Silverstone: Crowd-surfing to his heart’s content, Lewis Hamilton exuded a profound sense of happiness and vindication.
There have been four British Grand Prix since Formula One’s switch to the turbo-hybrid era and he has won all of them. After a week of finding his relationship with this country’s motorsport fans sternly questioned, due to his no-show at last week’s F1 jamboree in Trafalgar Square, the home hero concocted the perfect riposte, becoming just the third man after Jim Clark and Alain Prost to win this race five times.
He is lord of the Silverstone manor once more. Forget the fact that Hamilton indulged himself with a two-day blow-out in Mykonos before coming here.
From now on, for all that Mercedes care, he can slope off to Disneyland, the Maldives or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. So long as he keeps producing performances of this calibre, with a lights-to-flag victory to defy the chaos in his rear-view mirrors, he will have his team’s unconditional trust. “If you don’t know by now that my preparation is on point, then I guess you never will,” Hamilton said. “I’m going to keep enjoying my life the way I do, regardless of what people say.”
For all his dizzying feats, Hamilton is a fragile character, who needs to feel adored by his public. He has lamented how some of his life choices, such as living in Switzerland and Monaco since he was a teenager, have compromised the strength of his connection to Britain.
One would hardly have guessed as much at Silverstone, where he started his afternoon by throwing caps into the galleries and ended it borne aloft by a teeming throng of disciples.
He arrived for his press conference late, in a film of sweat from running to all the supporters massed behind the wire fencing. On this occasion, he could be forgiven the liberty.
“Growing up, watching this event, I would see the reception that legends like Nigel Mansell had from the fans,” he said. “For these past four years, I have been able to feel the same. It fuels my inspiration,” he said.
As it stands, Silverstone is scheduled to stage F1 just twice more, having activated a break clause to end its hosting of the race in 2019, but Hamilton in this mood would not hear of it.
“There is no way we can lose this Grand Prix. There’s just no way it’s going to happen.”
This felt, powerfully, like a pivotal moment in the championship. After reacting despondently to his failures to reach the podium in Azerbaijan and Austria, claiming that a 20-point gap to Sebastian Vettel would be difficult to bridge, Hamilton has closed the deficit to just one. Where he blazed his way through the Northamptonshire countryside, setting fastest laps for fun, his nemesis Vettel endured a vexing afternoon, first waging a dodgem-like duel with Max Verstappen and then suffering a shredding of his front-left tyre that dropped him to seventh.
With one race left before a four-week summer break, the title battle could not be more delicately poised.
How has Hamilton become unstoppable at Silverstone? “Because I own it,” he replied, with a mischievous grin.
That much is evident — nobody besides Clark, killed at Hockenheim in 1968 at the age of 32 — has prevailed here four times in a row.
At a circuit where the corners are named after local points of interest, such as Cheese Copse and the remains of Luffield Abbey, the British Racing Drivers’ Club should rechristen the back straight in his honour.
At the very least, they ought to let him have a replica of the traditional gold trophy for his collection.
“I have wanted a copy for a long time,” he said. “It’s beautiful. I’m proud to see the Hamilton name engraved upon it, and that it will be there long after me.”
Few in F1 wish to countenance the prospect of Hamilton going anywhere just yet. The maxim is that no man can be bigger than his sport, but try telling that to the masses who cheered every lap of his latest masterclass. As Hamilton jinked through the complex of Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel for the 51st and last time, the roar could have been heard halfway to Milton Keynes.
“The people were on their feet, egging me on,” he said as he toasted a Mercedes one-two with Valtteri Bottas. “You don’t see that anywhere else in the world.”
He is, as Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff likes to say, the sport’s one bona fide “rock star”.
Streaking away from pole, Hamilton did not skip a beat. Wolff reflected that the criticism of his antics in the Greek islands had simply made him “stronger”.
For his pursuers, he was little more than a vanishing point on the horizon as they conducted their own dramatic skirmishes.
Daniil Kvyat took out Carlos Sainz Jnr, his Toro Rosso teammate, while Vettel, whose brakes were seen smoking on the grid, fell behind Verstappen and tried with such ferocity to overtake that at one stage both cars veered off track.
Tired of tussling, he dived into the pits early, completing a wonderful out-lap on fresh rubber that vaulted him past the young Dutchman. Ferrari appeared to have salvaged what they could from an awkward weekend, but calamity struck in the closing laps.
First Kimi Raikkonen suffered a sudden delamination of his front left tyre, forcing an emergency pit-stop, before Vettel reported a puncture on the corresponding tyre. While Hamilton took the flag and bathed in the applause, the German was hard-pushed merely to complete the Grand Prix.
Theirs is a fight to last the course, a straight contest to decide the pre-eminent driver of this generation. On his favourite stage, Hamilton could hardly have staked a more compelling claim to that honour.
— The Telegraph Group Ltd, London 2017