Two safety car periods after heavy crashes for Marcus Ericsson in the Sauber and then a collision between Carlos Sainz (Renault) and Haas driver Romain Grosjean set up an exciting finale over the closing laps with all the four major contenders from Mercedes and Ferrari in with a chance of winning
But it was Vettel, on fresher tires after pitting during the first safety car period, taking the checkered flag ahead of Hamilton, with Kimi Raikkonen third on an excellent day for Ferrari, which stretches its narrow lead in the constructors’ championship to 20 points.
Finland’s Valtteri Bottas had high hopes of victory for Mercedes as he led following the safety cars, but he could not hold off the charging Vettel and eventually slipped back to fourth place.
Hamilton, who was at the back of the back of the field after a first-lap collision with Raikkonen, for which the Finn was penalized, limited his losses with a superb drive in front of his adoring home fans, but Vettel now has an eight-point lead.
It was his 51st career F1 victory and Ferrari’s first at Silverstone since 2009. “Obviously the safety car periods spiced it up, but I’m very happy,” said Vettel.
Hamilton, who made had poor start from pole to slip back to third before Raikkonen clipped him from behind, was in defiant mood and clearly still angered by the incident.
“We take it on the chin and will keep pushing hard,” he told Sky Sports.
“Interesting tactics I would say from their side, but we will do what we can to fight them,” he added pointedly.
Raikkonen, who was given a 10-second stop and go penalty, accepted his punishment. “It was my mistake so that was fine. That it how it goes.”
For the previous all-conquering Mercedes, it was the second disappointing weekend after the double-retirement in Austria, with questions asked once again about race tactics having opted to not pit either Bottas or Hamilton during the safety car period to get new soft compound tires.
Max Verstappen, victorious in Austria, suffered a late brake problem, his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo moving up to fifth.
After the punishing three races in three weekends, there is a two-week break for the next round in Germany as the championship moves into the second half of the season with still all to play for in the battle between Vettel and Hamilton.