Lewis Hamilton claimed one of the most remarkable victories of his Formula One career after his championship rival Sebastian Vettel crashed out from the lead of the German Grand Prix.

Hamilton started only 14th after a mechanical failure in qualifying, but took the chequered flag at Hockenheim following a dramatic conclusion sparked by a rain shower, and Vettel's jaw-dropping crash.

Both Hamilton's Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen pitted for new tyres after the safety car was deployed following Vettel's costly accident.

Hamilton stayed on track to assume the lead, and when the race was back under way with 10 laps to run, the Englishman held off team-mate Bottas to seal a famous victory and afterwards thanked God for the win.

He said: "It is very difficult (to win) from that position and highly unlikely but you have always got to believe. I did a long prayer before the race and I wanted to stay collected and calm.

"I am so grateful. I kept pushing, kept believing and it happens. A big thanks to God. I hadn't thought about the championship. It was so tough out there. Conditions were perfect because when it rained, I knew that I would be in a good position."

Hamilton risked being stripped of his German Grand Prix victory after being summoned by Hockenheim stewards for a possible pit-lane infringement after the presentation. 

(REUTERS)

Stewards were investigating whether the Mercedes driver illegally crossed a line separating the entry from the track when he hurriedly changed his mind about pitting during a safety car period.

However, after a lengthy consultation process, Hamilton was reprieved and kept his record-equalling fourth victory in Germany.

Incredibly, the British driver is now 17 points ahead of Vettel after striking a devastating championship blow on his rival's home turf. Pole-sitter Vettel had been in control of his home race, and looked destined to increase his title advantage over Hamilton before a late rain shower ensured a spectacular end.

The Ferrari driver lost control of his car in the slippery stadium section towards the end of the lap, and slid across the gravel and into the tyre barriers.

Vettel was furious with his mistake, bashing both hands on the steering wheel. "F*** sake, f*** sake," he yelled over the radio. "Sorry, guys. S***."

The four-time champion got out of his Ferrari cockpit, and kicked the gravel in utter frustration. To make matters even worse for Vettel, his potentially championship-deciding error, gifted the lead to Hamilton, who was running in fourth place.

Bottas and Raikkonen, both on older rubber, had to pit for new tyres, but Hamilton - despite being told to stop too, only before changing his mind at the last moment - stayed out on track. The race resumed with just 10 laps to run, and Mercedes held their breath as Hamilton and Bottas went wheel-to-wheel for the victory.

(AP)

But, at the team's home race, Mercedes called off the fight: "Valtteri, this is James (Vowles - chief strategist). Please hold position."

The Finnish driver duly obliged, and, despite the threat of a second rain shower, Hamilton crossed the line 4.5 seconds clear of his team-mate to move clear of Vettel in their battle for the championship. Raikkonen completed the podium places, while Max Verstappen finished fourth ahead of the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg.

"Miracles do happen," Hamilton's race engineer Pete Bonnington said to the Brit after he took the win. "What an amazing job from you guys," Hamilton replied. "Thank you so much. Love conquers all."

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