The spectacular tyre failure that robbed Lewis Hamilton of the British Grand Prix victory he was determined to deliver to his legion of fans not only handed the win to his Mercedes’ team-mate Nico Rosberg but proved a prelude to a dramatic and dangerous day which moved Red Bull design guru Adrian Newey to suggest that the sport had had a “narrow escape.”
The brilliant sunshine that blew away the gloom of Friday lent the ‘home of British motorsport’ a welcome garden party atmosphere, but the spectacular failures suffered by Pirelli’s tyres brought dark clouds of their own swirling back over the sport.A brilliant recovery drive, aided by two safety car interruptions, saw Hamilton fight back from 18th place to fourth and finish within 7.7s of winner Rosberg, and though he put a brave face on the intra-team situation he readily expressed his anger over the tyre debacle.
"Safety is the biggest issue," he said. "It's just unacceptable. We had that tyre test to develop and improve the tyres to stop that from happening, and they didn't do anything. Someone could've crashed. I was thinking behind the safety car that it's only when someone gets hurt that something will be done about it."
Hamilton had led confidently from pole position as Sebastian Vettel jumped ahead of Rosberg, and Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso made appalling starts. But after 10 laps the Mercedes star was three-wheeling back to the pits with his left rear tyre in tatters. Four laps later Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne had a similar failure, heading into Stowe corner at 300 kmh. Two laps later still, Felipe Massa spun his Ferrari when his left rear tyre disintegrated.While marshals cleared away debris under the safety car, Pirelli advised drivers to avoid using the kerbs, though they were unchanged since the 2012 race.
When the racing resumed on the 22nd lap Rosberg chased after Vettel, but admitted: “He was just too fast today. I might have caught him, but it would have been tough to pass.”
In the end he didn’t need to, as the habitually reliable Red Bull lost drive after 41 laps. The world champion’s stricken car rolled to a halt, prompting another safety car deployment. That reshuffled things as Rosberg, Webber and Alonso all pitted. Rosberg timed it best, retaining the lead, but Webber dropped from third to fifth and Alonso from fourth to eighth. That was the prelude to some spectacular racing, as Webber vanquished Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso, Adrian Sutil’s Force India and Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus by the 49th lap. The Finn had also wanted to pit, but his team had missed the chance and now he was powerless on worn rubber.
After a superb recovery of his own Webber set the fastest lap but ran out of time to challenge Rosberg, finishing 0.7s behind. “It’s a very, very special day, with the factory only 10 minutes down the road,” Rosberg said as he savoured his second victory in three races. “We have so much momentum going now, so this is for all my team colleagues. I definitely feel sorry for all the British fans; it would have been great for Lewis to win his home race, so that’s disappointing. But I won’t lie, I wasn’t disappointed to see Seb stopped. From then on it was a great race!”
Webber was relieved to do so well after suffering front wing damage in his poor start. “It took a while for my race to get going, and the tyre issues helped us a bit and I was lucky not to have any. I’d have liked a couple more laps to push Nico, but that’s fortune. This was my last race here in front of the British fans, and I don’t know what country the next one is in, but I wanna win it!”
Close behind, Alonso and Hamilton were likewise locked together and as Alonso fought his way past Ricciardo, Sutil and Raikkonen, Hamilton went with him. The two former McLaren team-mates finished 0.6s apart, as Alonso snatched a podium finish from one of Ferrari’s toughest races of the year. Like Rosberg and Vettel, who were also warned by their teams of imminent tyre problems, he was lucky, reaching the pits for fresh rubber just before suffering the same fate as Massa.“It was a good race for us considering how many positions we lost behind the second safety car,” the Spaniard said, “but we were lucky that we had no tyre problems ourselves and recovered some points, so it was a very good Sunday.”
After Canada an unhappy Hamilton had declared that he was only interested in wins and admitted pressuring himself to match his team-mate’s success in Monaco. Yesterday his first overdue win for Mercedes was there for the taking, but instead it too went to Rosberg. That had to hurt. But not as much as the Pirelli fiasco hurt F1’s image.
British Grand Prix, Silverstone
1 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1hr 32min 59.456sec
2 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:33:00.221
3 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:33:06.580
4 L Hamilton (GB) Mercedes GP 1:33:07.212
5 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 1:33:10.713
6 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:33:14.029
7 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:33:15.791
8 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:33:15.999
9 P di Resta (GB) Force India 1:33:17.399
10 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari 1:33:19.165
11 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:33:20.591,
12 V Bottas (Fin) Williams 1:33:24.550,
13 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:33:25.356,
14 E Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 1:33:25.656,
15 C Pic (Fr) Caterham 1:33:57.256,
16 J Bianchi (Fr) Marussia 1:33:35.456,
17 M Chilton (GB) Marussia 1:34:43.056,
18 G van der Garde (Neth) Caterham 1:34:07.156,
19 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team at 1 lap.
20 S Perez (Mex) McLaren 46 laps completed,
21 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 41 laps completed,
22 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 35 laps completed.
World Championship standings
1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 132pts,
2 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 111,
3 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 98,
4 L Hamilton (GB) Mercedes GP 89,
5 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 87,
6 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 82,
7 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 57,
8 P di Resta (GB) Force India 36,
9 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team 26,
10 J Button (GB) McLaren 25,
11 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 23,
12 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 13,
13 S Perez (Mex) McLaren 12,
14 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 11,
15 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari 6,
16 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 0,
17 V Bottas (Fin) Williams 0,
18 E Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 0,
19 J Bianchi (Fr) Marussia 0,
20 C Pic (Fr) Caterham 0,
21 M Chilton (GB) Marussia 0,
22 G van der Garde (Neth) Caterham 0.
1 Red Bull 219pts,
2 Mercedes GP 171,
3 Ferrari 168,
4 Lotus F1 Team 124,
5 Force India 59,
6 McLaren 37,
7 Scuderia Toro Rosso 24,
8 Sauber-Ferrari 6,
9 Williams 0,
10 Marussia 0,
11 Caterham 0.