Sebastian Vettel played the role of pantomime villain to briefly burst the great British sporting summer bubble and win the 70th running of a brilliant British Grand Prix at Silverstone from Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen.
England may still be in the FIFA World Cup after Germany’s shock group exit but it was the Ferrari man left toasting victory on a balmy day in Northamptonshire.
The German driver benefitted from a horror start from home favorite Hamilton, who lost ground from his pole slot before being nudged into a spin from Raikkonen, dropping him to the rear of the field.
And despite a heroic charge through the field to second place after two safety car situations, he was pipped to the flag by his rival, who extended his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship to eight points ahead of the Vettel’s home race in two week’s time.
“The safety cars spiced things up. It was a nice battle with Valtteri, I was pushing like crazy and had the advantage on the tyres but not so easy to find a way through,” said Vettel after matching Alain Prost’s 51 race victories. “Then I think I surprised him. I wasn’t so sure about making the corner, but I did so I’m very, very happy. Thanks to the team for supporting me and the people in the background. Obviously, I was a little damaged but much better today.”
For his part in the opening lap incident, Raikkonen was slapped with a ten-second penalty, but the Finn was a man on a mission and a late overtake on Bottas meant another podium finish.
Max Verstappen’s late retirement meant Daniel Ricciardo took fifth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, Esteban Ocon backing up his superb recent form with seventh for Acronis-backed Force India. Kevin Magnussen, Fernando Alonso, and Pierre Gasly rounded off the points finishers.
The race was always going to be decided on which team was able to get the most out of its tyres, Mercedes and Ferrari opting for a one-stop strategy, switching from the yellow-banded soft compound tyres to the white medium rubber.
Red Bull, in contrast, decided on a two-stopper to try and extract the maximum from the grippier soft tyre.
Verstappen was the first of the big hitters to pit for medium tyres on lap 19, quickly followed by teammate Ricciardo. But despite Raikkonen’s ten second penalty, he was able to keep track position over the Brit after their respective first stops.
Vettel’s crucial stop on lap 22 for mediums was followed by Bottas a lap later and the Ferrari’s trouble-free change set him fair for victory.
A heavy accident from Marcus Ericsson at Abbey brought a full safety car situation into the mix, a substantial tyre barrier and the Halo device meaning the Swede walked away unscathed to the cheers of the crowd.
Vettel took advantage of the situation to pit for a new set of soft tyres as Hamilton stayed out for track position but no sooner was the race underway again, they had to do it all over again as Carlos Sainz tangled with Romain Grosjean into Turn 1, both cars clattering across the gravel and into the barriers at Copse Corner.
It meant a frantic charge for victory over the remaining 15 laps between the three lead cars, the Red Bulls making contact after squabbling for fifth and Vettel sweeping past Bottas at Brooklands to re-take the lead with just five laps remaining.
Hamilton’s charge in front of his home fans was a heroic one but he will have to wait another year for a record sixth British Grand Prix victory.
“This is the greatest race of the year and the greatest crowd and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to bring it home for you today but thank you so much for your support,” said Hamilton afterward. “It’s you guys who helped me get through today, so we take it on the chin and keep pushing hard. Believe me, I will not give up. I will not give up.”
He will have to wait two weeks for revenge as the F1 circus moves onto Hockenheim for the German Grand Prix.
Top image: 2018 F1 British Grand Prix. © Dan Istitene / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool