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Following England’s triumphant football win on Saturday, the table was set for a 140,000 person party at Silverstone as home favourite Lewis Hamilton lined up on pole position for Sunday’s British Grand Prix.
Unfortunately, the festivities was over before the first corner as Sebastian Vettel came barging through like grandma interrupting beers with friends, to steal the lead straight off the start.
Hamilton’s poor start also allowed Valtteri Bottas to pass and enticed Kimi Raikkonen to get a little greedy at Turn Three where a small lock-up caused him to touch wheels with the Brit. This sent the Mercedes spinning off track before rejoining at the rear of the pack.
Elsewhere, the Haas cars made contact, Sergio Perez spun and Brendon Hartley never left the pit lane – all in the first lap.
Ferrari brought an update to Britain, and it showed. Vettel set a blistering pace and was soon five seconds clear of Bottas in second place. The Red Bulls tucked in behind with Raikkonen trailing and looking dangerous.
At the back of the pack, Hamilton put his skills to fine use – on the radio. It was one of his mopey drives, scorching past the backmarkers while complaining about damage that was not visible to his team or anyone else. Then he questioned his tyre pressure, which was quickly refuted by his race engineer.
His defeated attitude continued despite his obvious pace. He was back into the points within ten laps and lapping much faster than the leaders. And, with Raikkonen handed a ten-second penalty for the botched move at Turn Three, a podium finish was in play. All the team needed was a little of luck or maybe a safety car.
Strategy variations unfold
Charles Leclerc, amid another brilliant drive, almost obliged Mercedes as an unsecured wheel following a pit stop killed his drive. At the time he was chasing down Nico Hulkenberg for seventh and on course for points yet again. However, he was smart enough to get his Sauber far enough off the track to keep the race moving uninterrupted.
Instead, it was the other Sauber that triggered the safety car as Marcus Ericsson lost the back end travelling at nearly 200 mph into Turn One. The crash looked serious at first but the Swedish driver emerged unscathed.
This brought the race back to Mercedes. But, strangely, they did not react. Both drivers stayed out while the rest of the top six pitted for fresh rubber. They had recently stopped and their pace was still good so they gained track position, but they were running on older tyres with Bottas leading ahead of Vettel, Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo and Raikkonen.
Ever heard a Grand Prix driver complain the safety car is going too fast? You have now. “Tell the safety car to slow down,” Sebastian Vettel pleaded on the radio, fearing a fast getaway for the Silver Arrows that boxed him in.
When the restart came, everyone kept position until a crash between Romain Grosjean and Carlos Sainz – the Spaniard squeezing the Frenchman on the inside of Abbey to send them both into the barrier – brought the race until neutral again.
The second safety car made Mercedes look like geniuses for keeping their cars out earlier while others pitted. But it was still questionable whether Bottas’s tyres would see him to the end in first place.
As the safety car was withdrawn, fans were treated to an 11 lap showdown between the top six in the driver’s championship.
Bottas got away cleanly but Vettel hounded him relentlessly. Their squabbling brought Lewis closer while Raikkonen, who had finally cleared Max Verstappen after a race-long battle, made up the breakaway quartet.
All four cars were within a 1.5 second margin and in with a chance to win. Vettel stuck to the gearbox of Bottas. Raikkonen chased Hamilton. The trailing Red Bulls fought for fifth.
Bottas was the first to blink with a small mistake that gave Vettel his chance. With a late, brave move down the inside at Brooklands, the German snatched the race lead. Once again, F1’s hard-luck driver, Bottas, was denied again as fading tyres took their toll. The Finn eventually dropped to fourth and there will questions in the team debriefing why.
Ricciardo then tapped Verstappen, leaving the Dutchman stuck in fourth gear and dropping miserably down the field. He would eventually retire.
At the end of the first triple-header in Formula 1 history, Lewis Hamilton chased Sebastian Vettel down to the end. His blazing pace, following a dreadful start and faultless spin, had brought him back to second place, less than three seconds from the lead, and made him Driver of the Day. But it wasn’t enough for the win.
Vettel hung on for a brilliant victory ahead of the Brit with Raikkonen third. Rounding out the top ten were Bottas, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Esteban Ocon, Fernando Alonso, Kevin Magnussen and Pierre Gasly.
Hamilton deserves immense credit for climbing back to the podium, even if he had to be convinced by his race engineer it was possible. Meanwhile, Ferrari seem to have responded in the upgrade war, their cars appearing ominously fast.
The 2018 British Grand Prix will probably go down as a classic. All the ingredients that make racing compelling were at play. It was just a pity Hamilton and Vettel could not have fought for the entire race.
But at least we get two weeks to ponder what might have been before F1 stops in Germany for the next round of action.
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