Last-lap the­atre from a sport­ing great who thrives on the edge

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport British Grand Prix - Oliver Brown

In the ex­haus­tive canon of Lewis Hamil­ton vic­to­ries, No87 was one to book­mark for its strangest of late twists, where a serene af­ter­noon un­rav­elled with­out warn­ing into a shower of sparks and shred­ded rub­ber. He has be­queathed his share of en­dur­ing Sil­ver­stone mo­ments, not least his rain dance for McLaren in 2008 and his crowd-surf­ing on the home straight in 2016, but none quite as iconic as the sight of him limp­ing into parc ferme on three wheels.

For all the grouch­ing that Hamil­ton has in­suf­fi­cient chal­lenges en route to his wins, the cli­max to his sev­enth Bri­tish Grand Prix tri­umph of­fered a com­pelling re­buke, as a de­lam­i­nated front left tyre forced him to throw the car through the fi­nal lap in the des­per­ate hope it would reach the line. He in­sisted later that he had stayed “chilled” in the cock­pit – some claim, given the tyre threat­ened to ex­plode at any mo­ment, and race en­gi­neer Pete Bon­ning­ton was bark­ing in his ear about the hard-charg­ing Max Ver­stap­pen be­hind.

The temp­ta­tion in the af­ter­math was to dwell on his luck, with Toto Wolff even ask­ing Hamil­ton to share lot­tery numbers with him. It looked serendip­i­tous, as both Mercedes driv­ers suf­fered late tyre mal­func­tions in pur­suit of a one-two fin­ish, only for Hamil­ton to hold on for 25 points and Valt­teri Bot­tas to leave with noth­ing. It does Hamil­ton a dis­ser­vice, though, to cling to the fal­lacy that he is merely for­tu­itous.

For a start, it was not purely a quirk of fate that Hamil­ton’s tyres lasted, cru­cially, a lap longer than those of his team-mate. Among his many tal­ents, his mas­tery of fast­de­grad­ing rub­ber is a longestab­lished truth.

Even his ri­vals know it, with Se­bas­tian Vet­tel ad­mit­ting last year: “If you are a woman on this planet and you have this guy giv­ing you a mas­sage, like he is treat­ing the tyres, it is just pure magic.”

While it might of­ten look as if Hamil­ton is on a bliss­ful Sun­day out­ing, the last-lap the­atre served as a re­minder of how he pushes to the ragged edge. Sil­ver­stone is no­to­ri­ously tough on tyres, with a se­quence of sud­den fail­ures in 2013 rep­re­sent­ing per­haps the least per­sua­sive ad­vert to in­vest in Pirelli. Mercedes were well aware, with Bon­ning­ton telling his man not to chase a bonus point for the fastest lap and in­stead fo­cus only on tyre in­tegrity. That is a dif­fi­cult in­struc­tion to hon­our at 220mph, but Hamil­ton com­plied, tak­ing the che­quered flag in glory while Bot­tas trailed home in 11th.

If the de­noue­ment was odd enough, it was mag­ni­fied by the ab­sence of a crowd, who would tra­di­tion­ally have been 140,000-strong to toast the cham­pion’s de­fi­ance. Ver­stap­pen seemed con­fused by it all, wav­ing to the stands even though there was no one to see him. Hamil­ton, who has been known to climb the fence to greet his Sil­ver­stone dis­ci­ples, de­served a more rous­ing ova­tion for the most mem­o­rable fin­ish of his ca­reer.

He can take com­fort, at least, from his com­mit­ment to stay in For­mula One for another three years, and the prom­ise of a more at­mo­spheric home­com­ing.

For now, the tes­ta­ment to his great­ness is pro­vided by a bliz­zard

A serene af­ter­noon sud­denly un­rav­elled in a shower of sparks and shred­ded rub­ber

of im­prob­a­ble sta­tis­tics. Wher­ever he trav­els, Hamil­ton no longer breaks records, but ex­tends them. Just as his 91st pole ex­tended his ad­van­tage over Michael Schu­macher to 23, a sev­enth day in the sun at Sil­ver­stone took him two clear of Jim Clark and Alain Prost. So unan­swer­able is his dom­i­nance, he could ac­com­plish a his­to­ry­mak­ing 92nd win by next month.

Is it all just by virtue of the car? Not if Hamil­ton’s con­sis­tent eclipse of Bot­tas, a very ca­pa­ble ad­ver­sary, is any gauge. Hav­ing spun full cir­cle in qual­i­fy­ing, he ral­lied to reg­is­ter the fastest lap ever pro­duced at Sil­ver­stone, with both his two quick­est times su­pe­rior to the Finn’s. His supremacy is such that he could af­ford not to fin­ish next Sun­day’s 70th An­niver­sary Grand Prix and still sit in the cham­pi­onship lead.

It might suck away the in­trigue, but it should not di­min­ish the feat. Hamil­ton’s suc­cess in mov­ing to Mercedes at the per­fect time in 2013 held up a mir­ror to his shrewd­ness. At Sil­ver­stone, that sig­na­ture qual­ity was in abun­dant ev­i­dence once more.

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