The pair started on the front row with Verstappen on pole and duelled at close quarters for the first half of the lap, the Dutchman rebuffing several of the Briton’s advances until they ran side by side down the old pit straight towards the super-fast Copse corner.
Hamilton took the inside line but Verstappen wouldn’t yield. The pair made contact, Verstappen’s rear-right tyre smacking into Hamilton’s front left, which sent his Red Bull Racing car flying through the gravel and into heavy contact with the tyre wall. The Mercedes continued with a cracked wheel rim, but the race was quickly red flagged for the severity of the smash.
Verstappen was taken to the medical centre and later a nearby hospital as a precaution and for observation.
"Every driver who has driven at this circuit knows that you do not stick a wheel up the inside of Copse,” Christian Horner radioed race director Michael Masi. “That’s an enormous accident, and it was 100% Max’s corner.
“As far as I’m concerned, full blame is on Hamilton, who should never have been in that position.”
Toto Wolff also got in on the act, telling Masi to check his emails for supporting evidence of Hamilton’s right to make the move, though the race director told him to take it up with the stewards, who had opened an investigation into the crash.
The result was a 10-second penalty for Hamilton, to be served at his first pit stop.
After a 40-minute delay the race resumed with Charles Leclerc on pole, having leapt from fourth in the first-lap melee. Hamilton again assumed second on the grid and again couldn’t execute a good enough launch to take the lead, and he slotted into second.
Leclerc’s Ferrari was alive on the medium tyre, fast enough to keep the Mercedes at a safe distance until Hamilton served his penalty and switched to the hard compound on lap 27, dropping to fifth.
Leclerc continued until lap 29, maintaining the lead throughout.
But in the second stint on the more durable rubber the red car lacked the same edge. Hamilton, starting with a 13-second deficit with 23 laps to run, had the ascendancy, and after cutting past Lando Norris and having teammate Valtteri Bottas move aside to let him through, he began eating into Leclerc’s lead directly.
He crunched the gap down to a second on lap 49, and on the next tour he slipstreamed Leclerc into Copse, the epicentre of the race, and again dived down the inside.
Leclerc, however, yielded the corner, keeping wide and momentarily losing the rear in a snap over the kerbs.
Hamilton was through, and two laps later he had won his eighth British Grand Prix in controversial circumstances.
“Of course always I try to be measured in how I approach, particularly in battling with Max,” he said. “He’s very aggressive.
“Today I was fully alongside him and he didn’t leave me any space.”
The victory cut Hamilton’s championship deficit to just eight points, down from 33, and Mercedes is now just four points behind Red Bull Racing in the constructors standings.
Leclerc found defeat bittersweet, having led every lap but three in an impressive display for Ferrari but falling just 3.8 seconds short of victory.
“It’s difficult to enjoy 100%,” he said. ”Of course it’s been an incredible race. I gave not 100% but 200%. I gave all of me, but it was just not enough.
“We definitely did not expect it. We expected after qualifying to be quite competitive but not as competitive as now.
“We were fighting for the win, which was incredible.”
Valtteri Bottas completed the podium. The Finn dropped to fourth early behind Lando Norris and needed an early pit stop to get back through, which left him vulnerable late in the race.
Norris finished fourth ahead of McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who pipped Carlos Sainz by just 0.8s seconds. Sainz had been on track to follow Leclerc onto the podium in the first stint, but a slow pit stop cost him 10 seconds and dropped him into the pack, from where he couldn’t recover.
Fernando Alonso headed a tight battle for seventh, beating Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon for minor points.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda completed the top 10 thanks to a late pit stop for Sergio Perez. The Mexican made his third tyre swap in the final laps to set the fastest lap, which had previously bene set by Hamilton, thereby depriving the Briton of a bonus point in a tactical move in view of the championship.