Fernando Alonso ended Sebastian Vettel's latest run of victories in the 2011 F1 world championship by claiming a comfortable win in the British Grand Prix, but had to rely on a little bad luck for the German.
Vettel appeared to be favourite for a seventh win in nine races when he made the best of the start to pass polesitting Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber into Abbey, but a problem with his rear jack during the second round of pit-stops dropped the German out of contention, and forced him to fight back past a tenacious Lewis Hamilton to reclaim second. Webber recovered from his own slow stop to complete the podium after Hamilton ran into fuel consumption problems.
After two days in which Silverstone had been battered by squalls and storms, it was perhaps inevitable that the race was preceded by a morning of showers that left the circuit wet as the cars took to the grid. By the time the green flag was shown, however, the new pit straight was almost bone dry, but the section from the Loop around to Becketts remained resolutely wet, making taking the start on intermediates something of a no-brainer.
Sergio Perez underlined the trickiness of the situation by running off on his out-lap from the pits, collecting a Pirelli hording and needing a new nose before racing had even started. The Mexican, however, was only a bit-part player when the action did get underway, with all the attention focused on the front few rows. Webber, hoping to replicate his start from 2010, which propelled him past Vettel into turn one, instead found his team-mate turning the table, vaulting from P2 into top spot, while Alonso looked to get to the outside of the Australian into Abbey and gain track position for turn two.
While the top three sorted themselves out, Jenson Button got the best of Felipe Massa, while Hamilton leapt from tenth to sixth by passing Kamui Kobayashi, Pastor Maldonado and Paul di Resta. Michael Schumacher also gained a bunch of positions to be running ninth, while Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg went the other way. Button's advantage didn't last long, with both Massa and Hamilton squeezing through by the end of lap two. That, too, was as far as Heikki Kovalainen's afternoon went, the fast-starting Finn losing fourth gear and having to retire - six laps before Team Lotus colleague Jarno Trulli was also sidelined.
Hamilton's determination to turn McLaren's hitherto frustrating weekend around saw him run wide at Brooklands on lap four, but he managed to hold on to fifth, such was the gap he had pulled on his team-mate. He made the same error while attempting to pass Massa seven laps later, losing ground to the Brazilian in the process, but again holding fifth, as he did through the first cycle of tyre stops.
Seasoned veteran Schumacher was the first to take the plunge and opt for slicks, but the timing was not all of his making, as the German again found himself losing his nose against another car. Two weeks after sliding into Vitaly Petrov in Valencia, the seven-time world champion skated into the rear of Kobayashi's Sauber, spinning the Japanese around and, once the stewards had deliberated, earning himself a penalty. Once on the slicks, however, Schumacher showed that it was the way to go by immediately setting fastest sector times, and it wasn't long before the rest of the field followed suit.
Button was the first of the frontrunners to change, on lap eleven, with Webber, Alonso and Hamilton in a lap later, while Vettel and Massa remained on track longer than most. The German held on to his lead, with Webber and Alonso holding station in the other podium positions. Kobayashi was in the wars again, however, a stuttering exit putting him on a collision course with Maldonado had he not opted to veer through Force India's pit gear. The incident earned the Japanese a stop-go penalty - instigated this weekend to negate the short new Silverstone pit-lane - but the punishment would prove immaterial as the Sauber succumbed to an engine problem shortly afterwards.
The switch to slicks in still uncertain conditions played into Button's hands, and the Briton wasted little time in catching and passing Massa, braving it out around the outside of Stowe to have the inside line at Vale. Hamilton, too, was on the move, passing Alonso through the flat-out Copse corner to claim third, while Webber began to eat into his team-mate's lead. Indeed, the chasing group were all edging closer to Vettel, with Button alone having carved eight seconds from his deficit, but the German responded to stabilise the gap once more as the race neared half-distance.