Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix for the fifth time on Sunday – matching the record of Jim Clark and Alain Prost – to cut Sebastian Vettel’s championship lead to just a single point after late tyre dramas hit both Ferraris. They allowed Valtteri Bottas to grab second from Kimi Raikkonen to secure a Mercedes one-two, as Vettel trailed home seventh.
Red Bull – off the pace of the frontrunners all afternoon – were the key beneficiaries, with Max Verstappen fourth and Daniel Ricciardo – the fans’ Driver of the Day after battling his way up from P19 on the grid –fifth.
Behind them, Nico Hulkenberg secured a superb sixth place for Renault – some consolation for the French team after Jolyon Palmer in the sister car went out with hydraulic problems on the formation lap.
The Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez took the flag in eighth and ninth respectively, with Felipe Massa the final point scorer for Williams in tenth.
On a perfect afternoon at his favourite track, Hamilton delivered in style for his fans, starting from pole, leading all the way and setting the fastest lap of the race.
“I see you out there!” Hamilton told the fans over his radio as he toured in, after a pluperfect performance in which his only significant concern was some blistering on his soft Pirelli tyres just past mid-distance.
Hamilton took the lead, nursed it during a safety car intervention after the Toro Rossos of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat had collided on the first lap, then simply controlled the race until the end.
All of the action took place behind him. Raikkonen pushed him as hard as he could, which this day was not enough to worry Mercedes, as Vettel never ran higher than third after losing a huge amount of time trapped behind a boisterous Verstappen who had out-fumbled him in the opening corners with a superb move round the outside at Loop.
The two later came close to swapping paint at Stowe and Club on the 14th lap, after which Ferrari brought their man in and got the undercut on the Dutchman when his left rear wheel’s nut proved sticky during his stop a lap later.
As Red Bull fell back, Bottas in the other Mercedes was pushing forward. He moved ahead of Verstappen after the latter’s pit stop on the 19th lap, then ran long on his soft tyres, climbed to second behind Hamilton as the Ferraris stopped, then battled after them on his supersoft tyres after pitting on the 32nd of the 51 laps.
Vettel succumbed as the Mercedes slammed past going up to Stowe on the 43rd lap, after an attempt round the outside there the previous lap hadn’t quite worked out, and then Bottas began to slice into Raikkonen’s advantage as he sensed a possible Mercedes one-two.
But in the end he didn’t need to push so hard, because the Ferrari’s left front tyre started to delaminate, forcing Raikkonen into the pits. Red Bull also brought Verstappen in, which ultimately lost him the podium slot, because just as it seemed Vettel would inherit it, the German’s car suffered exacty the same failure as team mate Raikkonen’s.
As that dropped him down the order with a pit stop, Raikkonen recovered to take the final podium position ahead of Verstappen, as Ricciardo’s superb afternoon of recovery took him from the back of the grid to fifth.
And Vettel’s misfortune handed back to Renault the sixth place that Hulkenberg had looked like taking all afternoon until his engine started de-rating and he could no longer fend off Ricciardo.
Vettel’s seventh place earned him six points, so he now has 177 to Hamilton’s 176, at the notional midpoint of the season.
Force India scored another chunk of points, as Ocon forced by Perez at the start and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon, and Massa made best use of soft tyres to begin with and supersofts at the end to snatch the final point for Williams.
Stoffel Vandoorne couldn’t quite turn his top 10 qualifying position into points with 11th for McLaren, who lost Fernando Alonso at just over half distance with mechanical problems. Haas took 12th and 13th with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, as Marcus Ericsson was Sauber’s top finisher in 14th ahead of the delayed Kvyat, who got a drive-through penalty for rejoining the circuit unsafely and thus causing the collision with his team mate.
Lance Stroll was 16th for Williams with some ‘aero loss’ late in the race, leading home Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein.
Thus the complexion of the world championship fight has been turned around in one afternoon, on which the huge British crowd got exactly what it came for.