Lewis Hamilton took an extraordinary victory in a dramatic finish to the British Grand Prix despite suffering a puncture on the last lap.
The Mercedes driver’s left-front tyre failed halfway around the last lap but he held on in front of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Verstappen would have won had he not stopped late for fresh tyres in a successful quest for the point for fastest lap.
Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas also punctured, two laps earlier, which dropped him out of the points.
The Finn finished 11th and dropped to 30 points behind Hamilton in the title race, a potentially devastating blow to his hopes so early in a season truncated by the coronavirus.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was a third driver to suffer a left-front puncture, his like Hamilton’s on the last lap, and he dropped from fourth place to 13th.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was promoted from fourth to the final podium spot by the late drama.
Late drama leads to seismic moment
It was a remarkable finish to a race that had been soporific until that point, and Hamilton recognised that afterwards, saying over the radio, his voice drenched in relief: “That was close.”
The Mercedes drivers had been nursing their tyres after making an earlier than expected pit stop because of the second of two safety cars.
They stopped to change from medium to hard tyres on lap 13, very early to make it to the end of the race on one set of hard tyres.
They were clearly managing their pace from then on, but despite that dark rings appeared on their tyres as the race moved into the closing stages.
But there was no real sign of the drama to come until Bottas’ left front tyre deflated shortly after starting lap 50, with two to go.
The Finn limped around almost an entire lap and was too far back to get into the points.
Hamilton looked then to be cruising to the flag, until he too suffered a puncture, this time heading down the back straight towards Brooklands. Then it was a question of whether he could get around the remainder of the lap – more than half of it – before Verstappen caught him.
Hamilton said: “Up until the last lap, everything was relatively smooth sailing.
“The tyres felt great. Valtteri was really pushing incredibly hard and I was doing some management of that tyre and he looked like he wasn’t doing any.
“When (his) tyre went, everything seemed fine, so I was thinking maybe it was OK. And then just down the straight it deflated.
“I noticed the shape of the tyre shifting, and that was heart in the mouth and I didn’t know if it had gone down until I braked.
“Then just driving it – sometimes it will come off and break the wing. I nearly didn’t get round the last two corners. Maybe we should have stopped towards the end when we saw the delaminations (on the other cars).”
Hamilton said his engineer Peter Bonnington was counting down the gap to Verstappen over the radio as he neared the flag.
“The car seemed to turn OK through Maggotts and Becketts,” Hamilton said, “and then it was a real struggle in the last two corners. I could hear the gap coming down from 19 to 10. I could hear out of the last corner him going: “Nine, eight, seven,” and I was just like: ‘Get back on the gas.'”
It was a dramatic finish to a race that could well have an equally substantial impact on the championship fight.
A frenetic midfield battle
Following Sainz’s late puncture, Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo came out on top in a close midfield battle, passing the other McLaren of Lando Norris late in the race, while the Australian’s team-mate Esteban Ocon took sixth.
Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly drove a strong race to seventh, including a brave pass on Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel around the outside of Stowe and then taking the inside for the tight left-hander at Vale that follows.
And Red Bull’s Alexander Albon recovered to eighth after being penalised – harshly in some eyes – for a collision with Haas driver Kevin Magnussen at Club on the first lap, an incident that brought out the first of two safety cars.
Albon seemed to legitimately go for an opportunity created by the Dane’s error in clipping the kerb on the exit of Vale and was almost completely alongside the Haas, before backing out to try to avoid a collision when he realised Magnussen was coming across, the cars hitting front wheel to rear.
Albon was at the back when Red Bull pitted him for fresh tyres after the safety car period had ended. But he stuck with it, and a second stop for tyres later in the race dropped him to last but enabled him to attack in the closing laps.
The second safety car was triggered on lap 12 by a heavy crash for Gasly’s team-mate Daniil Kvyat, who was making a switch change on his wheel when he clipped a kerb at flat-out Maggotts and smashed into the wall at high speed.
Williams’ George Russell took 12th, ahead of Sainz, the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi, Russell’s team-mate Nicholas Latifi, Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who is under investigation for dangerous defensive driving while defending, and the second Alfa of a struggling Kimi Raikkonen.
Driver of the day
What happens next?
Another race in Britain, this time F1’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix next weekend. Can Hamilton make it two wins in a row at home – and four on the trot in the season?
What they said
Lewis Hamilton: “Up until that last lap everything was relatively smooth sailing. Valtteri was really pushing incredibly hard, I was doing some management of the tyre. When I heard his went I looked at mine and it seemed fine. I have definitely never experienced anything like that on the last lap and my heart definitely nearly stopped.”
Max Verstappen: “It was lucky and unlucky. The Mercedes were too quick. The tyres didn’t look great with 10 laps to go, they didn’t look pretty. I told my engineer to drink and to stay hydrated! It was pretty lonely; I was just managing my pace and looking after the tyres.”
Charles Leclerc: “It was a very tricky race. As soon as I heard Valtteri had a tyre problem I slowed down quite a lot. Looking at us we have done the best we could have done today. I am very happy with how I managed the tyres from beginning to the end and I am happy with the balance of the car.”