It looked to be a cool, calm textbook victory in store for Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s 2020 British Grand Prix – right up to the moment when the wheels almost literally came off the entire Mercedes campaign.
Hamilton led from lights to flag through two safety car periods and never looked under pressure, but on the penultimate lap his team mate Valtteri Bottas suffered a shock tyre failure which dropped him out of second place.
And a lap later, with just a few corners to go until the chequered flag, the same crisis his Hamilton. He was just able to hold on to claim his seventh win at Silverstone, a record for home wins for a Formula 1 driver.
- Hamilton clings on for victory amid last lap tyre drama
He confirmed afterwards that he had no advance warning that his tyres were about to fail. “Up until that last lap, everything was relatively smooth sailing,” he said. “The tyres felt great.
“Valtteri was really pushing incredibly hard. I was doing some management of that tyre and he looked like he wasn’t doing any.
“When I heard that his tyre went I was just looking at mine and everything seemed fine. The car was still turning. No problem. So, I was thinking maybe it’s okay.
“Those last few laps I started to back off and down the straight it deflated. I noticed the shape just shift a little bit.
“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.
“That was definitely a heart-in-the-mouth kind of feeling,” he admitted. “Ultimately maybe we should have stopped towards the end once we saw the delaminations.”
Once he was aware of the problem, Hamilton was anxious about the tyre breaking up and spraying rubber all over the track – and tearing apart the W11 bodywork in the process.
“Just driving it, trying to keep the speed up, because sometimes it will fly off and break the wing and all these different things,” he said. “Oh my God, I was just praying to try and get around and not be too slow.”
Going into the final lap with more than 30 seconds in hand over second-place Max Verstappen, Hamilton scrambled across the line with just over five seconds to spare over the Red Bull having been talked through the situation by his race engineer Peter Bonnington.
“I nearly didn’t get around the last two corners, but thank God we did,” he said. “In my mind I’m thinking ‘Okay, how far is it to the end of the lap?’
“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.
“But the car seemed to turn okay through Maggots and Becketts, thankfully. I got to 15 and that’s where it really was a bit of a struggle. I could hear the gap coming down from 19 to 10.
“I thought I would just give it full gas out of 15 down to 16, and then the thing wasn’t stopping.
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I got to the corner, a lot of understeer and I heard him go ‘nine, eight, seven…’ I was like, just get back on the power and try to get the thing to turn.
Despite all the late drama in what had looked to be a relatively routine albeit record-setting race, Hamilton insisted that he’d actually been quite relaxed in those final moments.
“You may or may not be surprised but I was really chilled for some reason at the end,” he said.
“I’ve definitely never experienced anything like that on the last lap. And my heart definitely probably nearly stopped.
“I think that’s probably how cool I was – because my heart nearly stopped!”
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