Lewis Hamilton wins record 6th British GP, extends F1 lead

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain celebrates after winning the British Formula One Grand Prix at the Silverstone racetrack, Silverstone, England, Sunday, July 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
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SILVERSTONE, England (AP) — A day of dramatic English sporting glory began with a far more fortuitous — but still record-breaking — victory for Lewis Hamilton on the nation’s Formula One track.

A sixth British Grand Prix success was sealed not with a thrilling overtaking move but by a canny pit stop strategy paying off for the reigning world champion on Sunday at Silverstone.

By finishing 25 seconds ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton extended his championship lead over the Finn to 39 points and moved ahead of Jim Clark and Alain Prost to take the outright record for British GP victories.

Hours before England’s cricketers lifted the World Cup for the first time in London — sealed on a tiebreaker at Lord’s — Hamilton was part of far more familiar scenes in central England in front of a record Silverstone race crowd of 141,000.

And yet Hamilton — who is in a strong position to win the championship after 10 races — never tires of the crowd-surfacing and adulation of the Union Jack waving home crowd.

“I have done so many races and you would think I’d get used to it,” Hamilton said. “But this felt just as amazing as the first win I ever had here in 2008.”

While there is no doubting the affection the Silverstone crowd has for Britain’s greatest-ever racing driver, the five-time world champion was unexpectedly dragged into a discussion on his nationality after qualifying with a reporter asking Hamilton why “people question your Britishness.”

Hamilton dismissed any doubts over his patriotism and his first thought after sealing his 80th grand prix win was to slow down to collect a red, white and blue flag from a track-side safety marshal.

“This is the greatest single moment for an athlete, to raise their flag as the number one,” Hamilton said. “One day, I will have that picture of me in the car holding the British flag. I will always be able to look at that and smile about it for the rest of my life.”

Hamilton made the decisive move to the front in the 20th of the 52 laps by pitting to get new tires. With the safety car still out after Antonio Giovinazzi spun off in his Alfa Romeo, Hamilton rejoined to remain ahead of pole-sitter Bottas who had already pitted.

“We had a really good fight in the beginning,” Hamilton said. “I nearly got him going into turn seven, but he was next to me and I couldn’t really close the door.

“After that I backed off a little and waited for the pit stops, hoping that I could maybe overtake him in the pits. I extended my first stint for a few more laps, then the safety car came out and that was perfect timing for me as I came back out in front of Valtteri.”

Hamilton had initially attacked Bottas on the fourth lap, overtaking but failing to keep position.

“Effectively got a free stop and came out ahead of me,” Bottas said. “I was hoping that there might be another opportunity in the race, but I knew the chances were slim because I had to do another stop to change to a different compound anyway.

“The tire life was ultimately much better than we had thought, so a one-stop would have been possible, but our simulations before the race had predicted a two-stop to be the fastest option. I’m disappointed because the win was definitely possible for me.”

A Mercedes one-two was a marked improvement on the last race in Austria when Bottas finished third and Hamilton back in fifth in the team’s worst performance of the season.

“It was a tough battle,” team principal Toto Wolff said, “but there’s a lot of respect between the two of them and they always left each other enough space.”

Not so elsewhere on the track.

Charles Leclerc of Ferrari completed the podium after a crash in the fight for third saw Sebastian Vettel go into the back of Max Verstappen on lap 38.

By finishing 15th — including a 10-second penalty for the crash — four-time world champion Vettel now trails Hamilton by 100 points in fourth place in the standings.

“It was my mistake,” Vettel said. “He passed me and he ran a bit wide which gave me the chance to come back. I looked for a second he was going for the right and there would be a gap on the left … but it didn’t open and by that time it was already too late.”

Too late for Vettel to avoid crashing his Ferrari into the back of Verstappen, damaging the floor and diffuser of the Red Bull. Verstappen finished fifth.

“I’m not angry but disappointed as it was hard racing and Seb didn’t do it on purpose,” Verstappen said. “He also apologized as soon as I got out of the car which I respect. I think we put on a pretty good show for the fans today and proved the sport is far from boring.”