Lewis Hamilton delighted a 120,000 crowd of enthusiastic home fans when he revived his world championship bid on Sunday with an emphatic victory in a dramatic incident-filled British Grand Prix.
The 29-year-old Briton took full advantage of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s first non-finish of the season, due to gearbox problems, to reduce the German’s lead in the title race to just four points.
Driving with great elan and speed, the 2008 champion Hamilton came home 30 seconds clear of second-placed Finn Valtteri Bottas of Williams, who started from 14th on the grid.
It was Hamilton’s second home win at the British Grand Prix, his fifth of the season and the 27th of his career drawing him level with fellow-Briton three-time champion Jackie Stewart in the record books.
“You can’t touch this Lewis — home Grand Prix,” said Hamilton’s race engineer on the team radio. “England! What a great feeling guys I couldn’t be happier, I’m sorry about yesterday, but a fantastic job today, as ever!” responded Hamilton.
Later, from the podium, he added: “This just proves you should never give up! I have got so many mixed feelings and you never want to see a team-mate go out.”
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, of Red Bull, finished third ahead of 2009 champion Briton Jenson Button, of McLaren, defending four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel in the second Red Bull and two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
Alonso’s team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen was involved in a spectacular high-speed opening lap accident that halted the race for an hour, for repairs to the barriers. He lost control, spun, hit the barriers and collided with Brazilian Felipe Massa’s Williams.
Both escaped serious injury, but Raikkonen, whose car was massively damaged, limped away and required later x-rays on his right ankle. Massa was forced out with a damaged car.
Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen finished seventh for McLaren ahead of German Nico Hulkenberg of Force India, Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso and 10th-placed Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne in the second Toro Rosso.
The race began in mild and breezy English summer conditions with an air track temperature of 17 degrees and track temperature of 34, almost perfect for the contest which exploded into dramatic life on the opening lap.
Rosberg had made a near-perfect getaway from his fourth pole of the season while Hamilton, from sixth, swifly rose to fourth before the race was red-flagged to a halt when Raikkonen lost control of his Ferrari, spun across the track and crashed heavily into the barriers on the Wellington Straight.
Massa took rapid action but could not avoid a collision that tore off the rear left wheel of his Williams car while Raikkonen’s Ferrari was almost destroyed. The Finn, however, managed to climb out of the cockpit and limp away.
When the race re-started, Rosberg streaked. Hamilton, from fourth, charged after him, passing the McLarens of Magnussen and Button on successive laps to take second.
By lap 10, the field was settling down, but with the spectacle of Bottas rising to sixth from 14th and Alonso to seventh from 16th before the Spaniard was handed a five-second penalty for re-starting the race from the wrong position behind the Safety Car.
Rosberg pitted from the lead after 18 laps, for a stop of 2.7 seconds, and Hamilton took over the lead, extending it to more than 15 seconds within three laps as he stayed out on his original tyres.
Rosberg reported a gearbox problem following his stop, but it did not affect his speed as he rejoined second and chased after Hamilton, who finally pitted after 24 laps, a slow one in 4.1 seconds. He rejoined second behind Rosberg, but ahead of Bottas and Button.
Rosberg’s problems worsened and by lap 29 he was struggling to survive as his gearbox began seizing up, Hamilton grabbing his chance to sweep into the lead. “There’s a problem with the upshift,” said the German. “Consider slowing me down just to get me to the finish line.”
Within seconds, it was all over. Rosberg coasted to a halt at Becketts and switched off, leaving Hamilton with the prospect of a clear run to the flag and a chance to cut a lump out of his team-mate’s 29-point pre-race advantage in the title race.
“Just look after the car as best as you can,” Hamilton’s race engineer told him, as he enjoyed a 24-second advantage over Bottas, who dropped to third behind Vettel when he pitted on lap 32.
A Vettel stop then gave Bottas second again and, in turn, gave Hamilton a lead of more than 40 seconds on the Finn. Having rejoined, Vettel found himself in a furious scrap with Alonso, who defended fifth place with vigour. “I could have crashed into him,” complained Vettel after one rebuffed attack.