Lewis Hamilton took his record-breaking sixth British Grand Prix at Silverstone, defeating Valtteri Bottas for his 8oth Grand Prix career victory. However, the 2019 British Grand Prix will be remembered perhaps more for the Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen Show – one of the best wheel-to-wheel battles in Formula 1’s recent history.
As the cars lined up for the start, Silverstone’s new reputation as a Grand Prix “snore-fest” looked in danger as the first three qualifiers – mere tenths of a second separated Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc.
Further, Leclerc was on the soft compound, with Bottas and Hamilton on mediums. The Scuderia was more competitive on the softer compounds in Austria compared to Mercedes and Red Bull, and that fact led them to use the same approach at Silverstone. Leclerc was already quickest in Saturday’s Q2 on the medium tyre when he went back out and improved on the softs, so it was a strategic choice from Ferrari.
By the chequered flag two hours later, the 70th British Grand Prix had transported the 142,000 spectators back to the F1 heritage days of the 60s, 70s and 80s with a race packed with stirring displays of race craft, determination and grit long missed during the current Formula 1 era.
The only spoiler was that Hamilton’s victory came when leader Valtteri Bottas was forced to break his race plan and stop for tyres during the Safety Car period on Lap 19. He was never able to recover his lead and finished almost 25-seconds behind the Brit. Charles Leclerc finished a spirited third after duelling with a highly incentivised Max Verstappen.
At lights out, pole sitter Bottas grabbed the lead, with Hamilton glued to his gearbox. When their tyres were warmed, they went wheel-to-wheel for the lead on Lap 4, with Hamilton edging out Bottas at Luffield, but the Finn would have nothing of it, immediately slicing across Hamilton’s nose to reclaim the lead at Copse.
Hamilton thus warned, the two Mercedes men then carried on with their fierce, but gentlemanly duel that looked to be a race-long fight until Lap 19 when the FIA deployed the Safety Car so course marshals could recover Antonio Giovinazzi’s beached Alfa Romeo from the gravel.
At that point, Bottas had already stopped for tyres while Hamilton was on the brink of coming into the pits after running a longer first stint to enable just one tyre stop – that decision proved to be the turning point of the Grand Prix.
Track position allowed Hamilton to respond to the situation instantly, diving in for his mandatory second tyre compound, as the field had reduced speed – Hamilton mostly stopped for “free.”
Meanwhile, race leader Bottas had planned on a two-stop race. He was now forced to pit for his mandatory second tyre compound after Hamilton’s stop, allowing the Brit the advantage of track position.
While Bottas sat still for tyres, his lead evaporated, handing the eventual comfortable victory to Hamilton.
With this plot played out behind them, the remainder of the field was in the midst of frenzied fights that recalled the heritage days of F1.
At the head of the pack were Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, delivering their best Gilles Villeneuve – Rene Arnoux redux. Two weeks’ ago, the pair clashed while battling for the lead at the Austrian Grand Prix, and now they were at it again.
Leclerc held third place early on but had to withstand enormous pressure from Verstappen.
Leclerc quickly demonstrated he had learned a career-forward lesson after Verstappen punted him out of the way in Austria – and now on this Sunday in the English countryside, he would be the unmovable force and “give as given”. Leclerc took command of the pace of the fight with Verstappen lap-after-lap with some superb defensive moves as the duo went wheel-to-wheel.
His defence lasted until his pitstop at which time Verstappen managed to jump him leaving the pitlane after they both stopped for tyres.
Leclerc would have none of it, quickly retaking the position when Verstappen ran wide at the Loop immediately after exiting the pits.
However, Ferrari decided to not bring Leclerc in with the safety car. Red Bull, on the other hand, reacted quicker and stopped Verstappen – he rejoined fifth – behind Vettel and the sister Red Bull of Gasly, who pitted earlier and stuck to a one-stop. Ferrari stopped Leclerc a lap later, dropping him to sixth, but when the race resumed, he attacked Verstappen immediately.
Their wheel-to-wheel fight recommenced and peaked when Leclerc attacked from the outside into the final complex of corners just before mid-distance.
They bumped wheels slightly when Leclerc had the inside for the right-handed last turn, and Verstappen took to the run-off on the outside, keeping the position as he rejoined through the final corner.
Amazingly, the action mirrored the same final pass in Austria with both opponents in a reversed position.
Leclerc’s challenge faded after that un-penalised incident, while Verstappen passed Gasly for fourth and then caught and attacked Vettel for third.
Verstappen attacked Vettel’s Ferrari on the outside at Stowe on Lap 37 but ran slightly wide allowing Vettel to close up on his tail thanks to the slipstream on the short run down to Vale.
Vettel ended so close to Verstappen’s rear he lost downforce, locked up and slammed into the back of the Dutchman’s car, airmailing Max and his Red Bull over curbing and into the gravel with Vettel ending up facing the wrong way with his rear wheels in the gravel.
Both rejoined, but Verstappen dropped back to fifth – and Vettel fell to the back of the pack.
Pierre Gasly drove a solid race to fourth place, beating Verstappen on track for the first time this season.
Behind Gasly, Carlos Sainz Jr took sixth for McLaren, holding off Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault in the punishing best-of-the-rest fight. Kimi Raikkonen executed a one-stop strategy to finish eighth, while Daniil Kvyat’s well-timed safety car pitstop allowed him to charge to ninth.
Nico Hulkenberg completed the point scorers in 10th.