|Lewis Hamilton celebrates his win, in Silverstone, on Sunday
Silverstone: How quickly fortunes and emotions change in the life of Lewis Hamilton. On Saturday, he was licking his wounds after an inexplicable qualifying error. On Sunday afternoon he was toasting his second British Grand Prix win and Nico Rosberg finally being dealt some bad luck.
Rosberg’s retirement was a bitter blow, narrowing the championship lead to just four points over his teammate. It was perhaps not the heroic manner in which Hamilton would have wanted to win, in front of his adoring home support, but he will take it nonetheless. The 29-year-old looked ecstatic as he sat up in the car and saluted the crowd.
“England!”, came the shout over the team radio. “I couldn’t be happier – I’m sorry about yesterday.”
The German’s car failure, halfway through the race, was one of numerous incidents in an action-packed race at Silverstone, which saw Jenson Button come within a whisker of finally getting a podium in his home race and a huge first-lap crash for Kimi Raikkonen, delaying the race an hour.
As Mercedes showed themselves to be fallible not for the first time this year, Valtteri Bottas took consecutive podiums to finish second, while Daniel Ricciardo was third, again ahead of his four-time champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
The opening few corners were frenetic. Hamilton made the best start, challenging Vettel for fourth into turn four. The pair banged front wheels, but escaped any damage. Further behind Raikkonen and Massa, in his 200th race, were not so fortunate. The Brazilian bogged down at the start and fell right to the back. He must have thought he would evade any danger.
But after Raikkonen ran wide coming onto the Wellington Straight, he rejoined, only to spin and make a huge contact with the barrier. Massa did extraordinarily well not to hit the Finn head on, but he still went spinning into the Ferrari’s rear.
The race was quickly stopped, with Raikkonen limping out of the car before he was transferred to the medical centre, with bruising on his knee and ankle. In a show of good grace, his first question over the radio was Massa’s health. The initial impact was an extraordinary 47G – 47 times the force of gravity. The Brazilian retired, while the rest lined up on the grid as the marshals repaired the bruised barrier.
While 120,000 in the stands waited patiently, some drivers returned to the garage, others sat on the grass. In the 1980s, Keke Rosberg would have taken this opportunity to have a cigarette – his son Nico preferred one of his Tupperware boxes of potato.
The first-lap drama buoyed Hamilton: he restarted fourth with only the two McLarens between him and Rosberg. The restart, under the safety car, was the boost he needed. It was less advantageous for compatriot Max Chilton, who inexplicably pitted under the red flag and earned himself a drive-through penalty.
An hour after the first lap drama, the race was ready to resume at 14:05. Repairs in F1 are seemingly quite a bit quicker than on the nearby M1, although Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda was not impressed. “F1 is over-regulated,” he said.
Once they were finally underway, it was Lauda’s man Rosberg who was serene at the front. By the start line he was already 1.5s clear of Button, with Hamilton already hustling Magnussen for third. The Briton effectively scared the younger driver off the road by poking his noise up the inside at Copse. Magnussen ran wide, leaving Hamilton to set after Button. Unsurprisingly on lap four, Hamilton had mincemeat of his old team-mate at Brooklands. In reality, the McLaren man did not put up much of a fight, content to try and hold on to third and bring home his first podium at Silverstone.
Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas, both starting way down the field, had other ideas. From 15th at the restart Alonso was up eight places by lap 8, although his progress was momentarily halted by a five second stop-go penalty for starting ahead of his grid slot at the original start.
Fresh from his podium in Austria, Bottas was also working wonders in the Williams. By lap 17 he was on Button’s tail, seemingly ending the dream of a podium for the Briton with pink t-shirts galore in the grandstands for his late father John.
In the midfield the two of the South Americans – who tangled spectacularly in Bahrain – were at it once again. This time it was Esteban Guttierez who went ploughing into Pastor Maldonado, nearly sending the Venezuelan flipping over.
At the front, in a class of their own as usual, Mercedes were dominating proceedings. Hamilton had a 5.8s deficit to bridge, slowly reeling the German in before the first round of stops. As on so many occasions this year, it was Rosberg who got the better stop after being the first to blink on lap 19.
Five laps later, Hamilton was still out on track and losing time. A one-stop strategy could have been his primary hope of beating his foe. Rosberg had been complaining of gearbox problems, allowing Hamilton to close up. On lap 29, the German’s issues became terminal. Hamilton swept past in the Arena section, and no matter what Rosberg tried, it was no use. He stopped on the grass, making Hamilton’s afternoon a whole lot easier.
As he made serene progress, pitting for a second time at the end of lap 41, the crowd were treated to a phenomenal scrap between Alonso and Vettel for fifth. It was a crying shame that these two, locked in championship battles in recent years, were fighting over comparatively meaningless positions. The Spaniard bravely passed round the outside at Copse at speeds of around 180mph.
For the next 10 laps they diced away, with both repeatedly complaining about the other’s conduct. The quality of their driving was almost matched by the quality of their respective whinging.
Eventually, with a brave move at Copse, almost banging wheels, Vettel took the place, and his consolation price of fifth place. Hamilton’s progress was not to be disturbed, sending the home crowd into raptures.