Vettel kills Hamilton’s Silverstone magic

The British Grand Prix was supposed to be a Lewis Hamilton fairytale, but instead it turned into a nightmare for the Briton and his legions of fans.

“We’ll try to kill their magic,” said Ferrari driver and championship leader Sebastian Vettel at the beginning of the British Grand Prix weekend.

British sport was having a moment, and the historic Silverstone Circuit, bathed in glorious summer sunshine, was to write the next chapter. Lewis Hamilton, the United Kingdom’s most successful Formula One driver, needed one more win to make himself the undisputed king of the British Grand Prix with an unprecedented six wins.

Silverstone belonged to the Silver Arrows, with Mercedes was undefeated in England since Nico Rosberg won for the German marque in 2013. Ferrari, on the other hand, hadn’t tasted success there since 2011. Even last season, its most competitive in recent times, the British Grand Prix was amongst its weakest weekends.

History and emotion were against the Scuderia, but the Italians had come to Britain in 2018 to reverse the sentiment that this race belonged to Lewis Hamilton.

With a raft of upgrades equipped, Vettel came agonisingly close to pole, but a Hamilton last-lap special snatched it back from him at the death — fittingly by 0.044 seconds, 44 being Hamilton’s race number — thrilling the throngs of British fans packed into the Silverstone grandstands.

The unusually warm British summer was only just hotting up, and when England comfortably put away Sweden in that afternoon’s World Cup quarter-finals tie, there was a palpable sense of destiny in the air. Hamilton would surely bring home a record-breaking sixth British Grand Prix trophy gilding and already golden month for sport in England.

But with 130,000 Britons clambering for a view of their hero, to cheer him on to his inevitable victory, Hamilton fluffed his lines.

The Mercedes driver spun his wheels when the lights went out, ceding places to Vettel, his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen. Kimi Raikkonen would’ve had him too had the Finn not locked a wheel and sent the Mercedes driver spinning off the track.

Hamilton dropped to the back of the field, his Silverstone dream fading as fast as the hearts of his fans sank, but with impressive haste he sliced through the midfield to rejoin his frontrunning rivals, and then a slice of luck: a crash further down the order triggered a safety car, enabling him to close the gap to the front and battle wheel-to-wheel for the podium in a nail-biting final 15 laps.

It was a conclusion that enthralled, but by the time the cars crossed the line on lap 52, Hamilton was still only second, a desperate 2.264 seconds behind Vettel. It had indeed been a magic drive by the Briton, but magic wasn’t enough to overcome Ferrari’s iron will. British hearts were broken.

“Here in their house!” Vettel exclaimed over team radio in Italian. “Now we’ll take the English flag to Maranello.”

The British Grand Prix delivered Formula One an intriguing proposition for the final two races before the midseason break: Sebastian Vettel leads Lewis Hamilton by a slender eight points in the drivers title standings while Ferrari heads Mercedes by just 20 points on the teams table. After 10 unpredictable rounds there’s little to differentiate Formula One’s 2018 championship contenders.

And though Hamilton left Silverstone lamenting the lack of a fairytale ending, the Briton has the opportunity to wreak revenge when Formula One returns to Hockenheim for Sebastian Vettel’s home German Grand Prix on 22 July.