Jenson Button was left apologising to the fans following another British Grand Prix to forget.
A potential podium finish was on the cards for the McLaren driver as he came in for his third and final pit stop 12 laps from the finish.
But within yards of leaving his pit box, Button was forced to pull over as the right-front wheel had worked loose.
The mechanic working on the change of that tyre lost the wheelnut, and in picking up the spare wheel-gun, triggered the front-jack man into lowering the car, which in turn led to the lollipop man allowing Button to leave.
It was a simple case of human error, but one that remarkably leaves Button with the unenviable record of never having finished on the podium in 12 attempts at his home race.
"We all make mistakes, and you always hope they won't happen, but this is even more disappointing as it's in front of my home crowd," said Button.
"I was really enjoying the race, I had a couple of good battles out there, and the pace was very good. It was all looking pretty sweet.
"When you're that high up and your pace is good, there's always the chance of a podium, so what happened is a pity because it could have been a great race.
"I'm just sorry we couldn't do better because there was definitely a podium on the cards.
"I don't think we could have fought with (race winner) Fernando (Alonso), but with the Red Bulls it could have been interesting.
"So sorry to the fans, I wish we could have done more. It seems that way at the British Grand Prix for me over the last few years.
"But I'll come back next year, I'll hopefully have a strong car and we won't make any mistakes."
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh refused to chastise the member of the pit crew who was naturally left beating himself up over his mistake.
"On this occasion it was a case of human error in the heat of the moment," said Whitmarsh.
"We mustn't be too hard on individuals. I know he's being very hard on himself right now."
McLaren at least picked up some points courtesy of Lewis Hamilton, who could also have been on the podium but for being forced to save fuel over the final 15 laps after his early charge.
Hamilton climbed from 10th to fifth inside three laps courtesy of a number of fine moves, and was within a second of the lead later in the race.
However, in a car struggling for pace in fuel-saving mode, he dropped to fourth, holding off Ferrari's Felipe Massa in a thrilling last-lap duel.
Spurred on by the 120,000-plus Silverstone crowd in light of the recent negativity that has surrounded him, Hamilton, who along with Button is 95 points adrift of championship leader Vettel, said: "The fans were phenomenal.
"That's the thing with the fans, whether we are winning or losing, they are with you all the way, and I just can't wait for the time we are at the front and we are able to win for them."
Whitmarsh insisted he was not considering his own position despite the problems which affected his drivers.
He told the Daily Telegraph: "I am confident I will stay in my job. I answer to the board - not just (group chairman) Ron (Dennis) - and they seem happy with the job I am doing - certainly for now.
"But for sure it was not one of the best grands prix I have ever had. We don't want to let the fans down and we did."