Nico Rosberg claimed his second win of the 2013 F1 season after emerging from a dramatic British Grand Prix just 0.7secs ahead of a charging Mark Webber.
The German appeared to be far from a contender for victory for much of the 52-lap race, losing his second place to Sebastian Vettel off the line and having to play a supporting role as, initially, Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton and, latterly, Vettel took charge at the front. Only when misfortune struck both the pacesetters did Rosberg's hopes take an upswing, the Monaco Grand Prix winner suddenly finding himself at the front….
Hamilton was the first to fall away, the Briton losing an advantage of over a second built up after holding on to his pole position from the start. Despite Vettel slotting into second place into turn one, Hamilton was able to extend his advantage and appeared in control of the race when his left-rear tyre let go in spectacular fashion on the Wellington Straight. With over half the lap remaining before he could pit for a replacement, the Briton plummeted down the order, with Vettel picking up a lead that many expected him to hold to the end.
Hamilton's tyre failure, which came on lap eight, was only the tip of the iceberg, as Felipe Massa was pitched into a spin at almost the same point on the track when the same tyre came apart on his Ferrari a lap later. While debris from an opening corner clash between Webber and Romain Grosjean could have been to blame given its proximity to the incidents, a third failure, suffered by Jean-Eric Vergne at the end of the Hangar Straight five laps later, cast the light back onto Pirelli, given similar incidents in previous races.
While teams – who had already responded by calling for the first round of pit-stops - frantically warned their drivers to keep off the kerbs, particularly at the quicker exits, Pirelli attempted to discover the cause of further embarrassment to its brand, again shying away from blaming its own product until the facts could be established.
Unsurprisingly, the safety car was scrambled to give the marshals cover to clear the track of debris, with Massa's team-mate Fernando Alonso and Webber taking the opportunity to pit for fresh tyres and, in the Australian's case, a new nose. More alarmingly, however, was Alonso's subsequent claim that he had suffered a left rear deflation as he approached the pits….
Despite concerns over possible further problems, the safety car was withdrawn at the end of lap 21, with few of the 22 runners heeding the calls to exercise caution over the kerbs. Vettel needed no second bidding to stretch the Red Bull's legs, immediately opening a one-second gap across the start-finish line and doubling that advantage in the space of a couple of laps. Rosberg remained second, with Adrian Sutil – following a good initial start – still ahead of Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean and Daniel Ricciardo.
Both Red Bull and Ferrari made little secret of the fact that they had increased the tyre pressures on the second set of rubber, but the change did not appear to affect Vettel as he continued to hold firm at the front through the middle of the race, pulling enough of an advantage to ensure that he remained ahead during the second round of stops. More debris at the Stowe pointed to a fourth tyre failure, although it took some time for Esteban Gutierrez's problem to filter through, and there was no recourse to the safety car until the closing laps – when Vettel's car ground to a halt rounding the final turn of lap 41….
The German had been coming under pressure from Rosberg, but still held a lead approaching two seconds when his transmission gave up the ghost exiting the Vale chicane. Unable to pit, Vettel crawled to a standstill on the main straight, but the stewards deemed that his RB9 remained in a dangerous spot and called for the race to be neutralised once again.
Despite being promoted to first and third positions, Rosberg and Webber both responded to calls to pit for a third time, fortunately in the German's case as his left rear was subsequently discovered to have a cut in it. Alonso and Raikkonen, however, were not so fortunate, the Spaniard already committed to stopping before the pace car emerged and the Finn not being stopped at all, leaving him on older tyres for the final six laps.
The order at the restart, on lap 46, showed Rosberg out front, with Raikkonen next up, ahead of Sutil and Ricciardo, the Australian enjoying a fine audition for Webber's soon-to-be-vacant seat at RBR having run in the top ten throughout. The present incumbent of the #2 was fifth on the road, with Sergio Perez, Jenson Button, Alonso, Hamilton and Grosjean filling the other points positions.
Knowing that their championship aspirations had been revived by Vettel's first DNF since Valencia last year, Webber, Hamilton and Alonso were in no mood to hang about, each gaining a place on the first lap after being released from behind Bernd Maylander's Mercedes. Alonso, however, was lucky to emerge unscathed from the race's final moment of drama, as Perez suffered his own left-rear failure while running directly ahead of the Ferrari…
Undeterred, Alonso continued to pick off cars ahead of him, taking Ricciardo for fifth and dragging Hamilton through with him. Webber, meanwhile, had already despatched Sutil at the end of the Wellington Straight to move into a podium position, but wasn't done there.
Having promised his engineer that the march to the front 'will happen' while still behind the safety car, the Australian then homed in on the tyre-troubled Raikkonen. Despite having his first bid to pass at Brooklands rebuffed by the Finn, Webber got as close as he could the Lotus' gearbox before swooping out to take second spot on the run to Copse. From there, he had four laps to hunt down Rosberg, and clearly had better pace than the German…
Close as he did, however, time was against Webber, who was a matter of tenths outside the DRS zone on the final lap and just unable to bridge the gap to what would have been an emotional farewell to the British Grand Prix, a circuit he enjoys and a crowd who have taken him to their hearts.
Rosberg thus took a second victory of 2013, one a lot more fortunate than his consummate performance in Monaco but one that, similarly, rewarded Mercedes for the strides it has made with the race performance of the W04.
Alonso, meanwhile, added Sutil to his list of victims, before making short work of Raikkonen at Stowe with two laps to run to also move into a podium position. Given that he had qualified only tenth, and fallen to eighth with the unfortunate timing of his final pit-stop, it was another charging drive from the Ferrari man, making the most of Vettel's exit.
Hamilton, too, continued to pick up places, snatching fifth from Sutil on lap 49, and fourth from Raikkonen next time around, but did not have enough in hand to catch and pass Alonso to complete a remarkable comeback from 22nd and last.
Sutil's late-race slump, again caused by not pitting under the final safety car, also saw him passed by the recovering Massa, but was arrested before Ricciardo could take advantage. Paul di Resta, having been sent to the back of the grid for running underweight in qualifying, again made it into the points, having enjoyed a wheel-to-wheel scrap with Hamilton prior to the second safety car, while Nico Hulkenberg snuck almost unnoticed into tenth, adding a rare point to Sauber's tally.
As stealthy as Hulkenberg's rise had been, so was Button's demise, the Briton also struggling on ageing rubber after not stopping late on and plummeting to 13th at the flag. That left the 2009 world champion behind the two Williams cars of Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas, and only just ahead of Gutierrez. Charles Pic, Jules Bianchi, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde all made it to the finish for the two minnow teams, but Grosjean, Perez and Vergne all joined Vettel in retirement after their cars were deemed to have suffered too much damage to continue.