ONE by one, the potential candidates for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year have been whittled down as the summer has progressed.

Elite competitors have crashed out of the World Cup or Wimbledon, Tour de France or Test rugby with sore bones and bruised egos in a torrent of anti-climax.

So, in many respects, it was a pleasure to behold a beaming Lewis Hamilton talk about his victory in yesterday's British Grand Prix at Silverstone and especially because he seemed to have blown his chances in qualifying.

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Hamilton, after all, is someone who wears his heart on his sleeve but who has struggled to replicate the brilliant hooraymanship of his F1 title triumph back in 2008. This latest success on his home circuit clearly thrilled the English maestro. For too long, he has been forced to scrap for morsels while Sebastian Vettel feasted at the top table, and there must have been fears that history was repeating itself when his Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg looked to be surging towards another maximum haul.

But, in the space of a few moments, a gearbox problem, which terminated the German's race, allowed Hamilton not just to sweep to glory, but also cut the gap on his colleague to just four points.

The outcome might shift the momentum of the championship, because the only certainty is that one of these two will be lifting the crown at the campaign's end. And yet that knowledge is also one of the most glaring weaknesses of the present state of affairs.

Mercedes have simply filled the gap left by Red Bull, with the consequence that few really doubted Silverstone would develop into anything but another 1-2 for their duo. If the pair had actually been allowed to battle it out for supremacy and shown us their full repertoire of skills, we might have witnessed something truly special.

But, instead, all the excitement was happening among the also-rans, which is not Hamilton's fault, of course. But the farcical scenes which surrounded the hour-long delay at the outset of the tussle, following Kimi Raikkonen's juddering crash - an incident which also ruined Felipe Massa's afternoon - was symptomatic of the dilemma which pervades the sport.

Namely, does it want thrills, spills and the possibility of people getting injured or worse, or does it settle for being a sanitised computer game made flesh, where the fastest car always prospers and tedium reigns?

Niki Lauda flirted with the Grim Reaper more than most and he has no doubts on the issue.

"Formula One is over-regulated. It's crazy," said Lauda. "They take care of every little detail and a lot of people will switch the television off."

The chances are that they will stay tuned as long as Hamilton is in the mix and challenging for the main prize. In which light, his words at the finish were revealing.

"I didn't want to see a team-mate fail, I wanted a one-two, but I really needed this result," he said, even as the anoraks in his midst revelled in the news Hamilton had equalled Jackie Stewart's haul of 27 race wins. Yes, he needed the chequered flag.

But one suspects Bernie Ecclestone required it even more, to keep fans interested.