Championship leader Lewis Hamilton fought his way to victory in a thrilling, rain affected British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg filled out the front row of the grid, but both got bad starts allowing the Williams’ of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas through from the second row of the grid.

Massa leapt up to first, but Hamilton battled Bottas for second. The reigning champion got past, only for the race to be neutralised behind the safety car after a multi-car crash at Arena.

It appeared as though Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado had a big slide and over-corrected into teammate Romain Grosjean’s car. Fernando Alonso had a half-spin in avoidance, collecting fellow McLaren driver Jenson Button. The incident put all but Alonso out of the race.

Hamilton went with Massa at the restart but was too aggressive into Club, locking a front brake and running off the track. The mistake allowed Bottas through to second.

The Williams pair ran at the front throughout the early stages, Bottas initially denied permission to race Massa. When the team relented, his tyres didn’t have enough performance to set off in pursuit anyway.

Hamilton pitted first from the leading group, a move that would prove decisive. Lightning-fast in- and out-laps ensured he got the ‘undercut’ on the others when they made their stops and Hamilton emerged in the lead.

Massa and Rosberg stopped together and ran side-by-side towards the pit exit, but Massa had the inside line and squeaked through in front. Then Bottas managed to rejoin ahead of Rosberg after his stop, leaving the German stymied in fourth.

Then the rain came.

At first a light drizzle fell across the north end of the track, making conditions tricky but manageable on slicks. The rain abated briefly but came back heavier across the whole circuit.

As the track got wetter Hamilton came in for intermediate tyres. At the time it looked like he stopped too early, but within a minute he was proved right as the rain intensified.

It set off a flurry of activity in the pits; inevitably there would be loser and it turned out to be Williams. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel stopped earlier and undercut through to third – Rosberg had already got by Bottas.

The rain persisted until the flag – unsurprisingly stopping shortly after – Hamilton taking the win by 11 seconds from Rosberg. He now has three British Grand Prix wins on his record, matching Michael Schumacher, Niki Lauda and Jack Brabham. Jim Clark and Alain Prost hold the record on five.

Hamilton thanked the sell-out, 140,000-strong crowd, saying: “It’s been a very, very special weekend for me. I thought I’d seen it all last year but the fans have just been unbelievable. I could Never have imagined this level of support – this one is for them.

“The race obviously got off to a bad start,” he added. “But the guys did a great job with the first stop to turn it around. Then, when the rain came, it was really tough out there in a different way. As the one in front it was so hard to judge where to push and my front tyres went so cold.

“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.”

Vettel’s third place was unexpected in an uncompetitive race for Ferrari. Fourth and fifth for Massa and Bottas was small consolation in a race Williams could have won.

Daniil Kvyat was the lone surviving Red Bull in sixth, ahead of Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg who had run as high as fifth in the early laps. Kimi Raikkonen was eighth in the second Ferrari, followed by Sergio Perez. Alonso closed out the top ten, his first point of the season.

Hamilton’s advantage at the top of the Drivers’ Championship now stands at 17 points from Rosberg.

The next race is the Hungarian Grand Prix, at the Hungaroring on 26 July.

British Grand Prix results after 52 laps

  1. Lewis Hamilton — Mercedes — 1:31:27.729
  2. Nico Rosberg — Mercedes — +10.956
  3. Sebastian Vettel — Ferrari — +25.443
  4. Felipe Massa — Williams-Mercedes — +36.839
  5. Valtteri Bottas — Williams-Mercedes — +1:03.194
  6. Daniil Kvyat — Red Bull-Renault — +1:03.955
  7. Nico Hulkenberg — Force India-Mercedes — +1:18.744
  8. Kimi Raikkonen — Ferrari — +1 lap
  9. Sergio Perez — Force India-Mercedes — +1 lap
  10. Fernando Alonso — McLaren-Honda — +1 lap
  11. Marcus Ericsson — Sauber-Ferrari — +1 lap
  12. Roberto Merhi — Marussia-Ferrari — +3 laps
  13. Will Stevens — Marussia-Ferrari — +3 laps
  14. Carlos Sainz Jr. — Toro Rosso-Renault — DNF (power unit)
  15. Daniel Ricciardo — Red Bull-Renault — DNF (power unit)
  16. Max Verstappen — Toro Rosso-Renault — DNF (spin)
  17. Romain Grosjean — Lotus-Mercedes — DNF (crash)
  18. Pastor Maldonado — Lotus-MercedesĀ — DNF (crash)
  19. Jenson Button — McLaren-Honda — DNF (crash)
  20. Felipe Nasr — Sauber-Ferrari — DNS (gearbox)

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By Only Motors