Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix on three wheels after a dramatic last-lap tire failure threatened to derail an otherwise perfect afternoon.
Hamilton was cruising in the lead with half a lap to go when his left-front tire spectacularly failed, forcing him to crawl to the checkered flag with Max Verstappen in hot pursuit.
Verstappen started the lap with a 40-second deficit on a fresh set of soft tires and homed in on the stricken Mercedes at a rapid rate. But he fell just short, Hamilton limping across the line with five seconds to spare in a dramatic conclusion to what should have been a straightforward victory.
“That was definitely a heart-in-mouth kind of feeling,” Hamilton said. “Just driving it, trying to keep the speed up.
“I was just praying to try to get it around, to not be too slow. I nearly didn’t get it around the last two corners, but I did.”
Verstappen rued his bittersweet luck — he had been running third until Lap 50 of 52 when Valtteri Bottas, then in second place, suffered his own tire blowout. Once the stricken Bottas had been comfortably cleared, Red Bull Racing pulled Verstappen in for a free pit stop to safeguard second place and claim the point for fastest lap.
“It’s lucky and unlucky,” he said. “They (Mercedes) were of course in the race too quick … then of course Valtteri got a puncture. They boxed me to go for the fastest lap, then of course Lewis got a puncture himself…
“I’m very happy with second, it’s a good result for us again.”
Almost the entire field had been running the same strategy after a Lap 12 safety car tempted them into a long final stint that took the hard tire to the limit of its expected life. The safety car was triggered by a heavy crash for Daniil Kvyat crash at the rapid Maggots and Becketts section, his right rear stepping out and spinning him into the barriers in a shower of debris.
The middle of the race was consequently dominated by pace management, but by Lap 40 severe blistering became evident, particularly on the leading Mercedes cars.
The damage looked worst on Bottas’s car as he followed Hamilton closely from second place, and his was the first to blow. Doubling the damage was that his tire failed early on Lap 50, forcing him to undertake almost an entire lap on three wheels.
By the time he changed to fresh rubber his race was done. The Finn dropped to 12th and finished 11th — ironically after Carlos Sainz suffered a tire failure of his own and fell to 13th from fifth.
Bottas’s failure cleared the way for Charles Leclerc to inherit third place after a tidy race from fourth on the grid, a strong result in a Ferrari car that still lacks the pace of the leading two cars.
“We’ve been lucky, but apart from that, looking at us, I think we’ve done the best we could have done today,” he said. “The potential, the performance of the car is not where we want it to be, but today we took every opportunity.
Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth in the chaotic final stage of the race. The Australian sneaked past Lando Norris with three laps to go while both were stuck behind Sainz shortly before the Spaniard was taken out by his tire failure, promoting them to fourth and fifth.
Esteban Ocon finished sixth in a race of two halves for the Frenchman. Ocon’s pace was middling early on, but by the end on lower fuel he came alive, passing Lance Stroll on Lap 46 to finish sixth after retirements ahead of him, completing Renault’s first double points finish of the season.
Pierre Gasly finished seventh of AlphaTauri, having passed Stroll’s Racing Point on Lap 49.
Alex Albon finished eighth for Red Bull Racing on a mixed afternoon. The Thai driver was involved in a first-lap crash with Kevin Magnussen at the final turn that put the Haas out of the race, not only earning himself a five-second penalty but also forcing him to make an early pit stop.
Albon battled away in the midfield until Lap 31, when he made a second stop for the medium tire — which he used to great effect, passing six cars and gaining three more places from the misfortune of others to score four points.
Stroll hung onto ninth on a disappointing day for Racing Point. The Silverstone-based team was mired in the midfield despite expecting to compete towards the front, and Stroll faded badly late in the race.
Temporary teammate Nico Hulkenberg, filling in for Sergio Perez, couldn’t even take the start of the race thanks to a problem firing up his Mercedes power unit.
Sebastian Vettel lucked into the final point of the race for 10th. The Ferrari driver suffered a torrid weekend, missing a great deal of practice, qualifying 10th and dropping to 12th shortly before the late-race failures promoted him back into the points.