Lewis Hamilton has led every lap of the British Grand Prix as the six-time world champion pulled off an emphatic seventh career victory around Silverstone as a flurry of late-race punctures across the field meant the Brit crossed the line with only three tyres intact.
Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas pushed for the fastest lap of the race and the additional world championship point only to have both of their left-front tyres let go three laps from home and final lap respectively.
Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen was the first driver in the field to suffer a left-front delamination five laps from home before Bottas, who had comfortably been sitting in second the entire race, had a seemingly identical incident on Lap 50.
It compelled the Finn to make an unscheduled pitstop and pushed Red Bull’s Max Verstappen into a cautionary pitstop on the penultimate lap.
But then in a truly bizarre final lap, race leader Hamilton experienced a similar incident coming out of Luffield. With a 30-second lead to toy with after Verstappen’s late stop, Hamilton was had enough in the bank to limp his battered Mercedes home on three wheels to clinch a dramatic record-breaking victory.
Silverstone has often been notoriously harsh on tyre life with the 2017 version of the race another Grand Prix overshadowed by several drivers experiencing punctures in the final laps while a myriad of high-speed blowouts in 2013 led to a complete revamping of Pirelli’s manufacturing process.
Bottas ultimately finished outside the points in 11th as a fortunate Charles Leclerc scored Ferrari’s second podium finish of the season.
The Finn could well have been on the podium and he made an electric getaway from second on the grid, but a half-hearted lunge into Abbey allowed his teammate to exert himself into the lead, pulling daylight between himself and challenging as the field started its second tour.
However, the race was quickly neutralised behind the Safety Car as Alex Albon clashed with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen at the final corner, tagging the right-rear wheel of the Dane who skated across the gravel before eventually colliding with the barrier.
By the time Hamilton led the field to the restart on Lap 6, the incumbent world champion had re-established his sizable advantage over Bottas, pulling out of the critical one-second DRS window in a composed restart.
It would only be brief stint under green flags when a scary tyre failure saw Daniil Kvyat’s AplhaTauri careen heavily into the armco barrier at Maggots and Becketts. The Russian was unharmed as he emerged from a scrapyard of debris, becoming the third retirement in an attrition-filled opening stint.
The consequent Safety Car resulted in a flurry of activity in pitlane as most of the field capitalised on the opportunity to box for a fresh set of boots and don the durable hard tyres in a bid to run to the end of the race.
Again, Hamilton nailed the restart to blitz the field just as Lando Norris pounced on the leading Renault of Daniel Ricciardo to steal P7 before blowing a wide at Copse in a bold attempt to get past his teammate Carlos Sainz one corner later.
Galvanized by being pipped on the run into Turn 1, Bottas kept within touching distance of his teammate in the sister Mercedes with the margin flirting on the one-second bracket for several laps only for Hamilton to then stamp his authority on the race to hold a 2.3-second race at the midway point of the 52-lapper.
With a certain 1-2 finish on the horizon, Bottas began to complain of a worsening vibration in his car but ultimately pushed on as he and Hamilton diced over the fastest lap in the closing laps.
The Finn’s tyres would let go first as he crossed the start/finish straight, limping around entire the 5.8km circuit on three wheels back to pitlane.
Mercedes were straight on the radio to warn Hamilton of a possible similar fate, acknowledging the window to Verstappen was sufficient enough to pit on the final lap. However, that decision was overlooked and Hamilton stayed out to commence his 52nd and final tour before moments later experiencing the same issue.
His 30-second lead was slashed in half as Verstappen pushed in search of stealing the most unlikely of victories but an emphatic Hamilton had done enough all race to ensure another British Grand Prix title was inked onto his incredible racing CV.
Ricciardo was able to hang on to fourth, ahead of Norris and Esteban Ocon. Pierre Gasly, Albon, Stroll and Sebastian Vettel rounded out the top-ten in a thrilling conclusion to a dramatic race.
Sainz was another driver to suffer a tyre blowout in the dying stages, with a set top-five finish wiped away in an instant as the McLaren pilot wrestled his way back to pitlane on the final lap to eventually finish 13th.
Nico Hulkenberg’s dream return to F1 ended before it even started when his Racing Point failed to fire in time for the German to make the grid.
Hulkenberg was slated to start his first Grand Prix since Abu Dhabi last year as a late replacement for Sergio Perez who tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday. It remains unknown whether Perez will return to the team for next week’s second leg of the Silverstone doubleheader or if Hulkenberg will at last make his long-awaited return.
F1 returns to Silverstone next weekend for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix on August 10 NZT.