Bottas had beaten the Briton to pole on Saturday and the pair memorably duelled for the lead during the first stint of the race, but a safety car intervention after 20 laps swung the grand prix in Hamilton’s favour, robbing the Finn of the chance to eat into his championship deficit.
Both Bottas and Hamilton got away cleanly, but the Briton put his teammate under immediate pressure, testing him into turn four and shadowing him closely for the entire first stint.
By the fourth lap and with the advantage of the drag reduction system Hamilton was able launch a move into Brooklands and clung to Bottas’s outside through Luffield, but Valtteri hit bit back into Copse, sweeping past Lewis and back into the lead for Maggotts and Becketts.
The silver cars weren’t the only ones generating action. Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, fresh from their fight for the lead at the Austrian Grand Prix two weeks ago, were renewing their rivalry with a spirited spar for third place.
Pierre Gasly, rejuvenated by a major set-up change made to his car this weekend, was also battling with Sebastian Vettel, to whom he lost fifth place at lights-out with a tardy getaway. The Frenchman retook the place on lap 12, and Red Bull Racing rolled the dice immediately with an early pit stop.
It had the desired effect: Leclerc ahead, still defending against Verstappen, made his first stop on the following lap, as did his rival Dutchman. Red Bull Racing executed the better stop and managed to get its man out of his pit box ahead of the Ferrari, earning him net third place.
But it was a short-lived victory. Verstappen, complaining the tyres weren’t offering the expected grip, made a mistake at Loop, allowing Leclerc back past to continue their squabble for the podium.
Bottas was next to stop, pitting from the lead and committing to a two-stop strategy, but Hamilton, having inherited first place, opted against following his teammate, choosing instead to stay out to attempt a one-stop race.
The decision proved decisive on lap 20, when Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi spun off the track and beached himself in the turn-18 gravel, triggering a safety car.
With the field slowed, Hamilton dived into the pits for a new set of hard-compound tyres and emerged from pit lane still in the lead.
The safety car changed the complexion of the race, effectively handing Hamilton victory over Bottas.
He scored the fastest lap on his cruise to the finish, and out of the car he praised his team for the race-winning car.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am to be here today in front of my home crowd,” Hamilton said. “I couldn’t have done it without my team.
“When I tell people, ‘Thank you to the team’, there’s nearly 2,000 people in my team who make that possible.
“I’m just a link in the chain. I value them massively, and I’m super proud to be a part of this.”
It was Hamilton’s 80th grand prix victory and a record-breaking sixth win at the British Grand Prix, and the Briton extended his lead in the championship standings to 39 points over Bottas.
Valtteri was dejected out of the car for having his chance at victory snatched away, but the Finn vowed to fight on to shrink his points deficit.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “I stopped first and was controlling the gap, but then there was a safety car and Lewis got a free stop there.
“That was pretty much it. Not really my day, but at least the pace was good and I felt good out there.
“We had a good fight, and I’ll keep fighting. It’s not over yet.”
The safety car effectively decided the race win, but the battle for the podium remained live despite the intervention.
Vettel followed Hamilton into the pits during the caution period, moving the German up to third. Verstappen and Leclerc did likewise — Leclerc a lap later after Vettel made his change — putting them into fifth and sixth respectively behind Gasly.
Red Bull Racing eased Verstappen’s way past his teammate — Leclerc made the pass on track several laps later — to begin his assault on the German, and the Dutchman forced his way past down the Hangar straight on lap 37, but disaster struck just moments later when Vettel locked up entering Vale, rear-ending his rival and sending both off the track.
Verstappen continued in fifth, but Vettel tumbled down the order, his front wing broken and his race over. The stewards penalised him 10 seconds and two penalty points for the mistake.
But the crash benefitted his teammate, with Leclerc moving back up to third place — arguably the Monegasque had earnt it were it not for the intervention of an untimely safety car.
“It’s probably the race I enjoyed the most in my Formula One career,” he said. “Very happy to finish third and extremely happy for the battle we had on track.”
Leclerc also hailed his and Verstappen’s fight in the first half of the race after the post-race acrimony at Spielberg two weeks earlier.
“I think the last race [in Austria] was a bit of an eye-opener for me, really showing how far we can go, and I think it’s really great for Formula One to really fight on the limit in that way.”
Gasly was promoted to fourth in the aftermath of his teammate’s crash with Vettel, his equal best career finish his highest finishing position this season, while Verstappen finished closely behind in fifth, the first time he’s been beaten by a teammate since last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
Carlos Sainz was one of the safety car’s most significant beneficiaries, rising from 13th on the grid to sixth, but he had to defend hard in the second half of the race against Daniel Ricciardo, who finished just 0.7 seconds behind him at the flag.
Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen put in an aggressive second stint to finish eighth ahead of Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, while Nico Hulkenberg passed Albon in the final moments of the race to score the last point when the Thai driver’s tyres expired.