Formula One champions draw in the crowds at Goodwood

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Formula One world champions Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were besieged by autograph-hunters as they put in an appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed today.

Security personnel had to escort them through the massive crowds to prevent them being completely engulfed as motorsport fans got a rare chance to get close to their driving heroes just a week before the British Grand Prix.

Button, who went up the famous hillclimb course in the McLaren F1 machine that won him the action-packed Canadian Grand Prix last year, said: ‘It’s great to be here again. The last few days have been busy in the lead-up to Silverstone, so it’s nice to relax for a bit.’

He added: ‘This car has very good memories for me, but I’m also enjoying seeing so many cars from different eras of the sport. It’s a whirlwind experience, but I love Goodwood. This is my 13th year here and as long as I’m in F1 I’ll keep on coming back.’

Hamilton, who was originally down to visit tomorrow but came a day early, was accompanied by his pop star girlfriend Nicole Sherzinger and did a demonstration drive in his McLaren race car from 2011

Meanwhile Vettel got into the spirit of things by getting behind the wheel of an Infiniti FX Vettel Edition, taking to the lawn in front of Goodwood House and then doing some impromptu doughnuts en route to the finish line.

Hamilton, Button and Vettel, who is making his first visit to the festival near Chichester, have been joined by a host of illustrious motorsport names, including fellow world champions Emerson Fittipaldi, Alain Prost, John Surtees, Sir Jackie Stewart and Damon Hill.

Fittipaldi said: ‘It’s always a great pleasure to be back at Goodwood, to see old friends and remember the golden years. This is the only event in the world where the old and the new drivers come together and it’s passing on the tradition of our sport to the younger generation.’

Another motor racing legend, Sir Stirling Moss, was warmly greeted by the large crowds. He explained: ‘I always have a great time here. Everybody is so friendly and it’s a wonderful occasion.’

Roads around Goodwood were busy from early in the morning as tens of thousands of enthusiasts headed for the second day of the biggest celebration of car culture on the planet, featuring an amazing array of historic and modern racing machines.

There was a lot of rain overnight and the day began wet, but a combination of sun and wind helped to dry up the track, alllowing drivers and riders to either go for quick times or put on a tyre-burning, engine-revving show for the fans.

Contemporary F1 is always hugely popular at the festival and six teams, including Ferrari, are represented in 2012 - the 20th festival. As well as Button, Hamilton and Vettel, Nick Heidfeld is out in a McLaren and Jerome d’Ambrosio in a Lotus. Meanwhile Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok are also lapping up the festival atmosphere.

Away from the track, BMX and trials bike riders are pulling off incredible stunts in the expanded Goodwood Action Sports arena, rally stars are sliding around the forest and the supercar paddock and daily run up the hill allows people to drool over exotica including the Lamborghini Aventador, Bugatti Veyron and Ferrari 458 Italia.

In the Cartier ‘Style et Luxe’ area, visitors can wander around a unique collection of vehicles used by the Queen and other royals, brought together to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.

There’s also an aviation exhibition and daily displays. Yesterday the crowds looked skywards to see a display by the Red Arrows and a ground-shaking flypast by a Typhoon Eurofighter jet. Today it’s the turn of two Tornado fighters to put on a show.

Crowds of up to 180,000 are expected at the festival, which this year has the theme of Young Guns Born to Win - drivers, riders, designers and engineers whose talent marked them out for stardom at an early age. Organisers say it is completely sold out all weekend.

Tomorrow sees Vettel’s Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber and Mercedes star Nico Rosberg join the party.

Don’t miss The News on Monday for stories and pictures from the festival, plus weekend updates here at and on Twitter using the hashtag #newsfos.