A sell-out crowd of 142,000 fans almost got more than they bargained for in a drama-filled, action-packed British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
The race was bookended by a horrendous crash at the first corner at the start involving several cars, especially Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu, whose Alfa Romeo car flipped and hit the barriers, and eventual race winner, Spaniard Carlos Sainz who now has his first F1 win after 150 starts.
Zhou's car was hit from behind following contact between George Russell's Mercedes and Pierre Gasly's Alpha Tauri, his car skidding upside down and hurtling into and over the tyre barrier. The high-speed impact left his racer wedged between the tyre wall and the metal catchment fence.
The halo device is the name for the driver crash protection system which consists of a curved bar over the driver's cockpit that was controversially first introduced to F1 in 2018. It unquestionably saved Zhou from either death or serious injury by protecting Zhou's head when the car was skidding upside down, and as the car came to rest.
The race was red-flagged as marshals worked on getting Zhou out of his car and then placing him on a stretcher before he was taken to hospital for a check-up. He later returned to the circuit and put up a post on Twitter.
"I'm Ok, all clear. Halo saved me today. Thanks, everyone for your kind messages."
When the race resumed after nearly an hour delay, pole-sitter Sainz was off into the lead, chased by world champion and championship leader, Max Verstappen.
But the latter had sustained damage to the underside of his car. He overtook Sainz briefly but then started to drop back. His Red Bull team-mate, Sergio Perez, had pitted earlier with a damaged front wing but would come back late in the race to dice with Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes.
Russell, Hamilton's team-mate, didn't make the restart. He had stopped after Zhou's crash with a puncture and while he was out of his car checking on the efforts to extract Zhou from his car, the marshals had loaded Russell's car onto a flatbed truck. Despite pleas to the FIA to let him join the race at the restart, as the rules state any car that has had outside assistance cannot rejoin, Russell's good Samaritan act in checking out Zhou, proved his undoing.
Not so for Hamilton, who must have been inspired by having Tom 'Top Gun' Cruise in his pit garage for support, as he set out after the Ferrari duo. He would end up battling for second place on the podium with Perez and Leclerc but also had Fernando Alonso in the Alpine and Lando Norris in the McLaren, snapping at his heels.
"I gave it everything, I was trying to chase down those Ferraris but congratulations to Carlos, they were just too quick for us," Hamilton said in the post-race press conference after securing his 13th podium at Silverstone to go with his eight race victories, with win number nine not that far from his grasp.
Among a number of trackside banners supporting Hamilton, was one that read; 'Beat the porpoise, Fly like a Dolphin.'
It seems he did just that, but the lead-up to the race had been a rocky path for the seven-time world champion. A November 2021 interview with three-time world champion, Nelson Piquet, whose daughter Kelly is Verstappen's partner, had emerged in which he referenced Hamilton using a translation of the 'N-word' in discussing last year's Silverstone clash during which Verstappen was punted off the track at Copse Corner, while Hamilton went on to win the race despite a 10-second penalty for causing a collision. Condemnation in the F1 paddock for Piquet's obvious racial slur came thick and fast. He has apparently been banned from attending future races, even though he issued an apology.
"What I said was ill-thought-out, and I make no defence of it, but I will clarify that the term used is one that has widely and historically been used colloquially in Brazilian Portuguese as a synonym for 'guy' or 'person' and was never intended to offend," Piquet exclaimed.
The pre-race drivers' press conference, was dominated by drivers being asked where they stood in relation to Piquet's apparent racial attack on Hamilton, whom they all supported, including Verstappen, whose loyalty was divided between condemning racial comments while trying to defend the man who is possibly his future father-in-law.
At best he could only say Piquet was a "nice man" who had made a mistake with the word he used. Verstappen eventually finished in 7th place, losing some of his championship lead over Perez, who is still second, 34 points behind, while Leclerc and Sainz are 43 and 54 points behind respectively.
In a TV interview, former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone came out in support of Piquet, who won the world championship with Brabham in 1981 and 1983, when Ecclestone owned the team.
