A Formula One season that was revving hard in the direction of anticlimax has been rescued – along with the British sporting summer – by Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Sunday’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit, his 5th win of the year. This was not one of the greatest of his 27 triumphs, but it was undoubtedly one of Hamilton’s most important, coming at a time when teammate Nico Rosberg looked on the verge of breaking the Englishman’s will. Hamilton has rarely been at such a low ebb as he was here on Saturday afternoon, when the failure to complete qualifying in improving conditions pushed him back to 6th on the starting grid. It was an awful mistake, yet luckily overshadowed by Rosberg’s 1st DNF of 2014.
This feels great!! Winning in front of your home crowd is just the best feeling. We really do have the greatest fans! pic.twitter.com/Zs4ICBwaXW
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) July 6, 2014
Paul Weaver Silverstone
The fierce grapple between Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate, Nico Rosberg, for the Formula One world championship could yet become a classic among sporting confrontations. It embraces an Anglo-German face-off and a contest between thrilling instinct and brooding intellect. There is even a bit of Aesop thrown in, with its tortoise and hare associations.
A season that was revving hard in the direction of anticlimax has been rescued – along with the British sporting summer – by Hamilton’s victory in Sunday’s British Grand Prix, his fifth win of the season. This was not one of the greatest of his 27 triumphs, a figure that puts him level with Sir Jackie Stewart. It certainly was not the equal of his stunning win in the wet here in 2008, when he romped home with almost 70 seconds to spare.
But it was undoubtedly one of his most important, coming at a time when Rosberg looked on the verge of breaking the Englishman’s will, even though Hamilton’s wounds are often self-inflicted, and narrowed the German’s lead to four points in the drivers’ championship. Hamilton has rarely been at such a low ebb as he was here on Saturday afternoon, when his failure to complete his qualifying session in improving conditions pushed him back to sixth on Sunday’s starting grid. It was an awful mistake.
By yesterday morning, however, his mood appeared effusive and he drove with all his old brio throughout the race. The only disappointment for the 120,000 crowd – and they got over it quickly enough – was that the promised showdown between the two Mercedes drivers never took place. Hamilton surged into the lead when Rosberg dropped out of the race with gearbox problems on the 29th lap. Whether he would have beaten him is not simple to say, because the drivers were on different strategies. But Hamilton was always the faster driver and had the mood of a man who would not be denied, even though Rosberg said that victory would have been his.
Rosberg streaked away from his pole position but it was a good start from his team-mate, too. Sebastian Vettel appeared to be in reverse as Jenson Button sprinted past him into second place. Then Hamilton, who had gone past Nico Hulkenberg at the start, managed to squeeze past Vettel after being nudged almost off the track by the man from Red Bull. Kimi Raikkonen’s awful season continued when he crashed after one lap of the race. He ran wide, hit a bump when he rejoined the track and then flew into the barriers. He hobbled out of the car with a painful right ankle. Felipe Massa reacted quickly to prevent himself from ploughing into Raikkonen. The race was red-flagged and there would be an hour’s delay while they replaced the broken barrier. It merely heightened the level of the ultimate euphoria.
Apart from Hamilton there was a spectacular effort from the Williams driver Valtteri Bottas, who made a sequence of overtakes around the outside to promote himself from 14th on the grid to second at the end. This is a real deal of a driver, who will find one of the top teams in the years ahead. And there was a highly entertaining battle between the multiple champions Vettel and Fernando Alonso, who was hit by a drive-through penalty after taking up the wrong grid position. That duel was eventually won by Vettel, after a number of tetchy radio outbursts, but the better Red Bull on the day once again belonged to Daniel Ricciardo, who took the final podium position.
Button, meanwhile, is still looking for that elusive first podium place in the British Grand Prix. But he was fourth – eight-tenths of a second behind the Australian Ricciardo – here and could feel delighted with his afternoon in an uncompetitive car.
Ultimately, though, the day was all about Hamilton. He had closed the gap on Rosberg to only 2.8 seconds when the German came in for fresh rubber after 19 laps. That excellent stop was only 2.7 seconds. But when Hamilton pitted shortly before the halfway mark there was a problem with his right rear wheel and it took 4.1 seconds.
Once again, though, Hamilton started to hunt his man down and the race was heading for a thrilling finale when Rosberg’s car came to a halt. After that Hamilton could afford to make yet another conservative stop before coming home to win by 30 seconds in front of Bottas. So the only two serious contestants for the championship are as good as level once again. The weight of heavy deficit has at last been lifted from Hamilton’s small frame and the relief within him must feel profound.
The setbacks he suffered in Monaco, Canada, Austria and also here in qualifying, each of them sharp blows to the solar plexus, have been overcome with a single, reaffirming victory in front of his own ecstatic supporters. Germany is up next in two weeks. Rosberg said he did not consider Silverstone a home race for Hamilton, so it will be interesting what he says about Hockenheim.
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