Webber revels in red letter day as Hamilton is left to rue his misfortune

Australian leads from start to finish to win the Spanish Grand Prix while tyre problem forces Briton out in closing stages

Unless you were one of the drivers left trailing in his wake for 66 laps, you needed all the Red Bull you could drink here yesterday to stay alert as Mark Webber went walkabout. The Australian left his rivals to find their own way home from the outback as he led from start to finish here.

All the rain dances from optimistic rivals went unacknowledged by the weather gods, and thus their only hope was that Red Bull might bring about their own downfall. With only one previous victory from four races, that was a possibility. But not, it turned out, for Webber, who finished ahead of Fernando Alonso and team-mate Sebastian Vettel. Lewis Hamilton was on course for second until forced out in the closing stages.

Webber won the drag race to the first corner – "a crucial part because there were a lot of very quick cars behind us with better top speed, and it all gets a bit tight down there," he said – and after that all he had to do was control the race on a day when Hamilton again staked a claim to being the spiritual heir to the magnificent devil-may-care legacy of the late Gilles Villeneuve, and Vettel struggled with a car that ran nothing like as perfectly as his team-mate's.

"I'm absolutely wrapped!" said the beaming Australian. "I made a great start from pole, got that very important part of the race unlocked, then settled into a rhythm and just took care of the tyres and made sure they were in pretty good nick by the finish of the first stint."

He changed tyres on the 17th lap, together with Hamilton, a lap later than Vettel. "I think we came in too early, and Lewis came in a lap later than we had expected," said the German, whose car had handling problems.

The need to wait for Alonso's Ferrari to pull into its own pit further delayed him, and by the time Hamilton was leaving the pit exit Vettel was thundering down the main straight and it was clear that they would arrive in the first turn side by side. They did, but the situation was complicated by the presence of Luca di Grassi's lapped Virgin hugging the inside line, giving them room. Hamilton had to jink around it, and Vettel clung on round the outside of the McLaren until the inevitable moment when he had to decide, "crash or run wide over the run-off area." Vettel is a smart guy, and opened up the steering to take the alternative route. Hamilton was second.

"With Lewis behind me I knew I just had to control the gap, look after tyres and the engine, and I'd be fine," Webber concluded. "The team have been incredible this week, with long, long nights for the guys, so collectively Renault and Red Bull have put in a huge effort, and the driver did a little bit too. I'm absolutely thrilled."

And well he might have been. Just when it seemed he was falling down the order in the championship battle, the third victory of his career and the 10th consecutive time that the poleman has won here, thrust him up to fourth place. Hamilton was left to rue his fortune, after a superb race ended two laps short of home when the left front Bridgestone tyre on his McLaren failed in the third corner and threw him into the wall. At a stroke, second place in the championship fight disappeared.

"Fact, there was a problem on the car, there was a sudden deflation of the left front tyre, but we are not convinced it was a tyre failure," McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh reported. The most likely cause seems to be a stone which became jammed in the front upright and machined through the wheel, which then caused the tyre to explode. In other words, a carbon copy of the freak accident that saw Hamilton's team-mate Heikki Kovalainen crash here in 2008.

"It was quite a good race for me," Hamilton said with the same sort of philosophical shrug that Villeneuve, the fastest man in the early Eighties, would have given, knowing his performance to have been majestic. "I had really good fun out there. It was great to come here with such a good step forward for us and it would have been perfect for the team in terms of the constructors' championship and also for the drivers, but these things happen.

"I don't know what it was. I just felt it was kind of unfortunate to have another tyre blowout. I was just cruising to the finish line, really. Obviously there were something like 40 laps to do on those tyres so to keep up with Mark was impossible, so basically I just wanted to maintain the pace and keep the spot. It could have been great points for me so I'm absolutely blown away that it was in the last two laps. But this is motor racing and you just keep your chin up and look forward."

Hamilton's demise was the second bit of good fortune for Alonso, or "Teflonso" as he is often known for his ability to slip out of trouble. On the 54th lap Vettel's troubled race had got worse when a brake failure sent him off course and into the pits. The German was lucky that a rejuvenated Michael Schumacher in a revamped Mercedes had kept Jenson Button and Felipe Massa in his mirrors for so long, because he was able to rejoin in fourth place, and then claim the final podium slot when Hamilton crashed.

"Now I feel extremely happy," Alonso said. "When you gain two positions in the last part of the race, unexpectedly, it feels great! We saw this weekend that we need to improve to be closer to Red Bull in qualifying, but we need to be satisfied with today."

Button, who came fifth, said: "The pace was good but it doesn't make any difference if you can't overtake. I damaged my tyres quite badly. Really disappointing. It's not the result we wanted or deserved."

Spanish grand prix results

Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, Spain: 1 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1hr 35mins 44.101secs, 2 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:36:08.166, 3 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1:36:35.439, 4 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:36:46.296, 5 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:36:47.829, 6 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:36:49.868, 7 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:36:57.042, 8 R Kubica (Pol) Renault 1:36:57.778, 9 R Barrichello (Br) Williams 1:36:57.778, 10 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 lap, 11 V Petrov (Rus) Renault at 1 lap, 12 K Kobayashi (Japan) BMW Sauber at 1 lap, 13 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP at 1 lap, 14 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren at 2 laps, 15 V Liuzzi (It) Force India at 2 laps, 16 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Williams at 2 laps, 17 J Trulli (It) Lotus F1 at 3 laps, 18 T Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing at 3 laps, 19 L di Grassi (Br) Virgin Racing at 4 laps. Not Classified: 20 S Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso 42 laps completed, 21 K Chandhok (India) HRT-F1 27 laps completed, 22 P de la Rosa (Sp) BMW Sauber 18 laps completed, 23 B Senna (Br) HRT-F1 0 laps completed, 24 H Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus F1 Did Not Start.

Drivers' Championship: 1 J Button (GB) McLaren 70pts, 2 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 67, 3 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 60, 4 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 53, 5 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 50, 6 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 49, 7 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 49, 8 R Kubica (Pol) Renault 44, 9 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 22, 10 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 16, 11 V Liuzzi (It) Force India 8, 12 R Barrichello (Br) Williams 7, 13 V Petrov (Rus) Renault 6, 14 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso 3, 15 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Williams 1. Manufacturers' Championship: 1 McLaren 119pts, 2 Ferrari 116, 3 Red Bull 113, 4 Mercedes GP 72, 5 Renault 50, 6 Force India 24, 7 Williams 8, 8 Scuderia Toro Rosso 3, 9 BMW Sauber 0, 10 Lotus F1 0, 11 HRT-F1 0, 12 Virgin Racing 0.