Hamilton’s first win since May 9 sees him head to Hungary – the concluding round before the summer break – just seven points behind Max Verstappen after the Red Bull driver’s dramatic exit from yesterday’s race.
At a sun-drenched Silverstone this season’s brilliant championship battle finally boiled over after just nine corners.
Wounded by missing out on pole position when a poor getaway in Saturday’s maiden Sprint race allowed Verstappen to take the spoils, the Briton – with Hollywood actor Tom Cruise watching on from the Mercedes garage – was ready to turn his title bid from Mission Impossible to Mission Possible. Cue the best opening lap of recent memory.
Hamilton flew away from his marks and drew alongside Verstappen, but the Dutchman slammed the door shut at the opening right-hander Abbey bend.
Verstappen’s defence through the ensuing corners put Hamilton on the front foot and the Mercedes man momentarily moved ahead of Verstappen at more than 200mph on the Wellington Straight, only to see Verstappen stay in front by retaining the racing line through Brooklands.
However, Verstappen ran wide on the exit of Luffield, affording Hamilton a third opportunity for glory. Verstappen moved to the centre of the track to defend. Hamilton jinked one way and then the next, Verstappen squeezing his rival up against a concrete wall on the old pit straight.
Verstappen was marginally ahead as they approached the right-hander Copse, but neither man was prepared to back out.
As Verstappen turned in for the corner, Hamilton’s left-front wheel tagged the right-rear of his Red Bull. The force of the impact sent Verstappen spiralling out of control, backwards through the gravel and into the barriers to an audible groan of concern among the largest gathering at a sporting event in the UK since the pandemic started.
Verstappen’s race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase was straight on the radio, asking: “Max are you OK?”
For eight seconds there was silence. Then suddenly, the sound of a man wincing in pain following an impact which registered at an extraordinary 51G.
Verstappen was barely able to put a word together, but managed to haul himself out of his destroyed Red Bull machine before standing hunched over.
Medics were on the scene, and they led Verstappen away to an ambulance. There was palpable relief among the fans and a round of applause as Verstappen managed to offer a wave.
The race was stopped and the accusations began, chiefly from Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
In a heated radio message to FIA race director Michael Masi, Horner said: “In that corner, Lewis was never anywhere near alongside.
“Every driver that has driven this circuit knows that you do not stick a wheel on the inside of Copse. That is an enormous accident.
“And it was 100 per cent Max’s corner. As far as I am concerned, the full blame is on Hamilton who should never have been in that position. You could have had a massive accident. Thank God he walked away unscathed, so I hope you are going to deal with it appropriately.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes boss, Toto Wolff, also got in on the act, putting his team’s view across, somewhat bizarrely, in an e-mail.
Masi replied: “Toto, I don’t access my emails so I can deliberately concentrate on the race.”
Following a delay of 35 minutes, the race restarted with Hamilton now second after Charles Leclerc took advantage of the opening-lap smash to assume the lead.
In came the verdict from the stewards. Hamilton was guilty, “predominantly at fault” for the crash and slapped with a 10-second penalty.
Hamilton served the punishment at his pit stop on lap 27 of 52 which dropped him to fourth behind Lando Norris, Valtteri Bottas and a dozen seconds adrift of Leclerc. Hamilton passed Norris on lap 31 before Bottas was ordered out of his way by Mercedes. The world champion then set about hunting Leclerc, with the gap reduced to just 1.5 seconds with four laps left.
On lap 50 of 52, Hamilton put his Mercedes on the inside of Leclerc’s Ferrari through Copse, but the Monegasque ran wide and Hamilton was in the lead to the delight of the mostly partisan crowd. He crossed the line 3.8 seconds clear of Leclerc with Bottas completing the podium and Norris finishing fourth.
Hamilton’s triumph, his 99th, ended a five-race losing streak.
“It’s been such a hard year,” said Hamilton. “It is one that I have thoroughly enjoyed, but it has been an emotional rollercoaster as it always is with a title race. The first four races were close then we saw them take that step ahead. We made some mistakes as a team but also lost performance.
“Did I ever feel we would be back in the title fight? I don’t know. I prayed and hoped for it because I thought it would be a real slog. But the race is on.”