Lewis Hamilton achieved something more profound than simply winning the British Grand Prix. Formula One’s flying doctor lifted the entire sport from its sickbed and placed it in the sunshine in front of an adoring crowd.
For the past few months F1 has appeared to be disappearing in a self-destructive vortex of hand-wringing indecision and bitter criticism. One excellent race will not change everything but this was a little like seeing someone receive a blood transfusion; now we will find out how the patient responds.
If only there were a few more drivers like Hamilton. It is a little too much to say that he rescued the sport with this performance but it felt a little like watching the famous oil well firefighter Red Adair in action. This was Hamilton’s fifth win in nine races this season but that does not properly reflect his utter domination of the campaign – his eight poles give you a better picture.
His 38th victory, and his third at Silverstone, pushed him 17 points ahead of Nico Rosberg, who remains the world’s fastest stalker, the pursuit champion of Mercedes-Benz.
Hamilton is not a believer in momentum. But he was more aware than anyone that Rosberg had won three of the previous four races. The German had also won here two years ago and led the race here last year, so he has a liking for the circuit.
If he had won again here it would have dealt Hamilton a grievous blow, both in terms of the championship and his own fierce pride in front of his own supporters. But the Briton has a happy habit of delivering when he has to.
His team will also take uncommon satisfaction from a rather too common one-two result. For here they demonstrated not only the superiority of their car but also a grasp of strategy of which Alexander the Great would have felt immensely proud. But the crucial decision belonged to Hamilton himself, when he decided to come in for his second pit stop on the 43rd lap, just as rain and Rosberg began to close in on him in a pincer movement. Hamilton’s history of making calls is such that you would not necessarily follow his moves on a casino table. But here he got it perfectly right.
Silverstone too basked in the glory. A 140,000 capacity crowd lapped it up and though the weather was good there was late rain, like a sprinkled blessing, to make everything even more exciting than it already was.
In the circumstances nothing could have been more satisfactory than a triumph for Hamilton. But a win for Williams – which would have been their first here since Jacques Villeneuve’s success here in 1997 – would also have gone well. And when Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were at the front after 20 of the 52 laps it even seemed possible.
Massa made an inspired start, surging ahead of Rosberg and the pole-sitter Hamilton as if fired from a gun. And when Hamilton tried to put pressure on the Brazilian and ran wide, he handed second place to Bottas, with Rosberg fourth. Silverstone is not the best track for overtaking and Hamilton and Rosberg were forced to bide their time and consider their options.
It was then that Mercedes, whose calling had been so clumsy in Monaco in May, played a vital hand, aggressively, bringing Hamilton in on the 19th lap. It was a very fast stop too, just 2.4 seconds.
Then Massa and Rosberg came in, for slower stops, and the pair exited the pitbox alongside each other, but by then Hamilton had darted through. When Bottas pitted he rejoined between Massa and Rosberg and the pattern of the race had been formed.
Perhaps the unusual experience of running one and two addled the minds on the Williams pitwall. At first they told their drivers not to race each other. Then, when Bottas told them he was the faster man, they gave them the go-ahead to do exactly that.
Bottas had wanted to be let through. But the Williams chief technical officer, Pat Symonds, said: “No we are not going to say let him through, we will allow them to race, it is the Williams way. It gets the heart beating but it is the way we choose to do it. We told them not to race while we sorted out how we thought Mercedes reacted to the race position.”
It is that sort of spirit that wins Williams fans. But if Bottas had been in front he would have come into the pits ahead of Massa and, very possibly, have created problems for Mercedes.
ut the rain made matters worse for Williams. They are not at their best in the damp and they duly struggled to make much of an impact when the rain arrived.
Judged on the weekend overall the least Williams deserved was third and fourth. But even that was denied them because of some quick thinking by Ferrari, who brought Vettel in for inters just before the rain came with about eight of the 52 laps remaining.
Fernando Alonso was 10th, scoring his first point of the season. But he put his team-mate Jenson Button out of the race on the very first lap, the consequence of another clash between Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado.
So Button is still looking for his first podium at Silverstone. There was also despair for Max Verstappen, who spun into the gravel after the early safety car came in. But there were not many expressions of disappointment here on Sunday. This was a race that made the spirits soar.