Lewis Hamilton claimed one of the most extraordinary victories of his Formula 1 career as he hobbled home with a punctured tyre to win the British Grand Prix.

Hamilton had kept Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas at bay throughout and looked on course to take what initially appeared like a routine victory at Silverstone having led every single lap.

But on Lap 50 the race exploded into life and set up a wild conclusion when Bottas suffered a dramatic front-left puncture while holding a comfortable second place and Red Bull pitted Max Verstappen in a successful bid to claim the fastest lap bonus point.

At this stage Hamilton was cruising with a 32-second lead over Verstappen until he suffered his own front-left tyre delamination exiting Luffield on the last lap of the race.

The six-times world champion still had half of the 5.891km Silverstone circuit – the second longest track on the F1 calendar – to navigate, with Verstappen bearing down on him with fresh tyres.

Remarkably, Hamilton was able to nurse his W11 to the finish by crawling home on just three fully-inflated wheels to seal his seventh British Grand Prix victory.

The relief from Hamilton as he crossed the line just 5.8s clear of Verstappen was evident, with the Briton stating: “Sh*t that was close.”

Speaking later when he addressed the media after the race, Hamilton summarised: “That was the most dramatic ending I ever remember having.

"That was definitely a heart-in-the-mouth kind of feeling, because I wasn't quite sure if it had gone down until I hit the brakes, and you could see the tyre was falling off the rim.

"Then just driving it, trying to keep the speed up, because sometimes it will fly off and break the wing and all these different things. Oh my God, I was just praying to try and get around and not be too slow.

"I nearly didn't get around the last two corners, but thank God we did. [I] really owe it to the team. I think ultimately maybe we should have stopped towards the end once we saw the delaminations."

Hamilton’s race engineer Pete Bonnington kept him updated on the gap to Verstappen throughout the final lap, and burst into celebration when his driver crossed the line.

Despite admitting that his “heart nearly stopped” amid the drama, Hamilton insisted he was trying to remain as cool, calm and collected as possible.

"You may or may not be surprised, but I was really chilled for some reason at the end," Hamilton said.

"Bono was giving me the the information of the gap. I think it was 30 seconds at one stage and it was coming down quite quickly, and in my mind I'm thinking 'OK, how far is it to the end of the lap?'

"The car seemed to turn okay through Maggots and Becketts, thankfully. I got to [Turn] 15 and that's where it really was a bit of a struggle, and I could hear the gap coming down from 19 to 10.

"So I thought I would just give it full gas out of 15 down to 16, and then the thing wasn't stopping. I got to the corner, a lot of understeer and I heard him go '9, 8, 7' - and I was like, just get back on the power and try to get the thing to turn.

"Oh my god. I've definitely never experienced anything like that on the last lap. And my heart definitely probably nearly stopped.”

The racing gods may have been shining down on Hamilton’s side, but it was yet another display that underlined his supreme abilities, with the Mercedes driver on course to match Michael Schumacher’s record of seven drivers’ world titles.

What might have been for Verstappen and Red Bull

It was a case of what might have been for Red Bull and Verstappen, who would have been well-positioned to snatch victory away from Hamilton had he not pitted three laps from the end.

After trailing Hamilton by less than six seconds, Verstappen opened his radio channel to say “f*** sake” as he realised he was just a few corners away from a potential first win of the season.

The Dutchman concluded he was both “lucky and unlucky” in taking second place in a race that Mercedes had ultimately dominated until the closing laps.

In hindsight, it looked as though Red Bull might have thrown away a golden chance to win, but team principal Christian Horner stressed there was “no guarantee” Verstappen would have made it to the end of the British Grand Prix without suffering a similar fate to the Mercedes duo without his stop.

"We were particularly concerned with Valtteri getting that puncture, because Max had reported big vibrations as well," Horner told Channel 4.

"So we elected to make the pitstop and the tyre that's actually come off the car, it's got a lot of cuts in it as well. So, it's no guarantee he [Verstappen] would have got to the end of the race.

"So, while it feels we missed out a bit with Lewis' luck at the end there, if we had have stayed out, there's no guarantee that we would have gone around the lap without picking up a puncture.

"So, I think we just have to be grateful for what we've benefited from Bottas, but [we] feel a little bit unlucky.

"Lewis' luck rolls with him at the moment, that we missed out on the victory. But, congratulations to them. They had a very dominant car today."

Huge implications for 2020 title fight  

With Hamilton limping home for victory and Bottas failing to score after he dropped down the order following his tyre problem, the Finn has fallen 30 points behind his teammate in the championship.

A zero score in finishing 11th behind Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari acts as a potentially devastating blow to Bottas’ hopes of claiming his maiden world title at such an early stage of the season.

For the third race weekend on the trot Bottas was left frustrated by his small deficit to Hamilton, which would have resulted in a third straight defeat even before the hurt of losing 25 points to his nearest rival in the title fight.

Bottas will need to bounce back quickly at next weekend’s second race at Silverstone if he is to avoid falling further adrift and ultimately watch his teammate romp to yet another world championship-crowning success.

Due to the unpredictable nature of a season that doesn’t even have a finalised calendar after being truncated by coronavirus, the title fight is by no means over, but the scale of the task Bottas faces in overcoming an in-from Hamilton has just got that much tougher.

“Of course it’s not ideal,” the Finn acknowledged, “But, if everything goes to the plan with the calendar there are going to be more than ten races, but we just don’t know.

“The best bet would be to be on top of the points all the time, so it’s a big loss of points. This kind thing we can’t really afford but, obviously, Lewis had a good race, but he also got away [with it], in a way.

“What can I do? What can I say? It’s not ideal but I can’t change what has happened, just got to move on and take the learnings and try again next weekend.

“I have to keep positive, because if I would now start thinking now that it’s done, then it would be done. I’m just not going to do that, I’ll keep pushing, keep believing, because you never know.”

 

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