The pre-race script for the British GP surely called for a dominant Red Bull 1-2, with polesitter Sebastian Vettel at its head, but a rewrite was called for as early as lap one.
Angered by the team’s decision to hand ‘his’ new front wing to Vettel for qualifying, Mark Webber was fired up ahead of the 52-lap encounter on the revised Silverstone layout, but the team’s line was that ‘the drivers knew what they had to do’.
Whether that included allowing the two pilots to battle for the lead may never be known but, despite Vettel’s attempts to squeeze his Australian team-mate up against the pitwall, Webber was not to be denied.
Nosing ahead into Copse, the RB6-sized hole allowed an opportunistic Lewis Hamilton to similarly defy the ‘dirty’ side of the grid and stick the front of his McLaren in alongside Vettel. In a reprise of their turn two contact in Valencia, the pair touched. But this time it was Vettel who came off worst, his right rear punctured and sending him careering off the road at Becketts.
By the time he had limped back to the pits, the German was last by a long way, and nearly in danger of being lapped by both his team-mate and his assailant, as Hamilton clung on to Webber’s tail for the opening five laps.
Back in the pack, Hamilton’s lightning start had been aided by a duff one for nemesis Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard dropping back to fifth once the melee had sorted itself out. He could have been worse off, too, as contact with none other than Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa sent the Brazilian pitward with a puncture of his own.
The opening lap ended with Robert Kubica also having taken advantage of Alonso’s poor getaway, heading Nico Rosberg in third and fourth, while Rubens Barrichello led the pursuit of the Spaniard, ahead of Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button, up from a dismal 14th on the grid.
While Vettel had got his mandatory pit-stop out of the way, and was able to run to the end of the race on his harder Bridgestone tyres, he was initially unable to catch the rear of the train, and therefore seemed unlikely to be able to make up places while the rest of the field worked their various strategies.
Hamilton and Webber both managed to retain their positions as they pitted on lap 16 and 17 respectively. But the biggest gainer was, once again, the resilient Button who (having grabbed half a dozen spots off the line) made his soft rubber last longer than anyone in the cooler race day temperatures.
The Briton waited four laps longer than the leader before finally peeling off into the Silverstone pits for what would be the last time in competition, vaulting Schumacher and Barrichello in the process. With Kubica having retired two laps prior to his stop, and Alonso due to serve a drive-thru’ for cutting Vale corner in his battle with the Pole, Button would suddenly find himself in fourth.
Alonso’s miserable day would get worse three laps after being told he’d have to pit as the safety car was called to cover the recovery of debris from Pedro de la Rosa’s rear wing, which was spread over both the start-finish and Hangar straights. Unable to serve his penalty with the field held under control, the Spaniard’s chance of points was effectively over.
When the safety car withdrew after three laps, and Alonso had pitted, Webber led from Hamilton, Rosberg and Button, with Barrichello, Kamui Kobayashi, Schumacher, Adrian Sutil and Nico Hulkenberg. The Australian had it all to do again, having seen his lead eroded, but was never really threatened by Hamilton, and was soon able to build a cushion. His team-mate, meanwhile, was handed a second chance at points, having appeared dispirited approaching mid-race.
Now on the tail of easy pickings ahead of him, the German quickly worked his way towards the points. The charging Red Bull was handed tenth when Vitaly Petrov ran wide on lap 37 and, two laps later, accounted for Hulkenberg on the new Wellington Straight. That brought him onto the back of Schumacher as four Germans ran in a line, and the seven-time champion proved a little tougher to deal with. Vettel was not to be denied, however, and, despite Schumacher edging him towards the grass on the run into the Complex, seventh was his with twelve laps to run.
From there, however, Vettel’s progress was stunted by a stubborn Sutil, who refused to buckle under relentless pressure from his countryman. Sadly for the home team, however, the Force India driver could not hold out indefinitely and, with a lap to run, Vettel finally muscled his way through exiting the Loop.
There was less excitement at the very front, as Webber was able to back off in the closing stages. Admitting that he was basically racing his pit-board for the majority of the race, the Australian eventually came home just over a second ahead of Hamilton, who reckoned that he was pushing qualifying pace in his pursuit.
Button’s hopes of taking third were dented six laps from home, when the McLaren team radioed to tell him to watch his fuel, ending his pursuit of Rosberg. The world champion nevertheless crossed the line just 0.6secs shy of the podium, with Barrichello and Kobayashi nearly ten seconds behind.
Webber ended the race by thanking his crew and announcing that his performance wasn’t bad ‘for a number two driver’, underlining the tensions that were left simmering after qualifying.