Lewis Hamilton was having a peculiar race from eighth on the grid, holding station in the early laps after starting on the slower prime tyres and complaining over the team radio about not being to match the pace of those around him. But they were on the soft tyres and as the laps wore on, their tyres wore out: Hamilton by contrast was one of the last cars on track to come into pit lane, during which time he'd briefly led the race to the delighted cheers of the British crowd. But Hamilton's second run saw him struggle on the option tyres, which in addition proved very short-lived on the McLaren and him facing an extra-long final stint back on the prime tyres which meant that by the end the car was dead on its feet and haemorrhaging positions to all the cars that it had previous flown past.
Other drivers were finding similar issues making the prime and soft tyres co-operate with their race strategies. Vettel pitted early on lap 11 to get rid of his option tyres and then ran on the harder prime tyres, finding those much more to his liking and soon seeing him move back up the field, jumping past the struggling Schumacher and also getting his position back from Massa during the pit stop cycle to put him up into third place behind Alonso and Webber.
Alonso was moving ever further away up front, Webber losing ground until he too was able to switch to the harder tyres after his initial stint. But Red Bull knew that there was still a chance to turn the tables on Ferrari, since Alonso had gambled on pulling out an unassailable lead on the hard tyres early on before having to suffer the options in the closing laps: as long as Webber could find some way of staying in touch, he was in with a chance.
After the final pit stops on lap 38, Alonso's lead over Webber was almost five seconds. That sounded - and looked - like a comprehensive victory for Alonso, but Webber had other ideas. Ten laps later and Alonso's options were toast, while Webber's harder tyres were literally in their prime. Add a touch of DRS and the Red Bull was flying around the outside of the Loop, brushing off Alonso's counter-strike, and the deed was done. Webber was on his way to the chequered flag, and all Alonso could do was watch him pull away into the distance. The final margin of victory was just over 3s.
Closing up fast behind Alonso by the end, Sebastian Vettel had no further dramas holding on to his third place ahead of the much-improved Massa, which meant that this year's podium was composed of the same trio of drivers as 2011 - albeit in a slightly stirred and shaken running order. Webber seemed happy with that change; Alonso, less so.
Kimi Raikkonen had driven a strong race throughout, including some nice late moves on Schumacher and Hamilton on his way to fifth place; more remarkable was the progress of his Lotus team mate Romain Grosjean, who after that first lap incident with di Resta put him into the pits and to the back of the field managed to work his way back up to sixth place right on the back of the Finn, with a wonderful display of sustained overtaking.
Schumacher and Hamilton held on to seventh and eight places by the end, just ahead of a prolonged and highly entertaining battle over the final points positions between Bruno Senna, Jenson Button, Nico Hulkenberg and Kamui Kobayashi. Senna and Button came away with goods, although Button took little comfort in a single championship point in the circumstances: Hulkenberg and Kobayashi were left out in the cold, Hulkenberg conceding positions when he off the track at Copse while defending in the final laps; and Kobayashi was unsettled by a scary incident in the pits during his final stop when he totally misjudged his entry into his pit stall and skittled over several members of the crew.
The Toro Rosso drivers were unable to make much impression on proceedings all afternoon, and finished just ahead of an off-form Nico Rosberg, whose day was perfectly capped by a below-par pit stop for Mercedes which meant that he was the last man on the lead lap by the end. Maldonado joined Caterham's sole representative Heiki Kovalainen and the Marussia pair of Timo Glock and Charles Pic a lap down, while the HRTs of Pedro de La Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan ended up two laps off the pace by the end of the 52 laps.
Webber's patient, well-thought-out victory over Alonso at Silverstone tightens things up at the top of the drivers' championship, but it's still the Spaniard who heads the standings with a 14pt lead over the Aussie. Vettel is another 16pts back, just ahead of Hamilton.
And to think: not even halfway through the season yet. That comes next time out, at Hockenheim in Germany.
Full race results