Ben Edwards hailed the performance of Lewis Hamilton after salvaging the sporting summer with victory in the British Grand Prix.
The BBC’s lead Formula One (F1) commentator described a dramatic race on Sunday that saw Mercedes driver Hamilton recover a poor qualifying position of sixth to win the race and throw the drivers’ championship wide open.
Title leader Nico Rosberg was being caught by an on-the-limit Hamilton when his gearbox failed, denying the Silverstone crowd a grandstand finish, but handing the British fans their first home winner since Hamilton in his championship-winning season of 2008.
“After a difficult summer for British sport, he came out — particularly after a difficult qualifying — and just delivered big time,” said Edwards, who lives in Wortham, near Diss. “You could see what it meant to him — it took him a while to absorb what it meant to have achieved it.
“It means so much to him to win here and that’s so lovely to see.
“The boost it has given him in the championship now means it’s going to be an epic dual.”
Rosberg’s retirement — his first of the season, compared to Hamilton’s two — means just four points separate the teammates ahead of the German Grand Prix on July 20.
Although that fillip was well received by Hamilton and his fans, Edwards was disappointed that it denied them the chance to go head-to-head on the track.
“I was looking forward to the race between them,” said Edwards. “It would have been a hard race, but I think Lewis had tremendous pace and was very confident he could win it anyway.
“But who knows? We will never know and I was a bit disappointed we lost that because we’ve seen a couple of good races between them, in Bahrain and Barcelona particularly.
“It would have been lovely, but it doesn’t always work that way and it at least rebalances the scale a bit.”
The race got off to the most dramatic start possible when Kimi Raikkonen smashed into the barrier on the Wellington Straight at 150mph, taking out former Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa in the process.
A one-hour delay ensued before the race restarted and Hamilton — who had passed Nico Hulkenberg and reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel on the opening lap — quickly dispatched McLaren drivers Kevin Magnussen and fellow Brit Jenson Button before starting to chase down Rosberg.
The gap was coming down when the German’s gearbox — which had been causing him problems — failed and he pulled to the side of the circuit on the 29th lap.
From there, Hamilton — who admitted in the press conference after the race that qualifying had been like ‘a kick in the balls’ and he needed to ‘pull his socks up’ — nursed the car home, finishing comfortably ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas.
A huge cheer erupted from the stands around Silverstone as Hamilton crossed the line and the good mood continued after the race, with fans — allowed on to the track for the podium presentation — milling around, hoping to catch a glimpse of their winner.
While surveying the crowds from the Silverstone wing, Edwards said: “The European tracks tend to deliver this kind of response — the likes of Monza, and there will be a big crowd in Germany as well — but the British crowd is deeply knowledgeable about the sport, that’s what I love.
“That’s what I was thinking about when that battle was going on between Alonso and Vettel — so many people were lapping that up.
“There was no British driver involved, but two of the greats of Formula One were going wheel to wheel, lap after lap and I thought that as much as anything in the race was what made it a bit exceptional.”
And the battle between Alonso and Vettel also provided Edwards with a memorable commentary moment as the duo headed into Copse at 180mph.
Alonso had already overtaken Vettel at one of the fastest corners in F1, when the four-times world champion lined up his Spanish rival for revenge.
Edwards said: “On the commentary it was really funny because just that moment we’d gone to Christian Horner on the pit wall, so he was commentating with me as Sebastian went through and he was going ‘good boy, good boy’,.
“It was great — that hasn’t happened quite like that before.”
That was for fifth and, up ahead of them, Button made a late charge to try and catch Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, but was left still in search of his first podium at his home race.
“It was so close — just eight tenths of a second — but McLaren never expected a podium here,” said Edwards. “A few races ago, if you’d told them they were going to be fourth they would have been falling over themselves for it.
“He beat Alonso, he beat Vettel and was catching Ricciardo — I know they were all on different strategies, but there was a little sign of optimism for McLaren because they have brought new parts to the car and they are working now.
“They are not ready to take Mercedes on by any means, but it’s encouraging.”
Looking ahead to the remaining 10 rounds of the championship, Edwards cannot wait for the battle between the two Mercedes drivers to continue.
He said: “I picked Lewis at the start, but Rosberg has impressed me race after race after race this year and I think we’ve got a really great sporting rivalry on our hands — what could be better than that?
“They are two different characters, they both know each other inside out and, as a classic sporting rivalry, this could be one of the all-time greats — I hope so.”