SILVERSTONE, England (AP) — Rain soaked Silverstone and water then filled Lewis Hamilton’s eyes.
The world champion won on home soil for the third time on Sunday as the inclement weather provided the conditions for a thrilling British Grand Prix — a riposte to some of the complaints about Formula One being boring this season.
Hamilton overcame a bad start to hold off Nico Rosberg’s challenge in front of 140,000 fans for his fifth win of the season, extend his championship lead over his Mercedes teammate to 17 points.
“As I came round that last lap I was welling up seeing all those people on their feet,” Hamilton said.
It was a different feeling on the first lap, as Hamilton started from pole position but was overtaken on the first corner by McLaren pair Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.
“We had poor grip,” Hamilton said. “It made the race even more exciting for the fans.”
But Hamilton recovered and his late decision to switch to intermediate tires allowed him to beat Rosberg by almost 11 seconds.
The result may have been predictable, but Mercedes’ ninth straight 1-2 finish was anything but boring.
“It was exciting for me, the start made it exciting and the English weather helped,” said Hamilton, who became the first back-to-back Silverstone winner since David Coulthard 15 years ago. “It’s an indication for us not to throw our toys out of the pram and say everything is wrong.”
Sebastian Vettel, who remains third in the drivers’ standings, was also thankful for the late downpour. The Ferrari driver was able to battle his way up to third from as low as ninth.
“I had a really bad start — I nearly didn’t get off the line and lost positions,” the four-time world champion said. “We recovered through strategy, mostly by being very aggressive. … I’m sorry for the people that got wet, but the rain helped us today.”
The loser was the Williams team, which looked set for a third consecutive podium finish after the opening-lap drama when Massa stormed out in front from third. However, he was slowed down by the safety car, which came out after a first-lap incident when Fernando Alonso span into McLaren teammate Jenson Button, who was forced out of his home race.
Alonso was able to return to the race after repairing his front wing and went on to finish 10th and collect his first points of the season. Lotus duo Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado also collided and had to retire.
Having locked out the front row in qualifying, the Mercedes duo found themselves behind the Williams drivers, who were initially prevented by their team from racing each other.
“It would have nice to be able to race at that point when I had the best opportunities,” Bottas said. “I wasn’t allowed to overtake. Obviously then we were allowed to race but I never had that sort of opportunity again.”
And the race swung in Mercedes’ favor.
Massa and Rosberg went into the pits at the same time, then Bottas went in, and Hamilton forced his way back in front on lap 21 to roars from the crowd in a four-way fight for the lead.
Hamilton’s eight-second lead over Rosberg was cut in half, but the perfect timing of the Briton’s pit stop to switch to intermediate tires with eight laps to go allowed him to take the 38th career win with ease.
“As the one in front it was so hard to judge where to push and my front tires went so cold,” Hamilton said. “I think that’s the best pit call I’ve ever made to come in at that time. From there it was just bringing it home.”
Massa and Williams were left to reflect on a missed opportunity after a great start.
“It could even have been possible to win the race if it had stayed dry,” Massa said. “We waited one lap longer on the second stop which is where we lost the opportunity to be on the podium.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris