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.”
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.
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.”
Plans to host a Formula One race in Miami next year have been scrapped, Press Association Sport understands.
Liberty Media, F1’s American owners, stated their intention to take the sport to downtown Miami in October of 2019 earlier this year.
But after Miami chiefs recently delayed a crucial vote until September, having been scheduled to take place on July 26, it is believed that F1 has decided to put the race on hold for at least 12 months.
Official confirmation of the delay is expected next week.
Liberty, the American conglomerate which purchased the sport for £6.4billion in January last year, is hopeful that the Miami race will still be given the green light for 2020, but doubts will be raised following the setback.
The proposed layout for the street circuit has already been changed, while some Miami residents have expressed their opposition due to the disruption the race will cause.
Liberty has made no secret of their desire to stage more races in America, with New York and Las Vegas also under consideration, and a deal to stage an event in Miami would have been the first struck in the post-Bernie Ecclestone era.
This week’s race at Hockenheim is the 11th of a record-equalling 21-race calendar, but its current deal is due to expire at the end of the season.
And the failure to cement a grand prix in Miami means the number of F1 races could drop to 20 next year.
Ferrari driver Vettel won last time out at Silverstone, while Hamilton recovered from last to finish second at his home race.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at the key talking points ahead of the 11th round of the Formula One World Championship.
How will Hamilton react in Germany?
Hamilton turned in a remarkable fightback from last to second at the British Grand Prix, but his comeback display was tainted by accusations of Ferrari cheating. Kimi Raikkonen bumped Hamilton off on the opening lap, and the Brit was left seething.
“Interesting tactics from their (Ferrari) side”, Hamilton mused as he appeared to point at foul play by Ferrari. Raikkonen’s wife Minttu then got involved, suggesting Hamilton was “crying like a girl”, and urged him to take up ballet.
Hamilton, concerned that he was coming across as a sore loser, apologised for his remarks, and said sorry to Raikkonen, too, in a series of emotional Instagram messages on the Monday following his home race.
Since then, Hamilton has been in Iceland, Holland and in London, too, but this week will head to Mercedes’ home race in Germany hoping to wipe the slate clean after two disappointing races, and get his championship bid back on track.
Mercedes making too many mistakes
Hamilton won the French Grand Prix to move 14 points clear of Vettel, but a Mercedes strategy error then cost him the lead at the following round in Austria before a mechanical retirement ensured he scored zero points. Hamilton’s poor start at Silverstone also left him exposed to Raikkonen, and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admits that his team are making too many errors.
“We didn’t score as many points in the triple-header as we had hoped for,” Wolff said. “A lot of that was down to our own mistakes. We’ve had a decent first half of the season but on the one hand, we’ve left points on the table and had to do damage limitation more often than we would have wanted.”
Ferrari took 98 points from F1’s triple-header, compared to Mercedes’ haul of 61. Mercedes now trail Ferrari by 20 points in the constructors’ championship, too. Make no mistake, the pressure is on the sport’s once dominant team.
Alonso makes his point
F1’s American owners Liberty Media have floated the idea of awarding points from first place to last rather than only for the top 10 finishers. The idea is to encourage competition up and down the field, and to make every position count.
For decades, points were awarded to the top six, which then became the top eight in 2002. From 2010, the top 10 have been rewarded. But double world champion Alonso fears finishing in the points will be diminished under the proposed change.
“If everyone is scoring points, then maybe we lose that unique thing in F1 that other categories do not have,” he said. “I remember when Jules (Bianchi) scored the ninth position in Monaco, it was some kind of miracle and a big moment for the sport.”
Doubts over future of the German GP
The German Grand Prix has been held on alternative seasons since 2014 – it will not be on the calendar next year – and the contract expires after Sunday’s race.
Mercedes may have been the dominant force in recent years, while Vettel is bidding for a fifth title, but both have failed to capture the imagination of the German public in the same vein that Michael Schumacher managed to.
Max Verstappen’s army of Dutch fans will descend on Hockenheim to ensure the grand prix could be a sell-out on Sunday. But it appears a real possibility that the German race is not part of Liberty’s long-term vision, and could be dropped permanently to make room for fresh locations.
Giovinazzi lands practice drive
Ferrari junior driver Antonio Giovinazzi will take to the Sauber cockpit for opening practice on Friday.
Giovinazzi, 24, will replace regular driver Marcus Ericsson.
With Charles Leclerc mooted for a promotion to Ferrari next year, this could be the first of a series of chances for Giovinazzi to prove he can make the step up to a full-time seat in 2019.