Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel passed the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas to win a British Grand Prix full of action as Lewis Hamilton fought up from the back of the field to take second.
Hamilton drove superbly to recover from a first-lap collision with Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, and the result hinged on two late-race safety cars, when world champion Hamilton’s Mercedes team took a strategic gamble.
Unlike rivals Ferrari and Red Bull, Mercedes chose not to pit both their drivers for fresh tyres at the first safety car intervention.
The decision promoted Bottas, who had run second from the start, to the lead ahead of Vettel, while it gained Hamilton two places on the track, propelling him to third ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Raikkonen.
It was a gamble that paid off for the Briton – winning him crucial points in his title fight with Vettel and limiting the damage that could have been caused after the first lap – but failed with Bottas, who ran out of tyres and was passed by Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen before the end of the race.
Hamilton is eight points behind German Vettel in the championship, which is as tight as ever as the season approaches its halfway point.
In front of more than 100,000 fans at a packed Silverstone and in glorious summer weather, Hamilton’s race went wrong from the start.
He had taken a superb pole position, just edging out Vettel and Raikkonen on Saturday, but had too much wheelspin off the line and immediately dropped behind Vettel and Bottas.
Coming into Turn Three, Hamilton was under pressure from Raikkonen. The Briton left the Finn a car’s width of room, but Raikkonen locked a front wheel and his front left wheel slid into Hamilton’s rear right, pitching the Mercedes into a spin.
The incident sent Hamilton to the back but he immediately set about picking off the backmarkers, benefiting from his car’s huge pace advantage and the three DRS overtaking zones.
By lap 10, Hamilton was up to sixth place, behind the other cars from the top three teams, and he and Mercedes were starting to think about strategy.
They delayed his first pit stop as long as possible, so he would have fresher tyres than his rivals in the closing stages.
That informed their decision as to what to do when the first safety car was called after Marcus Ericsson crashed at Abbey, the 180mph first corner.
Ferrari and Red Bull pitted their drivers but Mercedes left Bottas and Hamilton out, and the question was how the strategy would play out, with Vettel and Raikkonen on fresher ‘soft’ tyres pressurising the Mercedes on older ‘mediums’.
A second safety car immediately after the restart from the first, caused by Carlos Sainz’s Renault and Haas’ Romain Grosjean colliding while trying to go side by side through the 180mph Copse corner, played into Mercedes’ hands by reducing the wear on their tyres. But the gamble only half worked.
Bottas lost out but Hamilton had showed great pace before the safety car and after Vettel passed Bottas for the lead with five laps to go, Hamilton overtook his team-mate a lap later to move into second.
He was clearly upset after the race – ducking the interviews on the track and saying little in the green room before the podium.
Raikkonen, who had been given a 10-second penalty for causing the collision with Hamilton, accepted responsibility.
After being asked for his thoughts on the race while on the podium with Vettel and Raikkonen, Hamilton – while appearing to look towards the Ferrari drivers – said: “Interesting tactics I would say from this side, but we’ll do what we can to fight them and improve in next races.”