Joyous and revelling in success after a gladiatorial victory in the British Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton ran to his adoring crowd clutching the union flag, arms spread wide as if he would bellow: “Are you not entertained?” They were indeed, on their feet and thunderous in their acclamation having witnessed a race for the ages.
Silverstone boasted drama, incident, controversy and a racing comeback worthy of a world champion who has reignited his title fight after giving definitive notice he will not yield an inch further this season.
A capacity crowd of 140,000, the largest sporting event to be held in the UK since the pandemic began, who had sat sweltering in almost 30-degree heat with expectation and tension ratcheting up until the off, were treated to an almighty tussle that went white hot on track.
Hamilton clashed with his title rival, Max Verstappen, on lap one with the Dutchman sent spearing into the barriers at 180mph with an impact of 51G. He appeared unhurt but was battered and bruised, flown to hospital for precautionary checks he was later cleared as unhurt. Hamilton was given a 10-second penalty for causing a collision and any chance of a win looked to have gone.
Yet as he had done so many times in the pastt, the world champion flew, chasing down Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who was second, to take the lead three laps from the finish. It was a mighty comeback and one he desperately needed to keep his foot in the championship. From being 33 points behind Verstappen, he now trails by eight.
Hamilton was more than aware of the scale of his achievement. He celebrated with abandon, clutching a union flag on his in-lap and whooping with joy over the radio as his team congratulated him, with some sense of disbelief that their man had done it again. He is the most successful driver at Silverstone, with eight victories but what a way to deliver this most vital of wins.
The battle between Hamilton and Verstappen had been fiercely close for the opening four races and there was a sense that sooner or later the two drivers would vie for the same piece of tarmac and only one would emerge. For eight corners on the opening lap the crowd was treated to a mighty scrap as they went side by side through the sweeping turns of the old airfield.
Then at turn nine, the fearsomely quick Copse corner, neither would give ground. Hamilton had feinted to go up the outside then dived back inside and his left front wheel clipped Verstappen’s right rear. It appeared to be a racing incident, with neither driver willing to yield. Hamilton has gone wheel to wheel with his rival this season but at Imola he went wide rather than risk a clash. This time he believed he had the place and with a deficit in the title race would not give way. “That was my line, he turned in on me,” he said.
The Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, described it as “desperate” and “dirty driving” and was unequivocal in blaming Hamilton in a message to the FIA race director, Michael Masi. A war of words conducted in the form of messages to Masi soon broke out. The Mercedes team manager, Ron Meadows, told Masi: “Lewis was significantly alongside at turn nine.” The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, emailed Masi a diagram of his take on the incident. Both team principals marched urgently to the stewards to make their cases.
The stewards gave Hamilton a 10-second time penalty for causing a collision. The crowd were unsurprisingly vocal in expressing their displeasure as boos echoed round the circuit. Horner was fuming at the decision, describing the punishment as “light”, the incident a “professional foul” and scathing in his condemnation of Hamilton for putting another driver’s life at risk afterwards.
Hamilton was robust in his own defence. “I just don’t feel like [Verstappen] needs to be as aggressive as he is,” he said. “He was going wheel-to-wheel with me ... I’m sure it looks cool but you need to give the space. It’s never just one person’s fault. It’s always a balance of the two.”
The race was stopped to repair the barriers and, when it began again 35 minutes later, Leclerc, who had inherited the lead during the incident, was at the front for the restart. As the controversy raged, Hamilton, now aware of his penalty, had to reset and his task looked formidable yet there was calm, stoic confidence to his driving.
Leclerc was showing great pace in the clean air when Hamilton pitted on lap 27 and took his penalty. He emerged in fifth behind Lando Norris and Leclerc followed him in two laps later, having maintained his lead. With the stops shaken out Hamilton was in fourth, 12 seconds off Leclerc with 23 laps remaining and behind his Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, and Norris.
Hamilton set off with pace and with a point to make, went up the inside of Norris – once more at Copse. Bottas was unsurprisingly ordered to move over and Hamilton, now in second, had nine seconds to make up as the crowd roared him on for lap after lap. He had caught Leclerc with three laps remaining and on the following circuit again went up the inside of Copse as Leclerc went wide, enough to seal one of his most memorable victories.
It had been exhausting and emotionally draining but F1 had welcomed back the fans with the spectacle they deserved on one of motor racing’s greatest stages and Hamilton as ever had delivered a mighty, unrepentant soliloquy.
Bottas was third with the McLaren’s of Norris and Daniel Ricciardo in fourth and fifth. Carlos Sainz was sixth for Ferrari, Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon in seventh and ninth for Alpine. Lance Stroll was in eighth for Aston Martin and Yuki Tsunoda in 10th for AlphaTauri.