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