We left some marks," Vettel said. "It's great fun to go so close to the people. You can see the cheering, waving. It's been really fun. I'd love to do more laps but we'll wait for the weekend."
2009 world champion Jenson Button drove fashion model Naomi Campbell in a two-seater while Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne gave the fans a glimpse of the late Ayrton Senna's 1991 McLaren.
Jackie Stewart, Britain's only other three-times world champion, was also among the guests while Mercedes' retired 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg flew in from Switzerland.
The event, organised by the sport's new owners Liberty Media, was the first time Formula One cars had driven in London since 2004.
"The sport's all about the fans," said Formula One's extravagantly moustachioed chairman Chase Carey on an evening of cars and music as well as events to showcase the sport's educational activities.
"We want to connect with the fans in every way possible and today is a step in that direction."
Carey said Liberty Media was interested in bringing Formula One to more city-based street races, an idea that piqued the interest of some of the sport's top drivers and even London's Mayor.
"Why not?" said four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel. "I don't know if it's possible to shut down a city like London for an entire weekend, but we do it in other places so it's not impossible."
'I'm happy to listen'
Button echoed the sentiment, saying: "It could be a lot of fun, especially for the fans," while Williams driver Felipe Massa added: "Why not a race here in London? It would be fantastic!"
London Mayor Sadiq Kahn said that while there would be hurdles to overcome, he would be "happy to listen" to Formula One bosses if they proposed bringing a race to the city.
Meanwhile, Carey expressed frustration with Silverstone's decision to call the race's future into question.
"That they chose a week when both we and Silverstone should be celebrating the sport, to decide they’re going to use it for posturing and to negotiate, but so be it", he said.