Hamilton closes gap on Vettel with home triumph
Hamilton, 32, delivered a masterclass at Silverstone to win his home race for a record-equalling fifth time – and his afternoon was made all the more sweeter when his championship rival Sebastian Vettel suffered a puncture on the penultimate lap.
Vettel, who was on course to finish third, crossed the line in seventh to enable Hamilton to move to within just one point of the German.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas charged from ninth to second in another impressive display which will surely see Toto Wolff hand the Finn an extension to his current one-year deal.
But that will have to wait for another day as it was Hamilton’s weekend after he secured pole position, led from start-to-finish, and set the fastest lap en route to recording his fourth consecutive victory on home turf and his fifth in all to match Britain’s double world champion Jim Clark.
Hamilton faced a backlash from the sport’s fans for missing a promotional event in London last week, preferring instead to take a two-day break with friends on the Greek island of Mykonos.
But, after such a strong display, Hamilton will feel as though his decision has been vindicated, with his victory here helping to get his stuttering championship charge firmly back on track.
“There is no reason to question my preparations,” Hamilton said after performing his now customary crowd surf with the swathes of British supporters.
“I have more poles than most. I am building up the wins that I have. My performances are second to none. If you don’t know now that my preparation is mostly on point, then I guess you never will.
“I could imagine one day driving a Formula 1 car and maybe winning one championship, but I couldn’t imagine the number of poles that I have, matching the likes of Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna and having the Hamilton name amongst those stars.
“I am proud to see the Hamilton name engraved on this beautiful-looking trophy, and it will be there way beyond my time.”
Hamilton’s two-day holiday on the eve of his home race led to questions about his desire, focus and indeed how long he may remain on the grid.
His Mercedes deal expires at the end of next season, and he said here he intends to see out the deal, but whether he chooses to go beyond 2018 remains to be seen.
“I am loving driving at the moment and I feel like I am at my prime,” Hamilton added. “There is no current reason to want to stop. I am still enjoying it. I have a contract with the team for at least another year, so I plan to see that out.”
Hamilton has been on something of a charm offensive this weekend after he courted jeers for being the only driver to dodge the London event.
And the Stevenage-born racer drove to virtually every corner of the 3.6-mile Silverstone circuit after taking the chequered flag to pay tribute to the near-sell-out crowd of 137,500 spectators.
Hamilton stopped for his one and only change of tyres at the end of lap 25 and left the pits in charge of the race, with Kimi Raikkonen in second and Vettel third.
That looked to be that, only for the race to come alive in the closing moments.
First, Bottas stormed round past Vettel on the Hangar Straight to move up to third. He then took second as Raikkonen suffered a front-left puncture. Vettel, also struggling with his tyres, suffered the same fate on the penultimate lap. The crowd greeted Vettel’s demise with cheers as the championship leader limped back to the pits for repairs.
Vettel dropped to seventh to ensure a 19-point swing in this year’s championship race.
Fernando Alonso retired following another Honda engine failure, while Britain’s Jolyon Palmer did not even start after his Renault expired on the parade lap.
Vettel insists there is no need to hit the panic button, despite seeing his lead slashed to just one point.
“There is no reason to panic or worry, but for sure we need to be aware that Mercedes are very quick,” Vettel, 30, said. “There are plenty of positives.
“For sure, you look after every race where you are. This race was not good for us. Full stop. We did not get the result we wanted or that we probably deserved, but that is how it is.
“There is a new race coming in two weeks’ time, but it is normal. You are judged by the day. If things go differently we come out as the winner, and when you come out on top everything looks peachy, but if you don’t, like today, people talk of a huge disappointment and a disaster.”