Hamilton survives tyre blowout to claim record victory on three wheels
Briton extends lead to 30 points despite last-lap scare I hoped title fight would be closer, admits Mercedes driver
It did not take long for mock-ups of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes emblazoned with “Trotters Independent Trading Co” to start appearing on social media.
It is not often you see a threewheeler win a Formula One grand prix.
One of the most extraordinary finishes to a race in recent years eventually yielded a record seventh British Grand Prix victory for Hamilton, who is now one step closer to a record-equalling seventh F1 drivers’ title.
But it was far from straightforward. A tyre blowout on the last lap forced the Mercedes driver to nurse his car home, all the way from Silverstone’s old pit straight – with around two thirds of the lap still remaining – to the finish.
And under intense pressure from the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, too. The Dutchman closed from 30 seconds back to less than six seconds by the chequered flag.
It was a finish that deserved a live audience. And the 140,000 who normally pack into Silverstone on race day would have lapped it up. But this is not a normal year.
The dramatic denouement, as Hamilton wrestled his W11 around the circuit, the car’s undercarriage producing sparks as it scraped along Silverstone’s twisting tarmac, was played out to empty grandstands.
Hamilton was in shock by the finish. It was only later, once he had cooled off, that he was able to process what had just happened.
“As the minutes go by I feel worse and worse,” he admitted. “In the heat of the moment the adrenalin is going.
“Now I am just thinking of all the things that could have happened if the tyre gave up in a high-speed corner because it would have been a much different picture.”
It had been a pretty average grand prix up until that point. The only people inside Silverstone not officially working at the race were a group of Extinction Rebellion protesters who managed to unfurl an “Act Now” banner as the formation lap set off. They were arrested.
Otherwise the rather surreal lack of atmosphere seemed to translate to the track.
Hamilton actually got away sluggishly, but Valtteri Bottas “chickened out” of a move on his Mercedes team-mate. “[Former Mercedes team-mate Nico] Rosberg would have kept his foot in,” noted BBC commentator Jolyon Palmer, unimpressed.
Thereafter the race settled into a familiar pattern. An early collision between Alex Albon’s Red Bull and Kevin Magnussen’s Haas – which put the latter out of the race – brought out the safety car. As did a massive crash involving AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat on lap 13, causing everyone to dive into the pits and on to the hard tyre.
But that was as close as any of Mercedes’ rivals got to them – until the final laps anyway.
There was some lively racing further back, Daniel Ricciardo in the Renault and the two McLarens of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jnr had some fun battling each other. Haas’s Romain Grosjean got in everyone’s way.
But it was pretty bog-standard stuff until, with two laps remaining, Bottas suddenly suffered a frontleft blowout.
The Finn had been pushing hard to catch Hamilton. Too hard maybe. He had clearly worn out his tyres. Hamilton thought his were still OK and so did Verstappen, Red Bull deciding to pit their man, who was now in second place, in order to put on a set of soft tyres and go for the fastest lap bonus point. It was a fateful decision.
Suddenly tyres were exploding all over the place. McLaren’s Sainz was the next to suffer a front-left puncture. Then, on the very last lap, Hamilton’s went.
Unfortunately for Verstappen, Hamilton was not actually driving Del Boy’s Reliant Regal. His Mercedes just about held together.
Asked whether he had ever experienced anything like it, Hamilton thought for a moment.
“There was a race when I was in Formula Renault at Croft when the rear suspension had two rear springs and one had snapped off and through the left-handers I had one wheel in the air,” he said. “That was a race where I was in the lead and I managed to hang on in that race. It was similar. But obviously today was more extreme and the cost was a lot higher.” Just a bit.
Hamilton’s lead is now 30 points in the drivers’ championship after just four races. And the fear is he will produce another lights-to-flag win here next weekend.
Even he admitted he would like it to be a bit closer. “Honestly, I’m a through-and-through racer at heart,” he said. “Growing up karting, wheel to wheel, that’s what gets me up in the morning. This is definitely not the championship fight I’d be hoping for.
“I really, really hope in the future it’s closer. But it’s the rules, ultimately. Every team is given the same rules. At the end of the day we are doing an exceptional job collectively.”
Even on three wheels, Mercedes are proving imperious.
‘I am thinking of what could have happened if the tyre gave up in a high-speed corner’