Lewis Hamilton said his heart almost stopped after he won the British Grand Prix on three wheels following an extraordinary last-lap puncture.
Hamilton appeared on course to coast to his seventh victory at Silverstone on his seemingly unstoppable march towards a seventh world championship.
But halfway round his 52nd and final lap, Hamilton’s left-front tyre suddenly deflated at Woodcote corner. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, in second after Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas suffered an identical failure one lap previously, could sniff the most unlikely of victories.
Verstappen, who had just stopped for fresh tyres in a bid to gain a bonus point for setting the fastest lap – a decision which ultimately cost him the win – began his last lap more than half a minute behind Hamilton.
The world champion’s triumph looked in grave danger – but in a flurry of sparks he managed to navigate the remaining two miles of Northamptonshire asphalt to take the chequered flag 5.8 seconds ahead of Verstappen. Hamilton’s last lap was 28 seconds slower than Verstappen’s.
Aside from his championship-winning triumph at the final corner on the final lap of the final race of the year in 2008, this had to rank as Hamilton’s most dramatic finish.
“I had never experienced anything like that on the last lap,” said Hamilton, moments after stepping out of his wounded Mercedes.
“My heart almost stopped. Oh my God, I was just praying to get it round. I nearly didn’t do it, but thank God we did.”
The victory moved Hamilton 30 points clear of Bottas at the championship summit after his team-mate crossed the line in 11th following his puncture.
Thirty minutes after spraying the champagne on an 87th career win which left him just four short of Michael Schumacher’s all-time win record, it began to dawn on Hamilton how close he was to disaster.
“As the minutes go by I feel worse and worse when I think about what just happened,” he said. “In the heat of the moment the adrenaline is going.
“If the tyre gave up in a high-speed corner it would have been a much different picture so I feel incredibly grateful that it didn’t.
“It’s the fight for survival instinct which comes out and I was able to stay calm and really measured to bring the thing home. I heard Max was catching at crazy speed. He was 19 seconds behind at one point. I tried to pick up speed but the wheel was a mess.
“I was thinking how am I going to get through these last corners without losing too much time? But I got round Turn 15 and, once I got through the last two corners, I could hear the gap to Max counting down on the radio, seven, six, five seconds. I just managed to keep it together.”
Hamilton added: “I don’t think I’ve won a race on three wheels before. There was a race in Formula Renault at Croft when the rear suspension had two rear springs and one had snapped off and through the left-handers I had one wheel in the air.
“That was a race where I was in the lead and I managed to hang on to win. It was similar here but obviously today was more extreme and the cost was a lot higher.”
Two high-speed crashes aside – the first involving Kevin Magnussen after he tangled wheels with Alexander Albon at the final bend of the opening lap, and then Daniil Kvyat, who slammed into the wall at the 180mph Maggots corner – the race had been a turgid affair until the late tyre drama.
Indeed, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz also slid back through the field as he suffered a left-front puncture moments before Bottas and Hamilton.
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc took the flag in third ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo with Lando Norris fifth at his home event. Sebastian Vettel finished 10th following a torrid weekend for Ferrari’s four-time world champion.