by F1 correspondent Michael Butterworth
BEIJING, July 19 (Xinhua) — Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton won a pulsating and controversial Formula 1 British Grand Prix, fighting back from a penalty for a first-lap tangle with Max Verstappen to take the lead from Charles Leclerc with two laps to go.
Starting first and second on the grid, the two title rivals immediately dueled for the lead before Hamilton’s left-front tyre snagged Verstappen’s right-rear as the two went through Copse corner, sending the Dutchman careening into the barriers at high speed and bringing out the red flag.
Emerging from his car unaided to sympathetic applause from many of the 140,000 fans in attendance, Verstappen was taken to hospital for precautionary checks.
With the race restarted on lap 4, the stewards decreed that Hamilton had been at fault for the collision and slapped him with a ten-second time penalty, meaning the Briton emerged after his pit stop on lap 28 down in fourth position.
Undeterred, Hamilton soon made his way past McLaren’s Lando Norris and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to hunt down Leclerc, who had led every lap since the restart with his Ferrari showing well at the Silverstone Circuit.
Though Hamilton had complained earlier in the race of the difficulty in following in the dirty air of the Ferrari, the Briton soon gained on Leclerc and took the lead at Copse on lap 50 of 52 to take a record-extending eighth British Grand Prix win.
Hamilton’s win comes at a good time for the Briton and for Mercedes, after Red Bull had won the previous five Grands Prix and Verstappen had started to take control of the drivers’ championship.
“It was such a physically difficult race,” said Hamilton, whose win cuts Verstappen’s championship lead to eight points. “Amazing effort from the team. I’ve been giving it my all, all week, back in the factory, trying to find performance. I always try to be very measured. Max, he’s very aggressive. Today I was fully alongside him and he didn’t give me any space. Regardless of whether I agree with the penalty, I just kept working.”
Behind Hamilton and Leclerc, Bottas rounded out the top three ahead of Norris, who might have been higher had a slow pit stop not blunted his challenge.
Norris’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo took fifth ahead of the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, who was another to suffer with a lengthy tyre change.
Fernando Alonso took a solid seventh in his Alpine, ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll. Alonso’s teammate Esteban Ocon and the AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda rounded out the top ten.
For the first time in F1 history, the grid order had not been set by a regular qualifying session, but by the results of a 17-lap “F1 Sprint” race on Saturday afternoon, which Verstappen won to take an extra three championship points, with Hamilton taking two for finishing second and Bottas one point for third.
By contrast, Verstappen’s teammate Perez was the big loser from F1’s first ever sprint qualifying, as he spun off and emerged in a lowly 18th place. Red Bull thus elected to retire the Mexican and instead start him from the pitlane for Sunday’s race, but Perez was unable to make significant headway and finished outside the points in 16th.
Despite not scoring on Sunday, Verstappen still leads the drivers’ championship with 185 points. Hamilton stays second but closes the gap to 177, and Norris moves up to third with 113 points.
In the constructors’ standings, Red Bull stay top despite a poor weekend with 289 points, but Mercedes are now only just behind on 285, with McLaren third on 163 points.
The 11th round of the 2021 Formula 1 season is the Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring on August 1.