Unfortunately, in the same interview, Ecclestone said Vladimir Putin was a "nice guy" and "he'd take a bullet for him".
Ecclestone and Piquet are unlikely to be seen in the F1 paddock anytime soon, but in a press conference, Hamilton questioned why "we are giving older voices a platform. These old voices are, you know, whether they're subconscious or consciously, do not agree with people like me for example, should be in a sport like this, do not agree women should be here. Discrimination is not something we should be projecting and promoting and giving a platform to create and divide people."
Calling former world champions "old" might be considered a form of discrimination, and his comment was clearly a reference to not only Piquet and Ecclestone but also Sir Jackie Stewart, who had suggested prior to Silverstone that Hamilton should probably have quit F1 if he wanted to go out on top.
The happiest driver in the F1 paddock last Sunday was undoubtedly Carlos Sainz, and before he went up on the podium to collect his first F1 winner's trophy, he was warmly embraced and congratulated by his mentor, Fernando Alonso, and also Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo. Sainz has more friendly rivals than enemies among the F1 driver fraternity and was delighted to win, even though he may have breached team orders.
"If there's one thing this sport has told me it is never stop believing," he said.
"Today the win does feel a bit of relief. Honestly, I never stopped believing that this dream was going to come, even though this year has been tough for me."
Sainz had been on the podium 11 times prior to this race, but never on the top step. He started the race with his first pole position in F1, but then had to settle his nerves, as did all the drivers, in the aftermath of Zhou's crash.
"When I saw it, I was shocked," he said. "I just find it incredible he came out of it. It was crazy. I feel so happy to be racing in an era when we are pushing each other at 300km/h but within a safe window. The halo has probably saved two lives with the crash in F2."
Sainz was referring to a crash in the F2 race earlier in the day when Dennis Haugar's car went over the top of Roy Nissany's car.
Ferrari had ordered Sainz to pull over and let Leclerc through, with the instruction: "Give 10 car-lengths to Charles as some breathing space." But Sainz said that would leave him vulnerable to Hamilton, so he stayed just one car-length behind. Then later Ferrari split their race strategies, bringing Sainz in for soft rubber, leaving Leclerc out, who was a sitting duck for Perez and Hamilton. But those last five laps with Perez, Hamilton, Leclerc and Alonso and Norris all in the mix were, as Hamilton put it, "reminiscent of karting days and I feel like that's Formula 1 at its best -- the fact we were able to follow and dice like that lap by lap is testament to the direction I think we are now in".
In addition to Sainz scoring his first pole position and race win, there was also a first for Haas driver Mick Schumacher, whose 8th place finish gave the son of Michael his first points in F1, which is always a milestone for any driver, but particularly for the son of one of the most iconic F1 drivers ever.
Michael's family have disclosed very little about his medical condition since he was badly injured in a skiing accident a decade ago, but it is a distinct possibility Michael will be unable to share his son's achievement. Nonetheless, Mick and his team celebrated his point's success, with some champagne spraying in pit lane, as they should have.
"This is for my dad," Mick said. "I told you guys, this is the weekend. You guys are brilliant," he added, referring to his Haas team, with his team-mate Kevin Magnussen also just in the points with a 10th place finish. Schumacher was actually challenging Verstappen for 7th late in the race, albeit the latter's car in a damaged state, and a clip has emerged on Twitter of Michael and Jos Verstappen, the father of Max, being asked what they would do if their kids wanted to get into F1.
Jos said: "Very similar age, so for sure they will compete with each other if they grow up and decide to go into go-karts"
Michael added: "I think horse riding or golf is a much better sport for kids," he suggested, to which Jos quipped "or maybe tennis".
The latest winner is, of course, also the son of a motor racing legend, as Carlos Sainz is a two-time World Rally champion. Sainz Jr will never forget his first F1 victory, nor the shocking circumstances surrounding it, but judging by the reaction to the death-defying race, F1 is currently in a great space and continues with his weekend's Austrian GP at the Red Bull Ring in Speilberg.