HOCKENHEIM, Germany (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton raced from 14th to first to seize a “miracle” German Grand Prix victory in a Mercedes one-two on Sunday and retake the Formula One championship lead from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who crashed.
Vettel, now 17 points behind the Briton after starting eight ahead, led his home race from pole position until rain caused chaos in the closing laps, with the German sliding off and into the barriers.
Hamilton, the reigning world champion, took the chequered flag for a record-equalling fourth German Grand Prix win, ahead of his Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
“I’ve never had a race like this,” said the four-times champion, who was summoned to stewards after the race for a pitlane infringement but escaped with a reprimand and the victory intact.
“Today I feel like I drove the best that I can remember driving. I didn’t make any mistakes.”
It was the 66th win of his F1 career, and Mercedes’ 80th, and minutes after the finish, the skies opened with an array of thunder and lightning and a torrential downpour that would have stopped any race.
“Miracles do happen, mate,” Hamilton’s race engineer Pete Bonnington told him over the radio after a slow-burner that turned into one of the great comebacks of the Briton’s already stellar career.
Hamilton, who threw himself across the pitlane wall into the arms of his mechanics and also got a bear-hug from delighted Mercedes-Benz boss Dieter Zetsche, seemed about as stunned as anyone.
“I really feel that the rain has come down and just washed away any negativity and its a glorious day,” Hamilton said, his voice wobbling. “It couldn’t have been a better day for me and one that I will always remember.”
Beaten by Vettel in his home British Grand Prix at Silverstone two weeks ago, where he went from pole to the back of the field and up to second, he had turned the tables completely.
“Love conquers all,” declared Hamilton, who had reacted defiantly on Instagram to the booing and hostility from a partisan crowd after his car broke down in Saturday’s qualifying.
“It’s obviously very, very difficult from that position and highly unlikely but you’ve always got to believe,” added the four-times champion, who said a long prayer before the race started.
“I really manifested my dream today.”
For Vettel, it was simply a nightmare — the chance to make big gains slipping through his hands in an instant. He now has 171 points to Hamilton’s 188.
He pummeled the steering wheel angrily after the car crumpled against the tyre wall, the lap 52 incident bringing out the safety car.
“I had it in my hands — small mistake, big disappointment,” said the German.
“It was just one of those moments. It was my mistake so apologies to the team. They did everything right.”
Hamilton, who was already up to fifth after 14 laps, had made his first set of soft tyres last for 42 laps but pitted before the rain came and went to ultrasofts.
He still had to defend from an attacking Bottas, with the two going wheel to wheel when the safety car came in before they received orders to hold position. It was the Finn’s fifth second place in 11 races.
Ferrari had also earlier applied team orders of their own, telling Raikkonen to move over for Vettel when the German found himself behind the Finn after the pitstops.
Max Verstappen was fourth for Red Bull, but his Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo retired with an engine failure after rising from the back of the field to sixth.
German driver Nico Hulkenberg was fifth for Renault, with Romain Grosjean sixth for Haas ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez and Frenchman Esteban Ocon for Force India in seventh and eighth positions.
Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson put Sauber in the points with ninth and New Zealander Brendon Hartley was 10th for Toro Rosso — only his second scoring finish.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis and Christian Radnedge