Victory in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone was just what Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel needed in what is shaping up to be the most intriguing championship battle for many a year. Neither Ferrari nor Mercedes – or occasional front-runners Red Bull – has managed to assert any level of dominance thus far, and each race has been open.
Lewis Hamilton put the Mercedes on pole position to the delight of the home crowd, who were out in force enjoying a rare British summer. His main rival Vettel lined up alongside him, with their team-mates Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas on the second row.
The start was a poor one for Hamilton who was jumped by both Vettel and Bottas, and at the second corner contact between Hamilton and Raikkonen lost ground for both – the Englishman notably rejoining at the back of the field. It would be the start of quite spectacular effort by the reigning champion.
Vettel in Command
Vettel began to eke out a small lead over Bottas while behind, Raikkonen looked to take on the Red Bull pair and regain some places – he took Daniel Ricciardo for fourth place and closed in on Max Verstappen quickly. However, a 10-second penalty for causing the collision with Hamilton meant his afternoon was somewhat compromised.
Hamilton, meanwhile, continued to pick up places as he sliced through the tail enders and the midfield cars. Heading into pit-stop territory, Vettel led Bottas by a shade less than 6 seconds, with Verstappen and Raikkonen a safe distance behind, then Ricciardo and the flying Hamilton following. Following all pit stops for the leading runners, Vettel’s lead is down to two seconds from Bottas, with the only change in the top six being that Hamilton is now in 5th.
On lap 33 Marcus Ericsson spins his Sauber, and the safety car is deployed. Vettel, Verstappen and Raikkonen all take the opportunity to pit for new tyres, which leaves Bottas leading from Vettel, the latter in fresh rubber.
No sooner had the safety car come to rest than Carlos Sainz, Renault, and the Haas of Romain Grosjean come together. The safety cars comes out again. When the race resumes there are 10 laps remaining, and Bottas finds Vettel is all over the back of his Mercedes. The Finn defends admirably for a few laps, but his older tyres are no match for the flying Ferrari, which duly passes him for the lead on lap 46.
The closing stages were unfortunate for Verstappen who retired the Red Bull a few laps from the end with the car stuck in gear, while Hamilton passed Bottas for second place but, despite a strong effort, there is no time left to challenge Vettel for victory. Bottas, struggling on worn tyres, was also passed by Raikkonen for third position, putting both Ferrari drivers on the podium.
Best of the rest went to Ricciardo and Red Bull, while a further 20 seconds down the road, Nico Hulkenberg in the Renault led home the mid-field cars after a fine and faultless drive. Another impressive performance from Esteban Ocon in the Force India netted a helpful 7th position – his team mate Sergio Perez also scored with 10th position – while Fernando Alonso again wrestled the McLaren into the points with an 8th place finish. Kevin Magnussen drove another quietly impressive race to 9th for the Haas team.
Vettel is now 8 points clear of Hamilton at the top of the championship standings, a lead that could easily be eroded but is at least a small buffer, while Ferrari now heads the constructor’s standings by 20 points from Mercedes. The next round is the German Grand Prix, at Hockenheim, in two weeks’ time.