A first win in Formula One is unforgettable and Carlos Sainz will doubtless relive his victory in a thrilling and dramatic British Grand Prix long into his dotage. Yet this was a race that will also live long for all who witnessed what will be classed as a classic of modern racing, hailed as “Formula One at its best” by Lewis Hamilton, who secured an immense, feisty third behind the Red Bull of Sergio Pérez in second.
After China’s Guanyu Zhou was fortunate to enjoy a remarkable escape from an enormous accident, where the halo cockpit protection device almost certainly saved his life, the record crowd of 142,000 at Silverstone were treated to an absolutely bravura climax as the top four went wheel to wheel in a no holds barred fight to the flag.
Ferrari’s Sainz came out on top only after a hard, unpredictable battle to seal his first win at his 150th meeting. He becomes, alongside Fernando Alonso, only the second Spaniard to win an F1 race.
Behind him Pérez secured an unlikely second having dropped to 16th at one point and Hamilton delivered one of his most determined performances to take third, equalling his best finish of the season. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was in fourth with Alpine’s Alonso in fifth. Championship leader Max Verstappen could manage only seventh after he took damage. He now leads Pérez by 34 points and Leclerc by 43 points in the title fight.
The old airfield with its fast, sweeping corners so beloved of drivers crucially allows them to race and this year they vied with one another with absolute abandon and there were periods when the race hung in the balance, the victor unknowable. A mighty fight ensued as Hamilton acknowledged.
“That was very reminiscent of the karting days, I feel that is Formula One at its best,” he said. “That we were able to follow and dice like that lap on lap is testament to the direction that we are now in. I was just grateful I was in the battle because I have not been in that fight for a while.”
The crowd roaring their approval, dared for a time even to dream that Hamilton might deliver a victory against all the odds. It was not to be but they could not be disappointed by his efforts, nor by the entertainment.
Before that, however, there was the salutary reminder of the risks these gladiators are taking in Zhou’s crash at turn one on the opening lap. The circuit fell silent as the race was stopped immediately and the slow process of extracting him from his wrecked car began. A collective exhalation of relief echoed round the stands when he was declared unhurt.
It had been a visceral moment. More were to follow. On the restart, which was frenetic, Sainz, who had originally been passed by Verstappen, was far bolder and aggressive, squeezing out the Dutchman, with the front six drivers going wheel to wheel across the opening lap. It set the tone but Pérez had to pit early for a new nose after taking damage in a clash with Leclerc, apparently relegating him to the minor places.
Verstappen stayed right with Sainz who was pressured into an unforced error on the exit of Chapel, going wide allowing the Dutchman through into the lead on lap 10. Another cruise to the flag surely loomed for the world champion.
However, the usual script had long been torn up. Verstappen slowed, believing he had a puncture, had to pit. He exited but reported he still had a problem and the team said he had lost rear bodywork and grip rather than a puncture and could not match the leaders’ pace.
Through the pit stops a fierce fight remained out front, Sainz from Leclerc from Hamilton and with Ferrari aware of the threat the Mercedes driver posed switched Leclerc and Sainz, with the Monegasque driver enjoying better balance and greater pace. Surely now Sainz’s chances too had gone?
Yet the final act remained unplayed. The safety car was then called when Esteban Ocon stopped on track and Sainz and Hamilton both pitted to take the soft tyre for a late charge. It was a vital moment with Ferrari opting to leave Leclerc out to maintain track position. It left him on used hard tyres for the closing laps, setting up a grandstand finish.
With 10 laps to go the sprint began, and Leclerc and Sainz went wheel to wheel with the Spaniard taking the lead into Brooklands, while Hamilton was passed by Pérez, who had seamlessly and almost unnoticed slipped through the field, as the pair vied furiously.
Pérez then attacked Leclerc and Hamilton brilliantly ducked up the inside of the pair of them on the final corner but could not hold the place as they came back at him at Village and he dropped once more to fourth. It was gripping stuff with an air of the ducking and diving, the fast and the furious of karting that was wholeheartedly embraced.
Pérez finally stuck a solid pass on Leclerc whose tyres could not compete and Hamilton looked to go next. The pair endured a thrilling toe-to-toe through corner after corner until Hamilton finally made it stick through Stowe.
“It was an epic final laps,” said Pérez. “Reminded me of the junior series when we are all racing and having a lot of fun.”
Epic and fun, he was spot on in describing what was without doubt the race of the year, one which will linger long in the memory.
Lando Norris was sixth for McLaren and Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen eighth and tenth for Haas. Sebastian Vettel was ninth for Aston Martin. – Guardian