Cutting a forlorn figure on Saturday having made an error in qualifying, Hamilton started the race in sixth but, either side of a red flag following a major shunt for Kimi Raikkonen, he navigated his way up the field before taking the lead as Mercedes team-mate Rosberg ran into mechanical problems.
Having seen Hamilton endure the majority of hard luck with reliability heading into the 50th grand prix staged at Silverstone, Rosberg suffered a gearbox issue which saw him retire from the lead 21 laps from the chequered flag.
Hamilton cantered to his fifth win of the season and his second career victory in front of a home crowd to move to within four points of Rosberg, while Williams overcame a miserable weekend to seal a memorable second place through Valtteri Bottas. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo took third ahead of Jenson Button, who ran out of time as he closed in during the final laps, finishing within a second of the Australian.
Rosberg got off the line well as Button overhauled a poor-starting Vettel to move into second place, with McLaren team-mate Kevin Magnussen also passing the German.
Hamilton moved up to fourth following a close battle with Vettel’s Red Bull, with the two touching in the opening corners, but his charge was soon halted when a heavy crash for Raikkonen brought out the red flag.
Raikkonen ran wide at Aintree and, as he bounced his Ferrari back on to the track, he lost control and slammed into the wall near to the bridge on the Wellington Straight.
As his spinning car made its way across the track it tagged Kamui Kobayashi’s Caterham, which took to the grass to avoid major contact. A fast-approaching Felipe Massa took avoiding action but his Williams still hit the Ferrari and was forced to retire, cutting short the Brazilian’s 200th grand prix, while Raikkonen’s collision with the barrier meant an hour-long delay ensued as repair work was carried out.
Max Chilton was another casualty of the incident as his car was hit by a stray tyre and, in pitting under the red flag for a new nose, the Marussia driver was handed a drive-through penalty.
The race restarted behind the safety car with the drivers lapping in the order at the time of the red flag and it was Hamilton who again continued to move closer to Rosberg at the front of the field. Hamilton began to reel Rosberg in at the head of the field and, with the gap dropping to under two and a half seconds, Rosberg came in on lap 18 with a 2.7-second stop for another set of medium tyres. Hamilton decided not to respond immediately but came in for a change to hard tyres six laps later as a slight delay on the left-rear wheel saw him leave the pits almost six seconds behind Rosberg, with the Briton bemoaning the 4.1-second stop.
“Bit worried about the pit stops guys, lets get a good one next time, okay?” he said over team radio on his out-lap – but the problems for his team-mate soon outweighed Hamilton’s concern.
Despite being on the perceived slower compound, Hamilton lit up the timing screen and was soon homing in on his rival again, taking more than two seconds out of Rosberg’s lead on lap 28.
The reason for his rapid progress soon became clear as Rosberg reported to his garage that he was suffering from an upshift issue and he retired on lap 31 with the problem proving terminal as he eventually lost drive.
Hamilton had slowed down on his final hot lap in qualifying on Saturday having mistakenly thought the track would not dry out sufficiently to produce a faster time. That saw him drop from pole to sixth and left him despondent afterwards but the 2008 world champion said on the podium that he still felt he could take the chequered flag in the race.
“This weekend really shows that for one, you never give up,” he said. “Yesterday, it wasn’t a case of giving up I just didn’t think I could do the lap – I was shocked the last sector was so fast Coming here today, I had my family with me and the focus, the support of the fans really spurred me on, I couldn’t have done it without them.”
With Rosberg’s retirement giving Hamilton a push in the tilt for the title, the Briton admitted it was the perfect result for him. “At the beginning he [Rosberg] got quite a good gap,” Hamilton said. “I just tried to look after the tyres but, after that, I came out on the harder tyre and I was catching him a second a lap at the time and I couldn’t believe I had that kind of pace. You never want to see a team-mate fall behind, we wanted to go up and get those one-twos but I really needed this result.”
Rosberg had led for the majority of the race until his problems and felt he was in charge and on course to build on his championship lead.
“The first problem started around lap 20 after the first pit-stop and just got worse,” he said.
“It is always a good battle but I was very much in control until then, which is why it is all the more disappointing.”