Sunday’s British Grand Prix was a race full of wild action and drama. The race saw the field suffer a string of high-speed tyre failures that brought the race into chaos, taking early leader and polesitter Lewis Hamilton out of contention for the win.
Added to that, Sebastian Vettel suffered a rare mechanically-induced retirement while he was on the cusp of winning, which handed the lead to Nico Rosberg. The German went on to win (only just) from Mark Webber in a thrilling finish.
With ambient and track temperatures the hottest they had been all weekend, the race began with Hamilton taking a clean getaway to retain his lead through the opening sequence of corners, while Vettel – starting from third on the cleaner side of the grid – was able to jump Rosberg and claim second place.
After a couple of Grands Prix where he has managed to get cleanly off the line, Mark Webber fluffed his start from fourth and dropped several positions before the first corner, and found squeezed by his old nemesis, Romain Grosjean, as the pack funneled into Turn 1. The Australian had part of his front wing end-fence removed, but was able to keep going, albeit some eleven places down from his starting position.
Further behind, Adrian Sutil and Felipe Massa both had terrific starts, with Sutil slotting into fourth place and Massa into fifth.
Out in the lead, Hamilton quickly set about building himself a cushion ahead of Vettel, crucially pulling out a gap of over one second to prevent the German being able to use his DRS and challenge for the lead.
However, the real drama of the race kicked off on the eighth lap. Driving along the Wellington Straight, Hamilton suffered a dramatic left-rear tyre blowout, throwing bits of rubber and tread across the width of the track, before he had to limp around the remainder of the 3.6-mile circuit to the pits and a new set of boots.
Vettel moved into the lead ahead of Rosberg and Sutil, and the order remained after the first round of pit stops, which kicked off just a few laps later.
But then the race took a significant turn, as both Felipe Massa and Jean-Éric Vergne suffered almost identical tyre failures.
Massa’s came as he entered the Wellington Straight, which threw him into a wild spin into the tarmac run-off; the Brazilian performed a neat spin-turn and managed to hobble back to the pits.
Vergne’s, which occurred on Hangar Straight, was rather more spectacular. The Frenchman – who hadn’t yet pitted to counter the loss of several places at the start of the race – suffered his tyre delamination just before the braking point for Stowe, throwing chunks of rubber and tread into the path of his pursuers, which a large piece being seen to strike Kimi Räikkönen, who was trying to overtake teammate Romain Grosjean at the same time.
With three near-identical failures in a matter of laps, panic quickly set in and Race Control quickly elected to throw a full-course caution to allow marshals to clean the track of all detritus and team engineers to encourage their drivers to keep clear of the Turn 4 apex kerbs, which were suspected as being a trigger of the spate of tyre failures.
Of course, with all Formula 1 drivers being racers to the core, all chose to ignore that directive…
In all truth, the kerbing probably wasn’t the cause of the tyre failures, and at the time of going to press Pirelli was still to confirm what has caused these failures on the tyre maker’s 250th Grand Prix appearance.
The post-race wash-up from all of this will be fascinating, and no doubt the teams will again be unanimous in their criticism of the tyres, while Pirelli will counter this with quite accurate claims that it could have introduced its reinforced Kevlar-belted tyres compounds by now if the teams had all agreed to the changes it had proposed earlier in the season.
The situation was clearly dangerous, and after a six-lap delay, racing was resumed once again while Pirelli’s PR team no doubt set about trying to figure out how it would navigate its way through this latest mess that will damage its image in the sport.
Out in front, Vettel quickly set about building his own lead over Rosberg, and he was in a commanding position by the time the second round of pit stops came around.
The German looked certain to claim back-to-back wins and further extend his championship lead, particularly while his chief title rivals – Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen – were buried in the lower realms of the points-paying positions and struggling to make any headway further up the order.
However, some bad luck finally fell Vettel’s way on the 42nd lap of the race, when his Red Bull RB9 ground to a halt as he exited the final corner, having broken its fifth gear and damaged the rest of the gearbox internals.
With his car in a dangerous position, the Safety Car was called into service once again, while Rosberg assumed the lead.
With the field split between pitting for a fresh set of tyres, Webber was one of the drivers who pitted for fresh tyres, and the focus quickly became on whether the Australian – who was now fifth – could overhaul those ahead of him and challenge Rosberg for the win within the handful of laps that remained.
By contrast, the likes of Räikkönen, Sutil and Daniel Ricciardo opted not to pit, hoping that they could prevail against those behind them. Räikkönen was particularly unhappy with the decision not to pit.
When the race resumed, Webber quickly picked up the pace, and delivered a succession of fastest laps as he scythed past those on more-worn tyres to vault into second place and start his charge on Rosberg.
In the end without enough laps in hand, Webber wasn’t quite able to close down the Mercedes driver, and he crossed the line just 0.7 seconds behind, while Alonso managed to pick his way into third, only just holding off a fast-closing Lewis Hamilton for the final podium spot.
Räikkönen would lament the decision not to pit, falling to fifth place in the final laps ahead of Massa, Sutil and Ricciardo. Paul di Resta finished ninth after being forced to start from the back of the grid, while Nico Hülkenberg claimed the final point for a very relieved Sauber team.
Now eight races into the season, and Williams’ nightmare 2013 season continued, despite the celebrations surrounding its 600th Grand Prix celebrations this weekend. Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas struggled with ill-handling cars, consigning the team to another scoreless round, marking the team’s worst start to a season in its long history.
It was a similar story at McLaren, which racked up back-to-back Grands Prix where it failed to trouble the scorers as both Jenson Button and Sergio Pérez struggled with tyre wear throughout. Button finished a disappointing thirteenth, while Pérez suffered the final tyre blowout of the race along Hangar Straight. The Mexican retired six laps before the finish, courtesy of the damage incurred as a result of the failure.
2013 British Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (52 laps):
|1.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04||52||1:32:59.456|
|2.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB9||52||+ 0.765|
|3.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F138||52||+ 7.124|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04||52||+ 7.756|
|5.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E21||52||+ 11.257|
|6.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F138||52||+ 14.573|
|7.||Adrian Sutil||Force India Mercedes VJM06||52||+ 16.335|
|8.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8||52||+ 16.543|
|9.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM06||52||+ 17.943|
|10.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sauber Ferrari C32||52||+ 19.709|
|11.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW35||52||+ 21.135|
|12.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Renault FW35||52||+ 25.094|
|13.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-28||52||+ 25.969|
|14.||Esteban Gutiérrez||Sauber Ferrari C32||52||+ 26.285|
|15.||Charles Pic||Caterham Renault CT03||52||+ 31.613|
|16.||Jules Bianchi||Marussia Cosworth MR02||52||+ 36.097|
|17.||Max Chilton||Marussia Cosworth MR02||52||+ 1:07.660|
|18.||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham Renault CT03||52||+ 1:07.759|
|19.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E21||51||1 lap behind|
|20.||Sergio Pérez||McLaren Mercedes MP4-28||46||Damage|
|DNF.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB9||41||Transmission|
|DNF.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8||35||Handling|