Lewis Hamilton took a record-breaking seventh home-race victory at the British Grand Prix on just three wheels after a last-lap tyre failure robbed him of a cruise to the chequered flag.
Hamilton’s front-left tyre let go with half a lap remaining and a 40-second advantage over second-placed Max Verstappen, who had just put on a set of the fastest rubber.
The gap closed at a ferocious rate, but Hamilton coaxed his stricken car to the line with five seconds of his margin remaining to record perhaps the most tense home win of his career.
This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.
“Up until that last lap everything was relatively smooth sailing,” he said. “The last few laps I started to back off, then down the straight it de-plated.
“I was just praying to try to get it around to not be too slow. I nearly didn’t get it around the last two corners, but I did.
“That was definitely a heart-in-the mouth kind of feeling. Just driving it, trying to keep the speed up.”
For Verstappen the outcome was bittersweet. He had been running a lonely third behind Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas when on lap 52 the second-placed Mercedes suffered what turned out to be a foreboding front-left tyre blowout.
The Dutchman zoomed past the stricken Bottas to inherit second, but with the Finn no threat behind and Hamilton too far ahead to attack, he dived into the pits for a set of soft tyres to score a bonus point for fastest lap.
The team wasn’t to know Hamilton would suddenly become vulnerable had Verstappen only been close enough to take advantage.
“It’s lucky and unlucky,” he said. “I’m very happy with second, it’s a good result for us again.
“[Mercedes] were of course in the race too quick.
“Then of course Valtteri got a puncture. They boxed me to go for the fastest lap, then of course Lewis got a puncture himself…”
Bottas couldn’t hold onto the final podium place, his tyre failure coming early on lap 50 and consequently forcing him to limp back to the pits, losing bucketloads of time.
He emerged from his emergency pit sop in 12th, which became a desperate 11th after McLaren’s Carlos Sainz also succumbed to a tyre blowout on the final lap falling from fifth to 13th.
Instead it was Charles Leclerc who inherited a rostrum finish for Ferrari. The Monegasque was off the pace of the top two teams all race but managed to keep himself out of the fray of the midfield to capitalise on the chaos that unfolded ahead.
“On that we’ve been lucky,” he said. “But apart form that, looking at us, I think we’ve done the best we could have done today.
“The potential, the performance, of the car is not where we want it to be, but today we took every opportunity.”
The spate of explosive rubber came about thanks to an ambitious strategy brought about by a lap-12 safety car triggered by a violent crash at the ferocious Maggots and Becketts complex by AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat, who emerged from the wreckage shaken but unscathed.
With 40 laps remaining in the race, the caution period was right on the cusp of the maximum tyre life of the hard tyre, but the prospect of a one-stop strategy was tempting enough for almost the entire field to adopt it.
Renault wasn’t so afflicted by tyre trouble, allowing Daniel Ricciardo to chase home Leclerc, the Australian falling short of a podium by just 1.1 seconds.
It equalled Ricciardo’s best Renault result, having earnt it with a late-race pass on Lando Norris, who finished fifth ahead of Esteban Ocon, completing Renault’s first double points finish of the year.
Pierre Gasly finished seventh for AlphaTauri, holding off Red Bull Racing’s Alex Albon on a difficult weekend for the Thai driver.
Albon had missed a lot of practice time after a crash on Friday and an electrical problem on Saturday on his way to 13th on the grid, from where he became embroiled in a crash with Kevin Magnussen on the first lap of the race, punting the Dane into the gravel and out of the race with an ambitious move down the inside at the final turn.
For the error he copped a five-second penalty and was forced to make an early stop to change tyres. He toiled his way through the midfield until lap 30, when he made a second stop for the medium tyre, which allowed him to scythe past six cars on his way to eighth place.
Lance Stroll sunk to ninth after starting sixth for Racing Point, the Canadian fading the longer the race went on.
Sebastian Vettel finished a dispirited 10th on a difficult weekend for the German. Technical problems robbed him of most of his practice time, which led to him qualifying well off the pace in 10th. He slipped to as low as 12th last in the race before the string of tyre failures bumped him back up into the points.