On an afternoon when he yet again reminded everyone why he has won two world championships and seems destined for a third, Lewis Hamilton drove in the wheeltracks of the greats. His fifth victory of the season, the 38th of his career, brought him a record-equalling third success in the British Grand Prix.
In 2008 he won in the wet, last year the dry; now, as he joined triple winners Jim Clark and Nigel Mansell after a stunning race that confounded Formula One’s critics, he did so in both the wet and the dry.
To begin with, however, it looked like it might be a Williams day as Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas burst through from the second row to head Hamilton and Nico Rosberg from the start.
After a safety car intervention following a collision on the first lap involving Jenson Button and the Lotuses of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado, Hamilton’s first attempt at the lead backfired. Trying to go outside Massa into the final corner, Club, at the end of the fourth lap, he locked a wheel and slid wide over the kerb, losing momentum and the place he had won back from Bottas on the opening lap. Rosberg, too, very nearly took advantage.
As Hamilton recovered, the Finn put the Brazilian under real pressure. This is where Williams might have been able to win, had they instructed Massa to let Bottas by, so he could stage a rearguard action to fend off the Mercedes while his team-mate built a lead. But Williams are racers who let their drivers race, so Hamilton and Rosberg chased hard, ready for the sole scheduled tyre stops. Hamilton made his first, for Pirelli’s medium tyres, on the 19th lap, and by the time Massa and Rosberg did likewise a lap later, the world champion was in the lead.
“The race was very, very tough,” Hamilton admitted, “but it made it more exciting when I was chasing down the Williamses very hard. We made a good call on the first stop and overall it was great teamwork. It was the right decision and I was pushing like crazy on my out lap, and to come back out in front was such a great feeling.”
Bottas stopped on the 21st lap, but Massa just managed to keep ahead as the Finn emerged from the pits. Rosberg could not, and thus resigned himself to more frustration sitting behind the Martini-coloured cars until an opportunity presented itself. Up front, Hamilton opened up a gap of more than three seconds.
While Williams looked set to score a lot of points, Ferrari were struggling, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel clawing back to their fifth and sixth starting positions after poor opening laps. But even as Hamilton continued to pull clear and Massa safeguarded himself against attack from his team-mate, rain clouds were gathering.
Just before the rain came, however, Carlos Sainz triggered deployment of the virtual safety car on the 34th lap, under which drivers are trusted to stick to a delta time shown on their dashboards, when his Toro Rosso stopped on the exit to Club corner. Hamilton lost a little time, Rosberg gained some. When they started racing again on the 35th lap, the track was wet at Luffield, Woodcote and Copse. Now it was time to gamble. Stay on slicks and tough it, or pit for intermediate rain tyres?
Rosberg quickly passed both Williamses and closed rapidly on Hamilton as the latter’s front tyres cooled down too much. Just as the delayed German was beginning to fancy his chances, Hamilton abruptly swept into the pits for intermediates on lap 43 as the rain intensified. Vettel did the same, and it would transpire that their choices were inspired.
“It’s always trickier when you’re the guy in the lead and it’s questionable how much risk to take,” Hamilton said. “For the first time ever in my career I made the perfect choice to come in when I could see the rain coming. I’d never had that before, so I’m extremely happy about that.”
Rosberg himself had been sceptical. “I was very thankful for the rain,” he said. “I was able to attack and close on Lewis a lot, and I was hoping it would stay like that. Then Lewis boxed, and I was pretty sure that was the wrong call so I was happy that he did.
“But it was the right call because it started raining more that lap,” he admitted. “I had to take that chance and stay out, and I gave it everything, but it didn’t work out.”
By the time Rosberg had switched to intermediates on lap 44, together with Massa and Bottas, Hamilton had his hands stretched out to grab the golden trophy.
Over the final laps he easily extended his lead, leaving Vettel to snatch the final podium place from beneath Massa’s nose.
“It’s such a very, very special weekend for me, to see so many fans out here,” Hamilton said. “I thought I’d seen it all last year… To see and feel the crowd cheering me every time I came by really spurred me on, and I so didn’t want to drop it for them.
“Your first time with anything is special, but as you keep repeating a success it just keeps getting better.
“You can’t imagine how happy I am,” he added, admitting that he started to tear up on the final lap. “Now let’s party.”
He had an awful lot of willing company at Silverstone last night, that’s for sure.
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