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AFTER labouring with neck pain on Saturday, Sebastian Vettel found the perfect tonic 24 hours later — matching Alain Prost’s total of 51 Grand Prix victories and denying main rival Lewis Hamilton a record-setting win in his home race.
The German defeated second-placed Hamilton on Sunday to win the British GP in front of a partisan crowd and extended his lead in the Formula One championship standings to eight points after 10 of 21 races.
“Sebastian drove a great race, fighting like a lion despite the pain in the neck,” Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said.
Vettel had been hindered by neck pain in the last practice, and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to compete in the qualifying session. He acknowledged he had been concerned ahead of the race itself. “I will feel it a little bit. It doesn’t matter. It held up. The race was fantastic,” Vettel said after claiming his fourth win of the season.
Vettel moved level with Prost on 51 F1 wins, trailing only Hamilton (65) and Michael Schumacher (91).
Hamilton, who started in pole position after setting an electrifying track record to beat Vettel in qualifying, was going for a fifth straight victory in his home race and his sixth overall to beat the record of five he shares with Jim Clark and Prost.
But a poor start and disastrous first lap all but ended his hopes, despite Hamilton’s valiant fight back to finish second. “Just got wheel spin and lost ground to the others and then just got a tap from behind and that was that,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton’s aggressive start allowed Vettel and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to streak ahead. Then Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen bumped into the British driver at Turn 3, sending the Mercedes off the track and leaving him last.
“Interesting tactics, I would say, from their side,” Hamilton complained immediately afterward. Later he was quick to say it wasn’t an issue: “I don’t have any concerns.”
The British driver managed to fight his way back after a Mercedes-Ferrari duel developed with Bottas leading until Vettel hit the front again with five laps to go.
Vettel finished 2.264 seconds ahead of Hamilton. “It was a super start, a super race and, yeah, a hammer finish,” Vettel said.
Raikkonen, who completed the podium for Ferrari, was handed a 10-second penalty for the early incident involving Hamilton. “That’s how it goes sometimes. Not a straightforward race,” said the Finn, who said he deserved the punishment.
That was no comfort to Hamilton, who quickly worked his way through the back-runners as he posted the fastest lap times. Driving conditions were ideal under clear blue skies and temperatures well above the seasonal norms, though the heat made tyre management tricky for the teams.
Vettel pitted for new tyres while the safety car was out following Marcus Ericsson’s crash. The Sauber driver spun off across the gravel into the barriers at high speed. He was able to emerge unaided. Vettel was left stuck between the two Mercedes drivers as Bottas took the lead.
Hamilton expressed doubt about competing against Ferrari’s new tires but was told over team radio: “Lewis, you are the fastest car by miles. Don’t give up, mate. It’s all there.”
However, questions will again be asked about Mercedes’ tactics after deciding not to pit to replace the tyres. Mercedes’ errors cost both Hamilton and Bottas in the Austrian GP the week before when neither finished.
“It was very, very hard with our tyres, fighting against people with brand-new tyres for sure.
“And in a perfect world, I would have had new ones - but it wasn’t that kind of day for me,” Hamilton said.
The safety car was out again after Romain Grosjean and Carlos Sainz collided. Vettel finally pounced to take the lead on lap 47. Bottas then let Hamilton past to challenge the German. Bottas, still on medium tyres, was soon struggling, and Ferrari was celebrating when Raikkonen went past to go third.
Bottas finished fourth, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon. Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen was battling with Raikkonen but his race ended at lap 48.
Brendon Hartley’s miserable weekend continued as his Toro Rosso was wheeled back early. The New Zealander crashed spectacularly in Saturday’s final practice.
Sauber’s Charles Leclerc failed to finish for the first time due to a rear tyre issue, and Ericsson’s crash completed a race to forget for the team.
The Silverstone circuit was celebrating 70 years since the Royal Automobile Club held a Grand Prix on the former wartime airfield in 1948, when Luigi Villoresi led an Italian 1-2 for Maserati. Two years later, Silverstone held the first F1 world championship race, again dominated by Italian cars with Giuseppe Farina winning in an Alfa Romeo.
“This is the greatest race of the year and this is the greatest crowd and I’m sorry I couldn’t bring it home for you today,” Hamilton told his disappointed fans. “We take it on the chin and believe me, I will not give up. I will not give up.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff was just as determined. “That was an incredible race - thrilling right to the finish and full of drama,” he said. “Overall, though, we are left with the feeling of ‘what might have been’ after one of our cars was taken out for the second time in three races on lap one. In the past three weekends, we have lost points through our own mistakes and those of others - now we need to get our heads down, keep developing and put the performance to good use in the next 11 races. It’s all to play for.”
The next race is on July 22 at Hockenheim in Vettel’s home country … if ever Hamilton needed a reason to become an even bigger pain in the neck during the chase for the drivers’ championship.