Lewis Hamilton took an extraordinary victory in a dramatic finish to the British Grand Prix despite suffering a puncture on the last lap.
The Mercedes driver’s left-front tyre failed halfway around the last lap but he held on in front of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Verstappen would have won had he not stopped late for fresh tyres in a successful quest for the point for fastest lap.
Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas also punctured, two laps earlier, which dropped him out of the points.
The Finn finished 11th and dropped to 30 points behind Hamilton in the title race, a potentially devastating blow to his hopes so early in a season truncated by the coronavirus.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was a third driver to suffer a left-front puncture, his like Hamilton’s on the last lap, and he dropped from fourth place to 13th.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was promoted from fourth to the final podium spot by the late drama.
Late drama leads to seismic moment
It was a remarkable finish to a race that had been soporific until that point, and Hamilton recognised that afterwards, saying over the radio, his voice drenched in relief: “That was close.”
The Mercedes drivers had been nursing their tyres after making an earlier than expected pit stop because of the second of two safety cars.
They stopped to change from medium to hard tyres on lap 13, very early to make it to the end of the race on one set of hard tyres.
They were clearly managing their pace from then on, but despite that dark rings appeared on their tyres as the race moved into the closing stages.
But there was no real sign of the drama to come until Bottas’ left front tyre deflated shortly after starting lap 52, with two to go.
The Finn limped around almost an entire lap and was too far back to get into the points.
Hamilton looked then to be cruising to the flag, until he too suffered a puncture, this time heading down the back straight towards Brooklands. Then it was a question of whether he could get around the remainder of the lap – more than half of it – before Verstappen caught him.
Hamilton said: “Up until the last lap, everything was relatively smooth sailing.
“The tyres felt great. Valtteri was really pushing incredibly hard and I was doing some management of that tyre and he looked like he wasn’t doing any.
“When (his) tyre went, everything seemed fine, so I was thinking maybe it was OK. And then just down the straight it deflated.
“I noticed the shape of the tyre shifting, and that was heart in the mouth and I didn’t know if it had gone down until I braked.
“Then just driving it – sometimes it will come off and break the wing. I nearly didn’t get round the last two corners. Maybe we should have stopped towards the end when we saw the delaminations (on the other cars).”
Hamilton said his engineer Peter Bonnington was counting down the gap to Verstappen over the radio as he neared the flag.
“The car seemed to turn OK through Maggotts and Becketts,” Hamilton said, “and then it was a real struggle in the last two corners. I could hear the gap coming down from 19 to 10. I could hear out of the last corner him going: “Nine, eight, seven,” and I was just like: ‘Get back on the gas.'”
It was a dramatic finish to a race that could well have an equally substantial impact on the championship fight.
Driver of the day
Hamilton was impressive in his consummate control, both of the race and his final lap but Leclerc was perhaps the stand-out performer, taking third in the uncompetitive Ferrari having qualified it fourth, while his team-mate Sebastian Vettel was a long way behind in an uncompetitive 10th, losing out in fights with midfielders.
What happens next?
Another race in Britain, this time F1’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix next weekend. Can Hamilton make it two wins in a row at home – and four on the trot in the season?
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