SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton’s superb fight back from last to second in Sunday’s British Grand Prix cannot mask the fact that Ferrari landed a telling blow on Mercedes and their Formula One champion.
This was a race that, on paper, had Hamilton’s name written all over it and should have sent the Briton back to the top of the standings.
Instead, the Mercedes driver slipped eight points behind Sebastian Vettel, with the real possibility that his German rival will be leading into the August break, with all the bragging rights that entails.
Second place, after a first lap collision and spin, was great damage limitation and a fine drive by Hamilton. But Mercedes have been letting too many bankable points slip through their fingers.
The fact that Hamilton is only eight points adrift after 10 races is remarkable considering that Mercedes have only won three times so far in 2018.
Races have been lost through mechanical misfortune, strategy blunders, racing incidents or the simple fact that rivals have come up with a better car for a particular circuit.
Mercedes have won every championship since the start of the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014, but their grip has been prised open this season.
After 10 races in 2017, Mercedes had won six. In 2016, 2015 and 2014 the tallies were respectively nine, eight and nine wins at the same stage.
No wonder, then, that Vettel was so elated on Sunday afternoon at a circuit that had seen Hamilton win for the previous four years and Mercedes for the last five.
The German is picking up crucial points, like a winning electoral candidate collects votes in marginal seats or states, in places that would previously have been considered solidly Mercedes.
“Qui a casa loro (here in their home),” he exclaimed over the radio after the chequered flag as Ferrari hailed their ‘lion’.
“We are leaving with the British flag to hang in Maranello,” he added.
Vettel also triumphed in Canada, a race Hamilton had won for the previous three years and six times in total, while Mercedes’ hopes of a fifth successive Austrian Grand Prix win ended with mechanical failures to both cars.
Sunday’s victory was Vettel’s fourth of the campaign, one more than Hamilton, and another in Germany next week would equal in half a season what Ferrari managed in all of 2017 — which was already the team’s best since 2010.
Even if the lead has changed hands three times already, Ferrari — now also 20 points clear of Mercedes in the constructors’ standings — are looking more and more like favourites.
They appear to have made a step forward with their engine, something also evident from the improvement at customer teams Sauber and Haas, since an upgrade was introduced in Canada in June.
As Vettel said on Sunday, Ferrari are coming on strong against Mercedes and now able “to take their magic away and have a fight on an equal level.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Hugh Lawson