For around one-fifth of round nine of the 2015 World Championship we had the thrilling prospect of a race on our hands.
A blistering start by Felipe Massa saw the Brazilian veteran claim the lead from the second row. Better yet, his Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas also fought his way through to make it a 1-2 for Sir Frank’s very British team as the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg gave chase.
And then two more very British things happened.
Firstly, Williams were struck by a fit of conservatism. As Bottas threatened to overtake Massa and disappear into the distance, the message came from his team: “No racing your teammate at this stage, let’s work together and pull away from the Mercedes.”
Moments later the message had changed: “It must be a clean move and you must pull away at once.” The disgruntled Finn growled back: “It’s too late now…”
Unable to eke out a substantial gap, especially on pole-sitter Hamilton, Massa and Bottas fell back into the Silver Arrows’ clutches. A brilliant Mercedes pit stop of 2.4 seconds on lap 20 forced Williams to bring Massa in to cover the Briton off. As he, Rosberg and then Bottas all pitted, Hamilton swept through to assume the lead. His third British Grand Prix victory was in the bag.
The other British factor? The weather: late-race rain might have upset the Mercedes apple-cart as well. Instead it underlined the superiority of their chassis as a sure-footed Rosberg in particular made the Williams duo, especially Bottas, look tentative.
Another brilliant stop – this one for its timing on lap 43 rather than its sheer speed – put Hamilton on Pirelli’s intermediate tyres just when he needed them most. With Rosberg forced to pit as well, Hamilton’s fifth win of 2015 and his 38th in F1 was secure.
“I think that's the best pit call I've ever made to come in at that time,” said Hamilton. “From there it was just bringing it home. I have to admit, as I came round that last lap I was welling up seeing all those people on their feet.” He now enjoys a 17-point lead over Rosberg as the halfway point of the season looms.
For Williams the news kept getting worse. Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari pitted on the same lap as Hamilton, catapulting the German into third place as Massa and Bottas, once with a 1-2 win in their sights, came home fourth and fifth respectively.
“We have to remain positive and proud of our result,” insisted the team’s Head of Performance Engineering Rob Smedley. “The pace we showed throughout this weekend was great, we had a stunning race up until the rain came. We raced two cars against both Mercedes for a majority of the race which shows the hard work and upgrades we are bringing to the car are all working.” And yet, after his 13th attempt at the British GP Massa has yet to stand on the Silverstone podium…
Instead we saw the ninth consecutive two-car podium finish for Mercedes, equalling Ferrari’s record from 1953, while Hamilton eclipsed another of the longest-standing records in F1 history: this was the 18th consecutive Grand Prix he had led, taking that 45-year landmark out of the hands of Sir Jackie Stewart.
In the lower placings Daniil Kvyat continued his current dominance over Red Bull Renault teammate Daniel Ricciardo, the young Russian finishing sixth as the Australian was forced into retirement with another engine-related issue.
Nico Hülkenberg found upgrades to his Force India Mercedes to his liking and finished seventh, two places ahead of teammate Sergio Perez, with the second Ferrari of a struggling Kimi Raïkkönen sandwiched between them.
And the final World Championship point? Amazingly enough, it went to Fernando Alonso in the McLaren-Honda. Involved in a first-lap fiasco that sidelined his teammate Jenson Button, two-time Silverstone winner Alonso negotiated the other 51 laps safely to record his first score of a dismal season.
“We all know this is a long-term project, and there are no magic solutions, but to get a decent result, and to put some points on the table, is always important,” said Alonso. Now only the two Manor drivers, Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi, have still to open their accounts.