Hamilton: My heart nearly stopped
Briton clings on for thrilling win despite last-lap puncture Three-wheel finish is just enough to hold off Verstappen
Lewis Hamilton admitted his “heart nearly stopped” after a final-lap tyre blowout almost cost him victory in a dramatic conclusion to yesterday’s British Grand Prix.
Hamilton was one of three driv
ers to suffer punctures in the final laps. But while Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas dropped from second to 11th after puncturing with two laps left, and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz also tumbled out of the top 10, Hamilton was able to cling on to claim a record-breaking seventh win at his home grand prix.
The 35-year-old had to finish the race on three wheels, though, and with sparks flying from the undercarriage of his Mercedes W11, after picking up the puncture with two thirds of the final lap remaining. A 30-second lead over Red Bull’s Max Verstappen shrank to less than six seconds as Hamilton nursed his car home, fearing he might lose control at any moment.
Verstappen would almost certainly have won had he not stopped to switch to soft tyres with two laps remaining, his team deciding that with victory beyond him he should go for the fastest lap.
“I have definitely never experienced anything like that on the last lap and my heart definitely nearly stopped,” Hamilton said. “Up until that last lap everything was relatively smooth sailing. Valtteri was really pushing incredibly hard, while I was doing some management of the tyre. When I heard that his went, I looked at mine and it seemed fine.” He said: “The car was turning no problem. Last few laps I started to back off and then last lap it deflated. That was a heart-in-mouth moment. You could see it falling off the rim. From then I was just managing it and just praying to get round and not be too slow. I didn’t think I would make it round the last two corners.
“Bono (race engineer Peter Bonnington) was giving me the information about the gap [to Verstappen]. I got to Hangar Straight and I heard he was 19
seconds at that point. I tried to pick up speed at Hangar Straight, but the wheel was making a mess.
“I was thinking, ‘How am I going to get through these last corners without losing too much time?’ But I got round turn 15 and once I got through the last two corners, that was really when it was a disaster. I could hear ‘7, 6, 5…’ and I just managed to keep it together.”
In normal years, more than 140,000 fans would have roared their driver home. But due to coronavirus the stands were empty yesterday as Hamilton extended his lead in the drivers’ championship to 30 points over Bottas.
F1 returns to Silverstone next weekend for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
Such is the superiority of Hamilton’s machine, both Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who
rounded out the Silverstone podium, have already raised the white flag, saying they do not feel they can catch Hamilton this year.
“The guy that has some chances is Valtteri but that’s it,” Leclerc said.
That extraordinary finish aside, the race was largely uneventful. A group of Extinction Rebellion protesters managed to gain entry to the circuit, camping out overnight on the Saturday. They unfurled an “Act Now” banner behind the grid as the formation lap got under way and were arrested and escorted from the premises soon after.
And the drivers again staged an anti-racism demonstration on the grid, which was more successful than at previous races, F1’s organisers having allocated 10 extra minutes on the grid so that it would not be so rushed. Twelve drivers joined Lewis Hamilton in taking a knee. Seven chose to remain standing, one more than in Austria at the first race of this delayed season. All wore “End Racism” T-shirts.
A Spitfire with the message “Thank U NHS” also flew over Silverstone as the drivers took part in a one-minute round of applause for the health service.
Two crashes brought out safety cars, but Hamilton and Bottas were cruising towards another one-two when their tyres suddenly blew. “I don’t think I’ve won a race on three wheels before,” Hamilton said.
Nerve-shredder: Lewis Hamilton inspects what is left of his front left tyre in parc ferme at Silverstone after a final-lap puncture forced the world champion to nurse his Mercedes home; (below) with the trophies he won