2013 British GP: Nico Rosberg claims win as tyre failures overshadow Silverstone race
Hamilton's victory hopes punctured as Vettel suffers late retirement
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 01/07/13 11:11am
Just where to start in this astonishing race of two halves? Well, probably on lap eight when polesitter Lewis Hamilton's hopes of a second home victory - and the dreams of the packed Silverstone crowd - were dashed when his W04's left-rear tyre spectacularly blew in a firework display of rubber as he came onto the Wellington Straight.
But rather than proving an isolated incident, the next seven laps witnessed repeat failures on the left-rear tyres of first Felipe Massa, and then, most scarily of all at 190mph on the run to Stowe, Jean-Eric Vergne to put the spotlight more forcibly than ever on the safety of Pirelli's rubber amid a season already dominated by tyre complaints and controversy.
While the exact reason for the left-rear failures - the final one of which claimed McLaren's Sergio Perez late on for the second time this weekend - are still to be determined, the FIA have called Pirelli to a meeting of the F1 Sporting Committee on Wednesday, while the rest of Sunday's race was run with the drivers urged by their race engineers to stay away from the circuit's multitude of high-speed kerbs.
With the majority of the race thereafter run against the backdrop of these fears, and the teams also increasing their cars' tyre pressures at their subsequent stops to guard against further blow-outs, Vettel, having inherited the lead from Hamilton, appeared to be on course for his fourth win of the season and one step closer to a fourth straight world title.
However, ten laps from home and with a steady lead over Rosberg of around two seconds, his RB9 started slowing around the back of the circuit before then giving up the ghost completely on the pit straight with a gearbox failure.
As the German clambered out of his car mid-race for the first time since last September's Italian GP, his appearance was first initially greeted with what appeared to be boos from the big crowd and, although soon after he was given a standing ovation on his return to the pits, it in part undoubtedly underlined what many were thinking: what had appeared to be into turning into a runaway title train had, for now at least, been stopped in its tracks.
Rosberg, having been overtaken by his compatriot off the line, took over at the front thereafter and went on to claim his second victory in three races. The German's victory briefly appeared in doubt later on when he was called to the stewards' office over an alleged yellow-flag indiscretion, but he ultimately escaped with a reprimand.
The Mercedes man's run to the flag had been far from straightforward though, as following a second safety car phase - this time to clear away Vettel's stricken RB9 - the other Red Bull of Mark Webber came charging back at him.
The Australian had earlier experienced a disastrous start which had seemingly dropped him out of contention for a second straight Silverstone win, Webber slipping from fourth to 14th and sustaining damage to his front wing, but thereafter mounted an impressive drive through the field.
And while the runner-up finished meant it was in itself a more than fitting swansong to Webber's British GP career, it also served to hold team-mate Vettel's title lead at 21 points given the late charge included passes on both Alonso and Raikkonen.
"It has been an incredible day," Webber admitted. "First there was the contact with Romain Grosjean and the wing was damaged. The boys did a great job changing that and then we got into the race," he said.
"I was praying for the Safety Car, but not with the way they were coming. It was Russian roulette."
Raikkonen, who Lotus decided not to pit for a third time under the safety car, was the biggest loser of the thrilling closing laps as he was also overtaken by title rival Alonso, the Spaniard's now-famous Houdini act demonstrated to full effect again as he salvage yet another podium from Ferrari's new qualifying lows on Saturday.
The late misery didn't end there for Raikkonen either as he was also passed by the recovering Hamilton, the Briton having sensationally raced back from the very tail of the field following his earlier puncture-induced pitstop.
"I tried to hold on at the end of the race, but with tyres that were maybe twenty laps older than the others' it was impossible to keep them behind," Kimi later bemoaned. "It's a shame as the race went pretty well until then; we had good pace and looked set for a pretty easy P2, but this is racing sometimes."
With Raikkonen therefore fifth, Felipe Massa followed Hamilton up the order from his own early tyre failure to score more crucial points for Ferrari in sixth ahead of Force India's Adrian Sutil and the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo.
And on a day of stirring drives through the field, Paul Di Resta came from 21st to ninth to at least ensure what up until his disqualification from fifth on the grid had been yet another impressive race weekend.
However, if you already thought tyres had been the dominating talk of the paddock all season, judging by the nascent fallout from Sunday's race then you may not have seen anything yet...