Pole, fastest lap, victory. There were no boos for Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone, just love and devotion as 130,000 cheered their hero across the line to a fourth consecutive British Grand Prix victory and fifth in all.
Not only did Hamilton recover all the PR losses surrendered with his London no show on Wednesday, he narrowed the deficit to Sebastian Vettel at the halfway stage of the title race from 20 to a single point after the championship leader suffered a puncture on the final lap.
Vettel, sucked into second place after his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had endured the same fate on the penultimate lap, was forced into the pits and eventually came home seventh. The bad luck with which Hamilton had to contend in the previous two races was suddenly repaid in full.
Hamilton equalled the great Jim Clark with his fifth win here and made fools of those who would have him a villain of the F1 piece. He was followed home by team-mate Valtteri Bottas 62 years after Mercedes posted a first British GP one-two at Aintree, led by Stirling Moss in the maiden victory by a Briton in the race.
Hamilton Leads Hall Of Fame
Cries of “Lewis, Lewis” echoed around the start-finish straight as the Hamilton fan club charged along the track towards the podium. Britain has had some mighty heroes in this game, Moss, Mike Hawthorn, John Surtees, Graham Hill, Sir Jackie Stewart, Clark, James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Jenson Button, and Hamilton might yet surpass them all when his race is run.
The scenes at the end were vindication of his standing in the pantheon, and of the place of this race in the grand prix firmament. Talk of taking the race to London is the fancy of politicians and media savvy owners with a penchant for grandstanding.
On days like this, even under leaden skies, Silverstone looked what it is, the perfect space for an automotive party. Hamilton briefly eschewed his media responsibilities to indulge his love of crowd surfing. And how his constituents received him, holding him aloft in act of almost sacred communion.
It was the hardest Hamilton had worked all day. He made the perfect start and led every lap.
The harbingers of doom were hovering over Vettel from the first moment when his brakes caught fire following Jolyon Palmer’s parade lap breakdown that led to an aborted start.
He’s Behind You
When the cars got away Vettel was jumped by Max Verstappen off the line, and was ten seconds down in fourth after ten laps with Valtteri Bottas closing on his tail.
Vettel dived down the inside of Verstappen on lap 14 at Stowe. Verstappen resisted but not without a rebuke “He wants to play bumper cars or something.” Vettel came at the Dutchman again through Vale. Again nothing doing.
Meanwhile up ahead Hamilton banged in a fastest lap to extend his advantage over Kimi Raikkonen in second to four seconds. Those grandee boys from Hollywood, Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson were loving it the posh seats, especially the dialogue. “Another move under braking,” Vettel alleged of Verstappen on lap 18. A lap later Vettel was in for fresh rubber, attempting to pass Verstappen via the pit stop.
Verstappen duly came in a lap later to avoid the undercut but a poor change with the rear left slow to come off because of a reluctant wheel nut, saw him out behind Vettel.
Here Comes Bottas
Bottas was turning screens purple in his attempt to buy enough time to set up a late charge on the super softs. Hamilton was the first Mercedes in for fresh tyres after 25 laps, and still came out ahead of the field.
Bottas was in eight laps later and out with only one target, to chase down Vettel and Raikkonen in pursuit of a Mercedes one-two just three miles from the team’s Brackley base. He would get his wish in the most dramatic circumstances, first taking advantage of Raikkonen’s spent tyre and then Vettel’s.
The random variable that did for Hamilton in Baku, with the dodgy headrest fitting, and Austria last week with the five-place grid penalty for his gearbox change, had struck Ferrari just as hard to level the playing field.
The lead held by Vettel since the first race in Australia could not be smaller. All to play for then as the season passes into the second half.