That’s how James Bond would have won the British Grand Prix, on three wheels, shedding rubber all over the circuit, hunted down by his nemesis in a car in full health.
A cushion of half a minute disappeared in seconds as Lewis Hamilton wrestled a delaminating tyre on the final lap. A race that was in the bag, was suddenly in the lap of the gods, Max Verstappen on fresh rubber reeling in a seemingly helpless world champion while stroking his cat.
Wow. What a way to post a record seventh victory at Silverstone. Forget what happened before. Just fast forward to the last three laps when Valtteri Bottas blew his front left. Verstappen dived into the pits to protect against similar and also have a dart at setting the fastest lap with no risk to his second spot. The threat to Hamilton was obvious, yet Mercedes chose to leave him out believing he could nurse the car home with his foot off the gas.
Then Boom, Hamilton was driving a dinghy. “When I heard his went I looked at mine and it seemed fine. The car was turning no problem, last few laps I started to back off and then last lap it deflated. That was a heart- in-the-mouth moment. You could see it falling off the rim,” said Hamilton.
“From then I was just praying to get round and not be too slow. I didn’t think I would make it round the last two corners. The gap to Verstappen was coming down quite quickly but the car seemed to turn OK. I got to 15 and that is where it was a struggle so I gave it full gas out of there down to 16. I have definitely never experienced anything like that on the last lap. My heart nearly stopped.”
Silverstone was laid out in all its fabulous glory, cotton wool clouds billowing across a circuit caressed by warm August sun, a day fit for 120,000 to commune around the high-pitched whine of hybrid engines. We can dream. The fourth race of this warped campaign unfolded once again before key workers only. Unless you lived within five miles of the circuit, where a low hum echoes about the landscape, there was no sense that one of the great staples of the British summer was raging across the afternoon.
The safety car was called before the first lap had ended after Alex Albon’s Red Bull biffed the Haas of Kevin Magnussen out of the race at the final corner. Up front Hamilton had already put more than a second between his car and Bottas. Mercedes have led every lap of the season bar one, the fourth in Hungary a fortnight ago where Verstappen briefly popped his head over the wall. Mercedes have found around 7/10ths of a second this season. Red Bull have lost speed, Verstappen’s qualifying lap slower than his 2019 effort. The result in race trim was a pair of silver arrows flying around Silverstone at a second a lap quicker than the field.
Of the first 18 laps only six ran without the safety car. The restart saw Hamilton disappear for a third time, if in a more measured way. As the race entered the final 20 laps a bored Verstappen popped up on the Red Bull radio reminding his engineers of the necessity to hydrate. The garage responded with blanket thigh slapping. #Bantz. No such insouciance in the Ferrari garage, where the heads of state were processing Sebastian Vettel’s loss of tenth place to Pierre Gasly of Red Bull feeder team Alpha Tauri. The shame.
At this point Hamilton was managing the procession while trading fastest laps with Bottas. And then Bottas complained of degrading on the front left. A warning was issued on the radio to take care of the tyres over the closing laps. “Understood,” said Hamilton, understanding nothing. “He is a lucky boy,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner over the radio as Verstappen crossed the line ahead of Charles Leclerc.
Lucky twice over, in fact. Since Bottas’s tyre blew just as he passed the pits the slow drag home for new rubber dropped him out of the points. Hamilton returns to Silverstone for the 70th anniversary grand prix next week with a championship lead of 30.
That Verstappen might have won had he not stopped did not bother him unduly. “It was lucky and unlucky,” said the Red Bull driver.
“The Mercedes were too quick. The tyres didn’t look great with ten laps to go. Valtteri got a puncture, then they boxed me to go for the fastest lap, then Lewis got a puncture. But second is a good result.”
That’s three wins on the spin for Hamilton, leaving him just four adrift of Michael Schumacher’s record of 91. Should he keep up the winning streak Hamilton would equal the great man at Monza, the home of Ferrari, in whose colours Schumacher set the standard, and surpass it down the road at Mugello.
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