Silverstone (United Kingdom) (AFP)
World Championship leader Lewis Hamilton survived tense last-lap drama with a flat, shredded tire to clinch a record-breaking seventh victory in Sunday’s British Grand Prix, saying “my heart almost stopped “.
The six-time world champion led by featherlight and through two safety car interventions, before suffering a front left tire failure on his final lap, leaving him to heal his Mercedes at home with second-placed Max Verstappen at the pursuit of his Red Bull.
He was 5.9 seconds behind.
The Dutchman inherited second place when his Mercedes Hamilton teammate Valtteri Bottas, who was comfortably running in second for most of the competition, suffered the same problem, his left front delaminating and deflating on his penultimate round.
The Finn limped back to the pits and finished useless in 11th place as his rivals slowed down to preserve their rubber, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc taking third behind Verstappen ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Hamilton’s victory was the 87th of his career and moved him within four of Michael Schumacher’s record of 91.
Norris’ teammate Carlos Sainz also suffered a puncture in the closing laps of an exciting race that saw him drop from fourth to 13th place.
Esteban Ocon finished sixth in the second Renault ahead of Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, Alex Albon in the second Red Bull, Lance Stroll of Racing Point and quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel, for his final season with Ferrari.
“In the last laps I started to pull back and then on the last lap he just chickened out,” said Hamilton.
– ‘Heart in the mouth’ –
“It was heart in mouth. I almost didn’t go around the last two corners. I handled it and prayed to move around and not be too slow.
“I have certainly never experienced anything like this on the last lap and my heart almost stopped. ”
In the drivers’ championship, he leads with 88 points after four races, a lead of 30 ahead of the unfortunate Bottas.
| “It was good luck and bad luck for us,” Verstappen said.
“The Mercedes was too fast. The tires didn’t look great with 10 laps to go, then Valtteri had a puncture and they punched me for the fastest lap… The second is a good result. ”
Leclerc said: “It was a tricky race – as soon as I heard that Valtteri had a tire problem I slowed down a lot. We seized our opportunities. ”
On another bright but windy day, Hamilton overcame an imperfect start from his 91st pole position and registered a seventh in Britain.
He was leading as he cleared before a final corner collision, on the first lap, involving Kevin Magnussen and the ill-fated Albon, which led to the first deployment of a Safety Car.
The Dane’s Haas car was outside Red Bull d’Albon with the Thai driver refusing to concede, when they crashed and Magnussen spun into a gravel pit his left front wheel shattered in the barriers.
The stewards blamed Albon and gave him a five-second penalty.
The Safety Car led the field for five laps before handing control back to Hamilton who remained in control until lap 13, when Daniil Kvyat suffered a right rear puncture and crashed heavily at Maggots, where both wheels rear broke his Alpha Tauri.
He was not injured, but a second safety car was needed for five laps while the debris was cleaned up.
This reduced the field to 17, with Nico Hulkenberg failing to start on his dramatic comeback, with Racing Point, replacing coronavirus victim Sergio Perez.
Interruptions did nothing to stop Mercedes’ progress up front, with Hamilton and Bottas moving away from Verstappen with some ease.
On lap 30, the gap was eight seconds with Leclerc 14 seconds adrift.
Behind them, Grosjean and Sainz were engaged in a fierce battle for fifth place, which saw the French weave to resist Brooklands.
The Frenchman however continued his aggressive approach in a duel with Ricciardo.
It was duly noted by the stewards as “moving under braking”. Ricciardo called it “summary”.
© 2020 AFP