Nico Rosberg took his second win of the season at a British Grand Prix defined by a catalogue of tyre failures a late-race gearbox problem that dumped championship leader Sebastian Vettel of the race while leading comfortably.
At the start Rosberg, who had qualified on the front row behind team-mate Lewis Hamilton, lost position to Vettel and dropped to third place.
The order at the front remained that way until lap seven when leader Hamilton’s rear left tyre suddenly exploded, leaving the home favourite limping back to the pits. It looked like an unfortunate accident but three laps later Ferrari’s Felipe Massa suffered an identical problem at Turn 5. He too crawled back to pit lane for repairs.
The race then settled down as the drivers worked their way through their first stops. On lap 24, however, the drama began again as another rear left failure struck, with Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Verge the victim, this time on the straight after Stowe. The Safety Car was deployed to clear debris and engineers up and down the pit lane radioed through to their drivers warning them to stay off the kerbs in turns four and five.
The Safety Car period was a huge boost for Mark Webber. The Red Bull Racing driver made a poor start from fourth on the grid and then collided with Lotus’ Romain Grosjean in Turn One. The incidents dropped the Aussie back to 14th.
From there he began to stage a typically pugnacious fight back and by the time of Vergne’s puncture he was ninth. And when the intervention of the Safety Car erased the gaps to rivals ahead, Webber could begin to contemplate an assault on the higher positions.
The Safety Car left the track at the end of lap 21 and at the front Vettel resumed his lead of the race, with Rosberg chasing. Vettel stretched the gap to three seconds but Rosberg managed to halt the damage there and soon the margin began to stabilise.
Then, after Vettel’s second pit stop, the gap suddenly disappeared. Vettel’s RB9 cruised to a halt on the pit straight on lap 42, with the title leader telling his pit wall there was “no drive”. Rosberg swept through to take the lead.
Webber, meanwhile, was surging through the field. Having battled past Grosjean and then stolen P6 from compatriot Daniel Ricciardo, he skipped ahead in the second stops and by the time of Vettel’s retirement the Australian was up to fourth behind Kimi Raikkonen.
With Vettel’s car stopped on the pit straight the Safety Car was again deployed and the Red Bull pit wall reacted by pitting Webber for new medium tyres. Rosberg stopped for fresh hard tyres.
Rosberg maintained his lead but Webber dropped to fifth. However, when the safety car left the track, Webber, armed with new tyres, made a charge. Ricciardo, Sutil and Raikkonen, all on worn tyres, were dismissed in short order and he set about reeling in Rosberg.
Webber got to within a second of the German on the final lap but Rosberg was able to keep the Red Bull driver at bay to take his second win of the season.
“It’s a very, very special day and I think what makes it more special is that our factory is so close, and our team has done such a fantastic job to come through during the season,” said Rosberg on the podium. “We have such momentum going at the moment, [we’re] progressing all the time. We were massively quick in qualifying [and we’re] also getting faster and faster in the race. I think today we had equally the fastest race car as well. So, it’s a very special day for me.”
Webber meanwhile, admitted that his start had been a disaster, though he could fathom non reason for his poor getaway.
“I didn’t have a clue what happened off the line,” he said. “We’ve had two or three good starts in the last few races and then the lights went out and we’re back to our normal tactics. We need to have a look at why they pop up every now and again. That was frustrating.
“Then I had, I think it was Grosjean take the front wing in the first corner, so the first stint was compromised by that,” he added. “The boys did a great job to put a fresh front wing on at the stop and then we started to get the race underway from there. Obviously there were a lot of people with issues with the tyres, which helped a bit, but we were lucky not to have any issues. It was a clean race, good strategy. I think that, yeah I would have liked a few more laps at Nico but he deserved the win. He was quick all day.”
Fernando Alonso’s race was a similar tale of recovery to Webber’s. The Spaniard’s Ferrari driver had been off the pace all weekend and on Saturday he qualified a desultory 10th.
With Ferrari’s race pace better than it’s qualifying form, there was hope of progress through the pack in the race but at the start the team would have hardly dared dream of the third place Alonso eventually secured.
“It was a good race for us,” said Alonso. “With the last safety car we lost six positions because of the safety car. But overall I think it has been a very lucky race for us. Looking at the problems with the tyres of some of the drivers, we fact we didn’t any problem we have to consider lucky. And then with Sebastian’s problem, as Nico touched on before, we’ve been also lucky to recover some points.”
Behind Alonso, Hamilton also staged a superb recovery to take fourth place for Mercedes, while Kimi Raikkonen was fifth for Lotus. Felipe Massa also profited from good race pace and a late run on new tyres to climb to sixth after finding himself 22nd after his puncture. Adrian Sutil was seventh for Force India, while Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo finished eighth. The final points positions were occupied by Force India’s Paul Di Resta and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg.
As for the championship leader himself, Vettel was philosophical about his failure. "We had a gearbox issue, lost fifth, and when I shifted up to sixth, fifth said goodbye and damaged the rest of the gearbox," Vettel said. "These things unfortunately happen but fortunately we've got the next race coming up next week so we can try again."
British Grand Prix Race Result
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 52
2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 52 +0.7 secs
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 52 +7.1 secs
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 52 +7.7 secs
5 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 52 +11.2 secs
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 52 +14.5 secs
7 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 52 +16.3 secs
8 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 52 +16.5 secs
9 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 52 +17.9 secs
10 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 52 +19.7 secs
11 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 52 +21.1 secs
12 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 52 +25.0 secs
13 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 52 +25.9 secs
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 52 +26.2 secs
15 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 52 +31.6 secs
16 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 52 +36.0 secs
17 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 52 +67.6 secs
18 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 52 +67.7 secs
19 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 51 +1 Lap
20 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 46 +6 Laps
Ret Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 41 +11 Laps