“I didn’t think I would make it round the last two corners,” admitted the world champion. The front left tyre of his Mercedes had delaminated and deflated on his final lap, leaving the six-time world champion to nurse his car to the finish as second-placed Max Verstappen hunted him down.
“I just can’t believe it,” said the championship leader. “It was heart-stopping. I backed off and stayed chilled and was so glad it happened on the straight – not on a high-speed corner like Copse. That would have been a disaster.”
Hamilton claimed a record seventh home win – passing Alain Prost’s total of six home wins in France – to increase his career total to 87, four short of Michael Schumacher’s record of 91.
He also passed Ayrton Senna’s record of most races led from start to finish with his 20th lights-to-flag victory, but he conceded it was a race finish like nothing he had previously experienced.
“Up until that last lap everything was relatively smooth-sailing,” said Hamilton.
“(Teammate) Valtteri (Bottas) was really pushing incredibly hard, I was doing some management of the tyres. Then, when I heard his went, I looked at mine and it seemed fine.
“In the last few laps, I started to back off and then on the last lap it deflated. That was a real heart in the mouth moment.
“You could see it falling off the rim. From then, I was just managing it and I was just praying to get round and not be too slow.”
“I have definitely never experienced anything like that on the last lap and my heart nearly stopped.
“I could hear him (Verstappen) catching me. It was 30 seconds, 20, 19, 15, 10 and then seven. A horrible feeling. I thought he would catch me on the line, but thankfully I got it home. “I had to stay cool. I had no choice. My survival instincts took over.”
Reminded that the weather forecast for next weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, at the same circuit, is for higher temperatures and, on softer tyres, more wear problems, Hamilton said he was not intending to worry.
“If it’s hotter and worse, it’s not for me to stress about now.”
Hamilton raised his right arm with a clenched fist on the podium and later added that he was happy at the much improved demonstration of drivers’ solidarity in the pre-race anti-racism ceremony that took place on the start-finish line before the national anthem.
“I spent a lot of time talking to senior people and in the end we had everyone on board,” he said.
“Everyone agreed that we had not done enough to this point and we needed to make it look much better set up, planned and prepared – a lot more professional.”