77 career poles, 5 wins at Silverstone, including 4 back-to-back triumphs starting 2014, after clinching pole on Saturday, there was little doubt as to who’d seal another win at the British Grand Prix 2018.
When Mercedes’ hearts sank
Alas, all the excitement regarding Hamilton turned sour as on the outside of Turn 2, a stiff right-hander, Raikkonen, clipped the pole-sitter.
But Lewis spinning off and dropping down to the bottom of the grid wasn’t the only shocke Silverstone Grand Prix 2018 witnessed.
What amplified the woes of crestfallen fans was seeing Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, beginning second, jumping onto the lead within seconds of the race going green at Silverstone, Hamilton’s renowned hunting ground.
So sudden and unexpected was the change in tide that inside the first-half of the opening lap of the 2018 British Grand Prix, the fortunes of starting grid changed, exacerbating the predicament of the Silver Arrows.
But you couldn’t doubt the stellar move of German Sebastian Vettel, lunging ahead aggressively soon as the 5 red lights went off, Mercedes’ arch-rival up into the lead.
With Vettel clinching a vital, ultimately decisive race lead, Bottas following in second and, Raikkonen, having been passed by the Red Bull of Verstappen pursuing fourth, the pecking order underwent dramatic change at the front changed as did the race for Hamilton, originally, poised to win following a strong qualifying.
But by Lap 5, things appeared slightly better for Hamilton, who, despite enduring a broken front wing, promoted himself up into 14, passing the backmarkers- Ericsson, Hartley and others waning under the pressure of a fast Mercedes.
A race that was to be defined by tyre wear, Silverstone sweltering under excessive heat and burning track temperatures going up to 55 degrees, ultimately grappled with multiple Virtual Safety Car Deployments.
First of the pit stops came for Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari, punished for causing the unwanted opening-lap incident. By Lap 16, as the Finn dived into the pits for a change of compounds, he’d also serve a 10-second stop-go penalty for Lap 1 fiasco. At all this time, Vettel kept chipping away from Bottas and Verstappen, increasing the gap at the front by well over 2.5 seconds.
A minor twist in track position would come a few laps later.
On Lap 21, race-leader Vettel stormed into the pits, the control of the 52-lap contest would rest in the hands of Mercedes’ Bottas, maintaining strong pace and looking after his tyres well, a key component of excelling at Silverstone.
As Vettel came out of the pits, his stop excellently managed by Ferrari, the German driver would emerge ahead of Hamilton, who’d recovered excellently well, passing several cars, including the McLaren of Fernando, Renault of Hulkenberg, both the Williams showing imperious pace.
The situation would change again with Bottas pitting on Lap 22, which gave the lead back to the man who’d clinched it from Hamilton inside the opening lap- Sebastian Vettel. Dominant and strong at the front, Vettel wasn’t going to make a mockery of his chance and held on bravely for several few laps.
By Lap 23, Bottas was asked to make Hamilton go past, with Mercedes clearly gunning down their Ferrari rival.
However, Lewis hardly looked a match in front of Vettel’s domineering pace. Although, taking nothing away from the 2017 World Champion, his comeback from behind the grid and holding on to second then, was commendable.
Meanwhile, by Lap 24, a recovering Raikkonen was closing down his gap on fifth-placed Ricciardo, bringing the difference to under seven-tenths of a second. His tyres holding well, Raikkonen looked unwilling to concede his place.
At this time, further down the grid, McLaren’s Alonso and Haas’ Magnussen were embroiled in wheel-to-wheel racing, both cars going fast down at the Hanger straight, battling for ninth. Eventually, the Spaniard would jump ahead of a fighting Dane to clinch ninth, looking strong, having looked vapid throughout the qualifying.
A dramatic and ultimately, definite moment came in Lap 33.
Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson skiedded off the track, crashing onto the gravel, prompting deployment of the Virtual Safety Car. At this time, Ferrari made the crucial timely call making Vettel box with there being no overtaking on the grid.
He would be followed by his Ferrari teammate and Red Bull’s Verstappen
What became of the pecking order then? The race lead went once again to Valtteri Bottas, who’d lead from Vettel, Hamilton, who were ahead of Verstappen and Raikkonen.
The front pack of the grid opted for softer compounds, hoping to last till the end with under 19 laps to go.
Just when the racing had resumed, but only just around Lap 39, Silverstone unfurled another dramatic change
Suffering massive oversteer, unable to control his Haas, Romain Grosjean- at times, aptly titled “Crashjean” by the mocking clout at the Internet- came together with Sainz to bring back the safety car.
So what did this mean?
Another twist in the fate at Silverstone, what else?
With race resuming with just around 10 laps to go, the order at the front was dictated by Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, with Vettel following in second and an imperiously quick Hamilton following in third.
Raikkonen was in closing the gap to Verstappen, looking solid in fourth, the Ferrari driver sandwiched by the two Red Bulls, Ricciardo, holding well on sixth.
Then all of a sudden, Verstappen coming under increasing attack from Kimi, would be passed by the Finn, the ‘Iceman’ jumping ahead on fourth at Stowe.
Verstappen, struggling for grip would seem vulnerable from Ricciardo but somehow kept Ricciardo at bay.
When it seemed these might be the final track positions, Vettel produced a stunner
The battle for first up in the front went from being close to explosive.
As Ferrari’s Vettel dived into the inside of Bottas at the incredible Brooklands to produce what might be called the most definitive move all season (from Ferrari’s perspective), the race leadership fell back into the hands of the domineering German.
And henceforth, with only a handful of laps to go, Vettel wouldn’t relent.
Meanwhile, there was no dearth in action at the middle of the pack as a waning Bottas, clearly struggling with tyre wear came under increasing attack from his fellow Finn.
Time for another move? Yes, answered Kimi as he jumped into the outside of the Mercedes on Lap 49 to produce a powerful move up into third.
With just 2 more laps to go the equation was all clear
Hamilton had to go flat-out in his chase of a seemingly unstoppable Vettel. But on this occasion, it would be the Prancing Horse that would painty a silvery home at Silverstone all red, with ferocious pace and indomitable will.
There was action in the final lap at the middle of the grid as Alonso passed Magnussen again, clinching P8, with the Haas driver collecting a respectable P9. Trailing Bottas, P4, was Ricciardo, the only Red Bull to collect valuable points as Verstappen would suffer a mechanical DNF with under 2 laps to go.
In winning a spectacular Grand Prix amidst besotted but stunned fans, Vettel reigned supreme
He has not only brought up his 51st career win but stands tied with the Frenchman Alain Prost in terms of total race-wins. A priceless triumph for the Scuderia, followed by a dominant recovery by local favourite, Raikkonen, ever-consistent collecting his sixth podium (in ten races) completed the top three.
With the first of its kind tripleheader completed, Ferrari seems to be the clear winner with the stable not only standing on top of the Constructor’s rankings but Vettel holding the lead. The gap between the German and the Briton is now by 8 points, Sebastian soaring on the top with 171 points.