Lewis Hamilton’s hopes of a record sixth British Grand Prix looked to be in tatters after Kimi Raikkonen pitched him into a spin at the start. The Mercedes driver recovered to second in spectacular fashion but it was title rival Sebastian Vettel who took the ultimate spoils with a superbly measured performance.
Hamilton arrived at Silverstone one point adrift of Vettel in the drivers’ standings but confident in the knowledge that he was the favourite to win in front of his home crowd. That looked unlikely within moments of the lights going out, but the polesitter refused to give up the fight.
Mercedes gave themselves a chance of snatching back the win by leaving Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas out when the Safety Car was called into action late in the race, while Ferrari and Red Bull pitted for fresh tyres. And for a few laps, it looked like it may work as Bottas held off Vettel, with Hamilton to third.
But ultimately, Vettel had too much pace on the softer tyres and after eyeing his prey for a few laps, brilliantly snatched the lead from Bottas. Hamilton also moved past the Finn, but he didn’t have the performance to attack Vettel and had to settle for second with Raikkonen third.
It was Vettel’s 51st victory, moving him level with four-time world champion Alain Prost in third in the all-time list. The German extends his championship lead over Hamilton to eight points heading to his home race at Hockenheim. It’s the first time it’s been more than a point ahead since the Chinese Grand Prix.
As polesitter Hamilton suffered wheelspin at the start, Vettel leapt away from second to snatch the lead before the first corner. Bottas took advantage, too, slipping into second, leaving Hamilton vulnerable to an attack from Raikkonen heading into the tight Village complex.
Raikkonen locked up, sliding into Hamilton and pitching the five-time British Grand Prix winner into a spin. Hamilton kept the engine running, rejoined in 18th and then set about stitching together one of his trademark comeback drives to limit the damage in the drivers’ championship.
Hamilton reported damage, but the team said they couldn’t see anything on the data. It didn’t look like anything was wrong judging by the lap times either. Hamilton was up to 11th within six laps. He made that sixth after another five laps but his charge then eased with him 27.4s adrift of race leader Vettel.
After pressing his team to let him pit, Ferrari finally ceded and called Raikkonen in at the end of Lap 13. He was stationary for 10 seconds, serving a penalty for hitting Hamilton at the start, before taking on the medium compound tyres. On returning to the track, his pace was remarkable with the Finn lapping around two seconds quicker than the leaders.
Meanwhile, Vettel pitted from the lead on lap 20 and took the mediums, with Hamilton now fifth and 20.9s behind. Bottas briefly headed the field, but pitted the following lap. He came out behind Hamilton, who duly obliged by moving over for his team mate as they were on different strategies.
Hamilton stretched his stint for another three laps before his stop before pitting for a fresh set of mediums. He rejoined 27.3s behind Vettel in sixth. Salvaging a podium looked a tall order. That is until Marcus Ericsson crashed at high-speed at Turn 1, after going through the corner with DRS open.
The Swede walked away from the incident, with FIA F1 Race Director Charlie Whiting calling on the Safety Car to neutralise the race while they cleared the debris. Ferrari and Red Bull opted to pit both cars for a second time, but Mercedes rolled the dice and kept Bottas and Hamilton out.
Hamilton wasn’t that impressed by the decision, telling his team that he was worried about his tyre life relative to his rivals but they told him not to worry. The strategy put Bottas in the lead, with Vettel second and Hamilton third. Verstappen, Raikkonen and Ricciardo completed the top six.
At the restart, Bottas backed the pack up massively on the Hangar Straight before bolting away to run clear in the lead. Raikkonen looked to have pulled off a brilliant move into Brooklands, but Verstappen sensational hung on around the outside of Luffield to keep the place.
Further back, Sainz got a run on Grosjean around the outside of Copse but the latter had a moment mid-corner as he turned in and they touched, sending both cars off into the gravel. Both were unharmed but the Safety Car was required once more, setting up a dramatic finish.
Bottas did a good job holding off Vettel for a succession of laps but then it all went wrong. First he was caught napping by a brilliantly late dive from the championship leader into Brooklands with five laps to go. Next time around, Hamilton snuck through at the same corner.
Raikkonen made short work of the Mercedes for the final podium place, with Bottas managing to hold onto fourth. Daniel Ricciardo was fifth, with Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen on course to beat him, only to be told to retire the car with a suspected gearbox issue, the Dutchman having moments earlier spun at the penultimate corner.
Nico Hulkenberg was sixth, ahead of Esteban Ocon with Fernando Alonso making into the points for the second successive race and Pierre Gasly completing the top 10 and scoring points for the third time this year – albeit under investigation for a late-race clash with Sergio Perez.
The drivers and mechanics can now enjoy a week and a half break before heading to Hockenheim for the German Grand Prix on July 20-22.