Sebastian Vettel was able to cruise to victory around the circuit surrounding Valencia's Americas Cup harbour after his main opposition took themselves out of the European Grand Prix fight.
The German, having qualified on pole position somewhat against expectation, out-dragged Red Bull
team-mate Mark Webber
at the start and then survived an opportunistic lunge from Lewis Hamilton
at turn two, after the Briton had made the most of a lightning start to also see off Webber into the opening corner. By lap ten, however, both challengers had made mistakes that would hand an easy win to Vettel.
Having rebuffed Hamilton's move, closing the McLaren
off and making light contact at the apex of the second turn, Vettel was able to ease away from the 2008 world champion who, in turn, complained of a vibration resulting from 'being hit'. The McLaren's front wing was indeed damaged after rubbing on Vettel's right rear, but Hamilton could not afford to stop and change it with the pack in close attendance.
Webber, meanwhile, was already suffering from a mistake in the early stages for, having allowed Hamilton to sneak up his inside into turn one, he found himself off-line and being muscled aside by both Ferraris before turn two. Having fallen into the clutches of Jenson Button, a touch between the pair then saw Webber fall further, and he ended the lap ninth, having also fallen behind the two Williams
With little to lose, Webber became the first driver to stop for fresh tyres - Lotus' Jarno Trulli
had pitted on lap one after contact in the pack - and emerged well down the order after his left front again proved reluctant to depart the car.
As Nico Rosberg
pitted next time around, however, Webber's race came to a violent end, the Red Bull
cartwheeling over the back of the other Lotus, in the hands of Heikki Kovalainen, after a misunderstanding while battling for position. Although the Finn admitted to defending his place - a futile exercise given the performance difference between Lotus and Red Bull
- Webber, looking to gain as much of a tow as possible, did not appear to give enough room when finally ducking out to pass.
Riding up over the right rear of the T127, the Australian, replicating his Le Mans accident from 1999 Le Mans accident, was turned skywards before coming down on his rollhoop. The car then rolled back onto its belly and skated at barely abated speed into the turn twelve tyre wall and rebounding into the run-off area. Fortunately, maybe miraculously, Webber was able to throw out the steering wheel and clamber from the wreckage unaided, before being ushered into the medical car. Kovalainen, too, was unhurt, despite losing his rear wing and being fired into the retaining wall in a sad end to Lotus' 500th grand prix appearance.
The ensuing safety car - remarkably, the first in an F1 race on the Valencia street circuit - caused confusion in the ranks, with the first five runners all being beyond pit-entry by the time they were notified of its presence. Not only did that mean that they missed out on the opportunity to stop for their mandatory tyre change at the same point as the rest of their rivals but, in Hamilton's case, it would also cost a chance to challenge Vettel for victory.
While Vettel was well past pit exit by the time the safety cars emerged, Hamilton was only approaching the all-important line that would decide whether he could motor on or fall into line. A momentary hesitation cost the 2008 world champion dearly, as it allowed the pace car to nose over the marker first. Seemingly unsure of what he should do, and the margin was gossamer-fine, Hamilton accelerated past, duly earning himself a drive-thru' penalty that would drop him well away from the leader.