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When Lewis Hamilton took a record-equalling fifth British Grand Prix victory, no one else got a look-in
Ahead of the British Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton had courted controversy by being the only 2017 race driver not to attend the ‘F1 Live London’ street parade around Trafalgar Square. But when the chips were down – when it really mattered – Hamilton delivered for ‘his fans’ in a manner that few other drivers have ever been able to.
QUALIFYING This was predictable Silverstone weather: overcast, blowy and drizzly, with a threat of even heavier rain. Equally predictable was a Q3 slugfest between Mercedes and Ferrari, with the silver cars seeming stronger. Ahead of the weekend, team boss Toto Wolff had noted that the W08 remained a tricky car to balance. But in the hands of a fired- up superstar, it can be devastatingly effective – as Lewis Hamilton would demonstrate.
Silverstone is Hamilton’s stamping ground: home turf where he is habitually brilliant. His first marker was a 1m27.231s lap, but there was better to come. He turned the timing screens purple with three best sectors on his final flying lap, laying down a 1m26.6s lap, over half a second faster than Kimi Räikkönen’s P2 time of 1m27.147s. This stunning lap allowed him to match Jim Clark’s record of five British GP poles and put him one shy of Michael Schumacher’s outright pole record of 68.
“The high-speed section here is incredible,” he enthused afterwards. “I could feel the energy from the crowd, and when it dried out I was really able to use the grip. The final lap felt fantastic.”
Kimi’s P2 was a fine effort, while Seb Vettel’s P3 came with a gripe about imperfect tyre preparation. Valtteri Bottas’s P4 became P9 after a gearbox penalty, elevating Max Verstappen to the second row. Hülkenberg, Pérez, Ocon, Vandoorne and Grosjean closed out the top ten, but all, surely, were competing to be best of the rest…
RACE Don’t doubt for one second that we’re witnessing something very special during this era of Lewis Hamilton-British GP domination. This was his fifth British GP victory here – a tally equalled only by Jim Clark and Alain Prost. It was also his fourth consecutive victory at Silverstone.
Untouchable on Saturday, only misfortune or mechanical misadventure could stop Hamilton’s ascent to the podium’s top step. An abandoned start, caused by the formation-lap failure of Jolyon Palmer’s brake-by-wire system, was no impediment. They simply went round one more time before Lewis blasted into a lead he would never relinquish. It was his rivals’ turn to suffer: Vettel’s brakes caught fire; Bottas started from ninth due to a gearbox penalty; and Dan Ricciardo started 19th after pre-race technical woes.
Only Räikkönen was able to keep Hamilton in sight. After lap 1, Lewis’s lead over Kimi was 1.6s, although it was wiped out by a three-lap Safety Car resulting from a clash between Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat that pushed Sainz into retirement.
When the race resumed Hamilton was able to stretch out a further gap, charging away on supersofts. He paused only on lap 25, for a set of softs that would see him to the flag, with a fastest lap (1min 30.621s) thrown in three laps from home. “I was managing a 12-14s gap to Kimi,” he said afterwards, “but then I saw there’d been a couple of blow-outs right at the end, so I backed off.”
The two blow-outs occurred within a lap of each other, and each one killed the front-left tyre of a Ferrari. Räikkönen’s came two laps from home and cost him P2. The Pirelli didn’t explode, but lost its tread without deflating, letting Kimi cruise to the pits for fresh boots and a sprint to the last podium position. Vettel’s, one lap later, was more dramatic:
HAMILTON STRETCHED OUT A FURTHER GAP, CHARGING AWAY ON SUPERSOFTS. HE PAUSED ONLY ON LAP 25, FOR A SET OF SOFTS THAT WOULD SEE HIM TO THE FLAG
his front-left (six laps younger than Räikkönen’s) flattened without warning and while Ferrari would offer no reason for the failure, Vettel had locked up the left front heavily a few laps earlier, during a furious fight with Bottas.
Bottas, charging from P9, had passed Vettel for third, pre-blowout, prompting partisan cheers – Vettel’s positional loss being Hamilton’s title-fight gain. Bottas then rose to P2 following Räikkönen’s troubles, with Vettel slumping to seventh.
Verstappen wound up fourth after a late stop, having engaged in battle with Vettel for P3. Each ran the other off the track, but Vettel could find no way past. Ferrari eventually opted for the undercut on lap 18 and when Max pitted two laps later, he knew a place had been lost even before he left the pits. Meantime, Ricciardo’s charge to fifth, from P19, was one of the many highlights of this brilliant grand prix. He’s a driver who, like his team, doesn’t know when he’s beaten.
Next up was Nico Hülkenberg. A new floor had blessed the R.S.17 with greater grip and balance and Hülk’s delivery of the team’s joint-best 2017 finish to date was a happy footnote to the 40th anniversary of Renault’s F1 debut.
Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez stayed out of each other’s way to record another double points finish for Force India, while Felipe Massa salvaged Williams’ lacklustre weekend with tenth.
Lewis left his beloved Silverstone just one point off the championship lead. Ten down, ten to go… These are heady times indeed.
Jolyon Palmer’s race was over before it began, following a warm-up lap brake-by-wire failure Bottas finished P2 behind Mercedes team-mate Hamilton, after starting from P9 Vettel’s late-race tyre failure helped whittle his title lead down to just one point ahead of Lewis