Nico Rosberg rides out Silverstone rubber woes to take British Grand Prix victory
- Credit: PA
In the end Silverstone delivered the most dramatic of Formula One races. But this time around the reasons for it were simply not good enough – and certainly not sustainable.
Primary sufferer was Lewis Hamilton, whose Saturday had been such a joy. The qualifying lap that earned him pole position for his home race was not only a circuit record. It was a work of art, lapped up by his home crowd.
And come Sunday's British Grand Prix, concerns about being able to keep Sebastian Vettel's imperious Red Bull behind him were melting away.
The Brit was in command and flying as the race settled into its rhythm. The place was buzzing as the fans' belief and cheers grew with his every lap.
And then the chance of home glory blew up in rubber.
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Heading on to Wellington Straight, his Mercedes' rear left tyre dramatically exploded – a fate that also befell three others before the day was out and a situation with recriminations that will extend long beyond Formula One's departure from Silverstone.
Hamilton did at least give the home crowd plenty to cheer right to the end, recovering to fourth and pushing Fernando Alonso all the way to the line. But it could have been so much more, especially given it was team-mate Nico Rosberg who took the chequered flag – owing plenty to long-time leader Sebastian Vettel's own exit with gearbox failure come lap 42, 10 from the end.
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The crowd's cheers at Vettel's fate did at least soothe their anguish at Hamilton's spectacular failure.
'Safety is the biggest issue, it's unacceptable,' said Hamilton. 'We had that tyre test to improve the tyre and to have four blowouts is unacceptable. It's only when someone gets hurt that someone will be doing something about it.'
Ten days before Silverstone, Brackley-based Mercedes were hauled before a tribunal to explain themselves after an illegal secret test with Pirelli earlier in the year. The accusation of whether they had benefited from the test now looked to be lying in black, rubber tatters.
And while irony wasn't lost on many, there was no denying Mercedes now look in fine fettle to make a serious impact on the rest of the season. The German Grand Prix arrives at the weekend.
However, the tyre issues exposed by Silverstone will extend beyond wry smiles and into general concern.
'It was really unfortunate,' understated Hamilton. 'We were looking like we were going for a win. The car felt great and I had no problems at all – and then it blew up.
'Big congratulations to Nico and the team though. The car was great and I'm just glad I was able to catch up and grab some points. When I was back in 21st I was thinking I wouldn't be scoring any, so I'm grateful to come up as far as I did.'
Hamilton's team-mate was delighted to bag his second win of the season – but also felt for the man opposite him in the Mercedes garage. The German also almost tasted misfortune of his own, after his suspected failure to slow down at yellow warning flags threatened to take away his win – but ended with just a reprimand.
'With Lewis, I feel sorry for all the British fans,' said Rosberg. 'It would have been great for Lewis. It's always a massive disappointment but that's racing. When Sebastian stopped, I won't lie – I wasn't disappointed by that one. But it's a fantastic day. This is very special because it's the home grand prix of the team and the factory is 10 minutes away. It's great to see the momentum we have at the moment.'
Before half-distance Hamilton, a flying Ferrari of Felipe Massa and the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne had all suffered explosive left rear tyres – leaving the entire grid wondering what was causing the problem and who would be next.
At one point, race director Charlie Whiting was considering stopping the race. With the feeling around Silverstone at that point, it wouldn't have been a surprise if he had.
But focus eventually returned to the racing and once leader Vettel succumbed to a gearbox issue – with the resulting safety car bunching the field – things really came to life.
Mark Webber vowed over team radio to take on the four cars in front of him and with a lap more, he may well have won at Silverstone for a successive year. In the end, the man who confirmed on Thursday this year will be his last in F1 took a welcome second place, just half a second short of Rosberg – and far from a disappointment having been 14th following a flawed first lap.
'It felt pretty good at the end,' said Webber. 'I knew I was going to make pretty light work of the guys ahead because they were on old tyres. It was nice to finish the race but it would have been about 100 cherries on top if I had managed to get past Nico.'
Alonso was similarly inspired, turning eighth as the safety car came in with seven laps to go into a podium finish for Ferrari – holding off a determined Hamilton to make as much as he could of Vettel's failure.
Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen was the big loser, deciding not to put on fresh rubber when the safety car arrived and dropping from second to fifth.
Scot Paul di Resta overcame his qualification disqualification – for being underweight in his car – and starting on the back row instead of fifth, he came home a decent ninth for Force India and enjoyed more than the odd tussle with Hamilton.
But it was far from vintage for McLaren and Williams. The latter's 600th race could not bring them a first point of 2013. As for McLaren, Jenson Button finished pointless again while Sergio Perez suffered the day's final tyre blowout.
'I was a sitting duck, just waiting for people to pass me,' said Button.
The Woking team confirmed they are already looking to develop next season's car rather than the current one – summing up their plight.
So McLaren and some others will want to forget their Silverstone weekend – but once again, that will probably be easier said than done.