Silverstone, England (AP) — Just like his tire, Sebastian Vettel’s championship lead was shredded at the British Grand Prix.
A 20-point lead was slashed to a single point by Lewis Hamilton after the Mercedes driver led from start to finish to cruise to a fourth win of the season.
Vettel was never in realistic contention for victory on Sunday, but he was still third entering the penultimate lap — a finish that would have ensured 10 points still separated him from Hamilton. But Silverstone witnessed a remarkable collapse, a final twist on an afternoon of thrilling racing.
A front-left blowout on Vettel’s Ferrari sent rubber remnants of the tire flying across the track as the four-time world champion crawled back into the pits for repairs just in time. It ensured Vettel was still able to finish seventh and collect the points that kept him top heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix on July 30.
“It could have been a bit better for sure, but a disaster? I don’t think so,” Vettel said. “I don’t think there is anyone particularly to blame.”
Troublingly for Ferrari, Vettel’s tire trouble struck a lap after teammate Kimi Raikkonen’s car also experienced a puncture as he was set for second. It allowed Valtteri Bottas to complete a Mercedes one-two with Hamilton as Raikkonen completed the podium.
“I don’t wish any misfortune on anyone,” Hamilton said. “But we didn’t have any issues.”
Unlike the last two races when Hamilton lost ground in the championship.
There was a faulty head rest in Azerbaijan that contributed to Hamilton finishing fifth, followed by a five-place grid penalty for an unauthorized gearbox in Austria where he was fourth.
Now Hamilton is back on top of the podium, for a record-equaling fifth time at his home race.
“Obviously the pendulum has swung this weekend,” Hamilton said. “That is only good for Formula One and good for the fans with the close battle we continue to have.”
Hamilton wasn’t on the podium for long. Soon he was among the fans who roared him to glory, vaulting out of the pit line and crowd-surfing.
The celebration carried a pointed message to critics of his failure to attend a showcase of the sport in central London that was attended by the 19 other drivers. Unlike in Trafalgar Square, there certainly weren’t any jeers of Hamilton’s name at Silverstone as he joined Jim Clark and Alain Prost as five-time winners of the race.
“There is no reason to question my preparations,” Hamilton said. “(There was) so much negativity trying to pull the weekend down but obviously it had no effect … the fans were out-and-out loving and supporting all weekend.”
Perhaps recuperating with two-day holidays in Greece is now the blueprint for Hamilton in his quest for a fourth world title.
“I don’t understand why the British hero was being beaten up before his home grand prix,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said. “l think that made him even more determined.”
There was also an unexpected second-place finish after Bottas made up seven places following a five-place penalty for a gearbox change like Hamilton’s a week earlier. As Bottas surged up the order there was an exhilarating battle with Vettel for third that the Finnish driver won on lap 44 of 51.
There was also combative racing early on between Vettel and Max Verstappen as they initially fought for third in a wheel-to-wheel challenge.
“He wants to play bumper cars or something,” Verstappen complained over the team radio as Vettel attempted to overtake him on the inside after 14 of 51 laps.
Thanks to Vettel’s misfortune, Verstappen was able to finish fourth, having provided much early entertainment, while Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo was fifth.
“At the beginning I knew I was quite a bit slower than Seb so I just did my best to stay in front and have some fun,” Verstappen said. “It was the only thing I could do and luckily he didn’t manage to pass me on track, after that little battle my race became a bit lonely.”