British Grand Prix a win-win for Lewis Hamilton & Formula 1

Hamilton won the British F1

All season the talk has been of Formula 1 being faced with some sort of existential crisis, but the sport put on its best face for a thrill-a-minute British Grand Prix in front of the biggest Silverstone crowd for more than 20 years.

Lewis Hamilton's superb victory, the climax of an afternoon of action and drama enlivened by a late downpour, showcased all that is good about F1, and 140,000 fans were treated to what was undoubtedly the race of the year so far.

A race desperately needed

It was a race that, to be fair, F1 needed. The 2015 world championship had crackled a little over its previous eight events, but there had not been a moment when it had really caught fire. Not until now, anyway.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton's 38th career victory was undoubtedly one of his best but for it to end up that way, rather than the routine cruise it had looked like being, it needed something unusual to happen. The electric starts of both Williams drivers provided it.

Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas got off the line "like missiles," as Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff put it afterwards, Massa blasting past Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg as if they were not there, and Bottas passing the German as well.

Briefly, it looked as if Bottas would get Hamilton, too, but the world champion's racing instincts got him back into second place after Bottas left the door open at Turn Four.

Hamilton lost the place anyway, though, when after a safety-car period to clear up the mess left by a first-lap pile-up, he just failed to pass Massa on the re-start, ran a little wide and Bottas sneaked by.

Biding your time

In the car, Hamilton was unperturbed. "I was just chilled," he said afterwards. "I was more concerned about losing position to Nico. I was nearly there, I nearly had it, it was just a bit too much."

Hamilton bided his time, knowing he had the pace to re-take the lead, as he duly did at the first pit stops thanks to an in-lap that Williams technical boss Pat Symonds described as "stunning", and an equally good first lap out of the pits.

Lewis Hamilton pit-stop
His decision to change tyres when he did gave him the edge over the Williams pair of Massa and Bottas

At that stage, the race looked won, but that was counting without the rain. Had Hamilton mistimed his pit stop for wet-weather tyres, he could still have lost out to Rosberg. But he made the call - and it was his alone - perfectly, just as the rain was about to come down properly.

It was a victory that showcased all the qualities that Hamilton has displayed this season, during which he seems to have stepped up to another level.

Relaxed Hamilton

Hamilton might have won his second title last year, but he stumbled along the way, and it was at this stage of the season that he did so.

Pits and giggles

But actually achieving a goal he had been trying to fulfil for six frustrating years since his first crown seems to have helped calm him down, boosted his self-belief and allowed him to relax into his ability.

Last year, Hamilton was thrown off course a few times when things did not go his way. This year, he has proved time and again his ability to come back even when the odds seem stacked against him.

This weekend was a case in point. Hamilton had been out of sorts in Friday practice, lagging well behind Rosberg on both single lap pace and over a long race-simulation run.

But the team found a problem with the ride-height on Hamilton's car overnight and he was in much better shape on Saturday, which culminated in his eighth pole position in nine races.

British GP reaction
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"He was very open about that on Friday," Wolff said, "that he was lost on his set-up and Nico was the quicker guy.

"But we have seen it in previous weekends that there is one lap that matters and that is the qualifying lap and you have to get it right. There are tiny margins between the two. And if you start in front and manage your start well that is 80% of the job done."

In this case, as it turned out, the job was nowhere near 80% done, but Hamilton kept his cool in the race, despite losing that place to Bottas, and pulled it off.

Austria a turning point?

At this point, it is worth rewinding the clock two weeks to Austria. There is no doubt Rosberg had a pace advantage over Hamilton there, but equally there was no doubt that the race turned on the start.

Hamilton, starting from pole, was not as fast off the line as his team-mate, lost the lead and from then on had it all to do.

At the time, it looked like a mistake by Hamilton, but in fact it was anything but. He was slightly late in dropping his clutch but that was because he was managing a very tricky problem.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton has seemingly put the disappointment of Austria behind him

There was a fault with his engine, which was not responding to his foot on the throttle. It meant Hamilton had to guess the correct position to hold the throttle for the start, and hope for the best. Incredibly, he got it almost right.

The problem recurred with Rosberg in the car at the subsequent test. "We actually found Lewis had done an incredible job to manage it as well as he did," Mercedes executive director (technical) Paddy Lowe said. "Things could have been a lot worse. Nico actually stalled it."

Although Mercedes say Rosberg did so with full knowledge of the problem that had afflicted Hamilton, and chose to do something different to see what would happen, the Briton's actions in the heat of the moment in that race demonstrated his remarkable feel for the capabilities of a grand prix car in changing circumstances.

It is an ability that comes to the fore on that crucial final lap in qualifying, especially in the sort of gusting winds that were blowing at Silverstone on Saturday. Or, as was the case on Sunday, in racing situations, or when it rains mid-race.

Battle for the title still alive?

Winning the British Grand Prix extends his lead over Rosberg to 17 points, a margin which does not properly express the dominance Hamilton has displayed through 2015 so far.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton has increased his lead over Rosberg to 17 points with ten races of the season remaining

Had not a dominant victory in Monaco turned into third place following a team strategy mistake - in which Hamilton was not completely blameless, to be fair - his advantage would be 34 points clear, a much fairer measure of his superiority.

The title battle is still very much alive between the two Mercedes drivers, but Rosberg faces an incredibly difficult task over the next 10 races against a great talent who, on a holistic level, is driving better than ever before.

British GP results