SILVERSTONE, U.K. -- Sebastian Vettel won a thrilling British Grand Prix that featured overtaking for the lead, two high-speed accidents and a brilliant fightback drive from Lewis Hamilton to second place.
Although the result wasn't what the majority of the 130,000-strong crowd had hoped for, they were treated to an afternoon of first-class entertainment as their home hero finished on the podium despite being taken out in Turn 3 by Kimi Raikkonen and dropping to the back of the field. Hamilton achieved the result with the help of a strategy gamble around a Safety Car on lap 33, and in doing so limited the deficit to Vettel in the championship to just eight points after 10 races.
Raikkonen finished third after Valtteri Bottas, who had led the race following a second Safety Car period with 11 laps remaining, dropped to fourth on a set of heavily-worn tyres.
But as impressive as Hamilton was, the day belonged to Vettel, who took the lead from second on the grid at Turn 1 and then managed his gap to Bottas until the first Safety Car period. That caution period gave Bottas -- who had been running second throughout first stint -- the opportunity to remain out on track and take the lead when Vettel pitted, setting up a thrilling end to the grand prix when the race restarted.
Vettel was clearly quicker on his new soft tyres compared to Bottas' 12 lap-old mediums, but he was made to work for the win as the Mercedes went defensive on every approach to every overtaking opportunity. After two failed attempts on lap 42 and lap 44 at Brooklands, the Ferrari driver finally got the move done on lap 47 -- jinking to the right under braking to prevent Bottas blocking the inside line for the third time in a row. The win was Vettel's fourth of the year and strengthens his lead over Hamilton as F1 approaches the halfway point of the season.
How the race unfolded
Hamilton made a poor start from pole position and was swamped by Vettel and Bottas into the first and second corner. That left him defending from Raikkonen into Turn 3 for third place, and despite leaving space on the inside, the Ferrari driver locked up under braking and clipped the left rear corner of the Mercedes, turning it around. Neither car was badly damaged, but Hamilton dropped to the back of the field while Raikkonen slipped to fourth behind Max Verstappen. Hamilton later questioned Ferrari's "interesting tactics", suggesting Raikkonen may have collided with him on purpose to benefit teammate Vettel.
Although the stewards did not pass judgement on whether it was deliberate, they did find Raikkonen repsonsible for the incident and hit him with a 10-second penalty that he served at his first pit stop on lap 13. Hamilton, meanwhile, moved from 17th on lap two to sixth by lap 11 as he set a series of fastest laps despite damage to the floor of his car and traffic in front of him.
The Red Bulls, who were never serious contenders for victory, ran third and fourth early in the race before Verstappen pitted on lap 17 and Ricciardo followed on lap 18. Verstappen eventually retired with a mechanical issue on lap 46, while Ricciardo went on to finish fifth directly behind Bottas.
At the front of the field, Vettel pitted on lap 20 and regained the lead when Bottas pitted two laps later and slotted back into second. At this point Hamilton was up to third -- still running on the same set of tyres he started the race on -- and in an attempt to gain an advantage, Mercedes opted to keep him out on track until lap 25, therefore putting him on tyres five laps younger than Vettel and 12 laps younger than Raikkonen directly ahead of him. That late pit stop would prove pivitol for the strategy that unfolded under the two Safety Car periods later on and nearly swung the race in Mercedes' favour.
The first of the two Safety Car was caused by Marcus Ericsson flying off the track at Turn 1 as he kept his DRS open in pursuit of Sergio Perez. The lack of rear downforce saw his Sauber snap out of shape through the eighth-gear corner and hurtle towards the crash barrier where the nose buried deep into the tyres. Ericsson emerged from the car unharmed but a Safety Car was deployed soon after to clear up the remains of his car.
The caution period gave all of the top six drivers an opportunity to pit for fresh tyres, but Mercedes opted not to take it up. That moved Bottas from second to first and Hamilton from sixth to third, with Vettel splitting the two Mercedes when he emerged from his second pit stop on a new set of soft tyres. Racing resumed on lap 37 with Bottas retaining the lead on his older medium compound tyres, but by Copse corner Romain Grosjean and Carlos Sainz had come together while battling for 11th. Sainz was trying to pass Grosjean around the outside, but the Haas driver suffered a twitch of oversteer mid-corner and wiped both cars out. A second Safety Car was deployed to deal with the aftermath and the race neutralised again until lap 41.
Once again, Bottas kept Vettel at bay at the restart as Hamilton held third place over Verstappen. On the next lap, Vettel went on the attack on the run down to Brooklands, but Bottas's defence was equal to him and, firmly but fairly, he kept the Ferrari behind. Two laps later and Vettel had the DRS on the run into the same corner, forcing Bottas to defend to the inside and run deep into the corner. The Finn just about held Vettel off in the following corner at Luffield but it was clear that it would be a matter of when, and not if, the Ferrari found a way past.
The move for the lead finally came on lap 47 as Vettel again used DRS to get a run on the inside of Bottas towards Brooklands. This time he left his move to the left as late as possible, meaning Bottas would have risked a collision if he had attempted to defend again. The fantastic move was well received on the Ferrari pit wall, which radioed its congratulations to the cockpit of car 5 in the knowledge it was now a simple race to the flag.
Hamilton was soon on the back of Bottas and battling for second place with a fresher set medium tyres than his teammate. He also made a move stick at Brooklands on lap 48, but it was not without Bottas defending hard on the inside. By that point Bottas simply didn't have enough life left in his tyres and he soon dropped behind Raikkonen as well to finish fourth just ahead of Ricciardo.
With the lead secured and all four soft tyres on his Ferrari working well, Vettel had the luxury of lapping up the atmosphere and contemplating the result on the final few laps of the race. The Ferrari victory means three different teams have each won a third of F1's triple header this summer, and the championship remains finely poised going into the second half of the season at Hockenheim in two weeks' time.