High riding Hamilton dedicates perfect Silverstone win to fans
To hear Lewis Hamilton speak after he had scored his 57th grand prix triumph, his fifth in his home race which brought him equal with greats Jim Clark and Alain Prost, he seemed to spend more of his time watching the race on the huge diamond screens around Silverstone.
He didn’t, of course, but such was the ease with which he seemed to control it from the moment it started until he crossed the finish line 14 seconds clear of his Mercedes team-mate, Valtteri Bottas, that a perfect afternoon enabled him to over-deliver for the 137,500 fans who gathered to see him close the points gap to arch-rival Sebastian Vettel.
The hard truth is that nobody saw which way he went, and that Vettel was never a factor for the win. And the German went home angry, his 20 point lead slashed to just one.
“We have the best fans here. I see you out there!” he told his supporters over his radio as he toured in, after a pluperfect performance in which his only significant concern was some blistering on his soft Pirelli tyres just past mid-distance.
And when he stood atop the podium, joined in his moment of triumph by his old team-mate and sparring partner Jenson Button, he added: “Look how happy these people are! Just a big thanks to everyone. I’m coming over to crowd-surf, just so you know. Be ready for me!”
And he kept that promise, entertaining the people who had flocked in to see him in a whole new different way, as television cameras captured a wonderful cameo of dour Finns Bottas and Raikkonen sitting glumly and speechless in the media room, waiting for him to arrive so that the final act of the show could start.
Even off the track this weekend, Hamilton has been in control.
After Jolyon Palmer’s wretched luck at Renault persisted when his car’s brake-by-wire system malfunctioned on the grid formation lap, and necessitated another start and truncation of the race from 52 to 51 laps, Hamilton pushed smoothly into the lead.
He then nursed it though one of those tedious safety car interludes after the Toro Rosso duo Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat had collided on the first lap, then simply picked up where he had left off and controlled the race until the end.
Raikkonen bravely tried to carry the fight to him, and for a while they swapped fastest laps, but further back Raikkonen’s team leader Sebastian Vettel was getting beaten up by the new kid. Max Verstappen hasn’t been taught about respecting his elders, and he was having nothing of it when Vettel come up alongside his Red Bull going into Stowe corner on the 13th lap.
Verstappen didn’t simply roll over, but stayed there with the Ferrari and repassed it on the exit, just as he had done going round the outside of it in the first corners at the start of the race. Where he might have expected anyone else to roll over, Vettel found a blue, red and yellow car where he had been anticipating empty space, and had to back off.
Some smart pitwork, allied to a sticking rear wheelnut on Verstappen’s car, eventually put the Ferrari ahead when they stopped on the 18th and 19th laps, and after that the main challenge to Ferrari came from Hamilton’s team-mate Bottas, who had started ninth, on the more durable but less grippy soft-compound tyres, after getting a five-grid place drop for a gearbox change.
By running a whopping 32 laps, Bottas overtook the Ferraris during their own tyre stops, then came back at them when they were running soft tyres and he was on the faster supersofts.
Vettel resisted at Stowe on the 42nd lap — he’d learned something from Verstappen — but Bottas simply blasted by him going up to the corner the following lap, and set off after Raikkonen.
That was when fate took over, for first Raikkonen, on the 49th lap, then Vettel on the 50th, suffered identical front left tyre failures, and dived for the pits. That left Hamilton and Bottas to finish first and second, and Raikkonen to mop up with a distant third, Vettel slumped to seventh, behind Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg, and thus saw his 20-point lead wiped out.
“We did an exceptional job as a team,” Hamilton gushed. “The car felt great, the strategy was perfect, and Valtteri did an exceptional job to come back from eighth. It’s been a perfect weekend for us as a team.”
He was sweating, he later explained, not because of the race but because of all the crowd-surfing he had been doing with the fans.
“When I crossed the finish line I could have kept going. The amount of crowd support I’ve had, the energy from my friend Billy Monger (the teenager who lost his legs in April in a racing accident), the Great Ormond Street Hospital kids, the Starlight kids, and my new friend Michael who is suffering from cancer and came down from South Africa…
“They’ve given me support that I don’t think any other driver gets, even in their home countries, and I dedicate this race to all of them.”