Lewis Hamilton scored an extraordinary victory in a dramatic British Grand Prix finish despite a puncture on the last lap.
The Mercedes rider’s left front tire failed halfway through the last lap, but he held up ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Verstappen would have won if he hadn’t stopped late for new tires in a successful quest for the fastest lap point.
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas also had a puncture two laps earlier which knocked him out of the points.
The Finn finished 11th and fell 30 points behind Hamilton in the title race, a potentially devastating blow to his hopes so early in a season cut short by the coronavirus.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was the third driver to suffer a front left puncture, both his and Hamilton’s on the last lap, and he dropped from fourth to 13th place.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was promoted from fourth to last on the podium by the late drama.
The late drama leads to the seismic moment
It was a remarkable end to a race that had been soporific until then, and Hamilton admitted that afterwards, saying on the radio, his voice was drenched in relief: “It was close. “
Mercedes drivers were grooming their tires after making an earlier pit stop due to the second of the two safety cars.
They stopped to switch from medium to hard tires on lap 13, very early to reach the end of the race on a set of hard tires.
They were clearly managing their pace from there, but despite this dark rings appeared on their tires as the race entered the final stages.
But there was no real sign of the drama to come until Bottas’ left front tire deflated shortly after the start of lap 52, with two to go.
The Finn limped almost an entire lap and was too far to enter the points.
Hamilton seemed to be heading towards the flag then, until he too suffered a flat tire, this time descending his back straight towards Brooklands. Then it was a question of whether he could get around the rest of the round – more than halfway – before Verstappen caught up with him.
Hamilton said: “Until the last lap everything was relatively smooth.
“The tires were great. Valtteri was pushing really incredibly hard and I was doing a little bit of managing this tire and he looked like he wasn’t. ”
“When (his) tire went off, everything looked fine, so I thought maybe that was OK.
“I noticed the shape of the tire moving, it was the heart in my mouth and I didn’t know if it had come down until I brake.
“Then you just have to drive it – sometimes it comes loose and breaks the wing. I almost didn’t go around the last two corners. Maybe we should have stopped near the end when we saw the delaminations (on the other cars). “
Hamilton said his engineer Peter Bonnington was counting the gap with Verstappen on the radio as he approached the flag.
“The car seemed to turn well through Maggotts and Becketts,” said Hamilton, “and then it was a real struggle in the last two corners. I could hear the gap go down from 19 to 10. I could hear the last corner. telling him, “Nine, eight, seven” and I was like, “Turn on the gas.” ”
It was a dramatic end to a race that just might have an equally substantial impact on the championship fight.
Driver of the day
Hamilton was impressive in his consummate control, both in the race and on his last lap, but Leclerc was perhaps the most notable player, taking third place from the uncompetitive Ferrari after qualifying it fourth, while that his teammate Sebastian Vettel was far behind in an uncompetitive 10th, losing in the midfield fights.
What happens next?
Another race in Britain, this time F1’s 70th anniversary Grand Prix next weekend. Can Hamilton have back-to-back home wins – and four trotting this season?