There was to be no fairy-tale ending, no cause for further fawning adulation. The wrong man won the British Grand Prix, sending tens of thousands of adoring Lewis Hamilton fans home disappointed after what had been billed as the McLaren man's triumphant homecoming went awry.

Starting from the pole he earned in stunning circumstances on Saturday afternoon, Hamilton held the early advantage, cutting sharply in front of the equally fast-starting Raikkonen and then jinking back to the outside in order to take his line through Copse, coincidentally blocking the Finn for a second time after he had looked for an alternative route around the McLaren.

Fernando Alonso duly slotted into third from the same position on the grid, but already the opposition to Hamilton had been reduced, after Felipe Massa stalled on the grid, aborting the first start. The Brazilian was wheeled into pit-lane as the field made its way around a second warm-up lap, rejoining at the tail of the pack before making rapid progress towards the points.

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Nick Heidfeld made one of the better starts, catapulting his BMW Sauber from ninth to fifth, before being demoted one spot by Giancarlo Fisichella at Club. Countryman Ralf Schumacher, meanwhile, had gone in the opposite direction, dropping to eighth, while Mark Webber got the better of Schumacher's Toyota team-mate Jarno Trulli to move into the top ten.

By the end of lap one, Massa had made up four spots to be running in 18th place, and his progress continued, with another two places on the next lap and one thereafter until he broke into the tail end of the points, underlining the pace of the Ferrari that Raikkonen was unable to show as he chased in Hamilton's wake.

The gap between the leaders grew from 0.6secs on lap two to jut over a second by lap ten but, thereafter it was Raikkonen running faster, the Finn closing in on Hamilton as the McLaren's tyres began to drop off. Interestingly, Silverstone produced a rare diversity in tyre choice, with Hamilton and Alonso opting to start on the harder Bridgestone and Ferrari on the white-striped soft option.

As the first round of pit-stops neared, Raikkonen homed in on the rear of the McLaren, looking at one point that he may be able to make his move on track rather than in the pit-lane. One serious look at Brooklands was rebuffed and Kimi settled for what he knew. Hamilton was in next time around, the first of the frontrunners as expected, and Raikkonen duly assumed control of the race.

All of Hamilton's rivals were about to be handed an unexpected bonus, however, the Briton jumping at the turn of his 'lollipop' and having to get back on the brake again while the rest of his fuel was added. Fortunately, there was no repeat of Christijan Albers' error at Magny-Cours, but the mistake - the first of Hamilton's F1 career - put the home favourite on the back foot.

Sensing his opportunity, Raikkonen promptly banged in the fastest lap of the race to that point before ducking into the pits on lap 18. A smooth stop saw the Finn exit in fourth place as Alonso took over out front, the Ferrari still on softs while Hamilton was again on the harder compound, albeit with a change of pressures to try and counteract the wear problems that affected the final laps of his first stint.

Alonso - and the charging Massa - both ran to lap 20 before making their stops, confirming that their places on the second row were as much fuel-affected as down to pure pace. The Spaniard was switched to the softer Bridgestone and appeared to be at rest for less time than his rivals - a suggestion confirmed as he swept back on track ahead of Raikkonen.

Already joining the massed ranks of spectators was Mark Webber, his RB3 crying enough on lap nine with suspected hydraulic problems, and Adrian Sutil, whose Spyker's Ferrari engine gave up the ghost in dramatic style on the Hangar Straight. Schumacher's race also appeared to be run, the German pitting for the second time in quick succession, complaining of suspension problems.

With only a handful of drivers opting for a one-stop strategy, the order had largely shaken out by half-distance, with Alonso comfortably ahead of Raikkonen and Hamilton at a similar deficit to the Finn. Desperate to make up for his error, the Briton had locked his second set of tyres early in the stint, and failed to make any impression on those ahead of him. It later transpired that, having realised that its strategy was not going to have a impact, McLaren opted to turn down the wick in Hamilton's car, preserving it for the Nurburgring in two weeks' time.

Scott Speed departed the fray on lap 30, the American coming together with Alex Wurz as the Williams driver attempted an opportunistic move into Club, trying to capitalise on Speed being lapped by the leader. While the Austrian appeared to escape unscathed - indeed, he went on to set some of the race's fastest laps in the closing stages - Speed's left front corner was badly damaged, obliging the Toro Rosso driver to call it a day.

Alonso confirmed his short-fill strategy by making the his return trip to pit-lane on lap 37, one after Giancarlo Fisichella, but well ahead of his rivals for victory. The Spaniard was put back on to the harder Bridgestones and sat for 8.2secs while Raikkonen moved back ahead. Hamilton was in on the next lap, completing a clean stop this time, as he took on the softer rubber and received a tweak of front wing as he again sought to cure the handling imbalance that had plagued him from the early stages.

It was now that Raikkonen had to make his advantage count, the Finn running fully six laps further than Alonso and opening out a 28-second gap by the time he peeled off. It proved to be enough, the Ferrari crew keeping him stationary for just 6.6secs and returning him to the fray comfortably ahead of the McLaren and on the same rubber as Alonso.

British interest may have begun to wane as the crowds realised that Hamilton was unlikely to win, but took a hit on the track too as Anthony Davidson was forced to call it a day with a car he described as 'dangerous'. The Briton did not appear to have taken a hit during the race, but could simply not get on with the Super Aguri and parked it - for a second time after initial attempts to cure the conditions - on lap 35.

Davidson was joined on the sidelines eight laps later by Trulli, who also complained of handling problems - something the Italian had apparently been unable to dial out from the start of the weekend - while Tonio Liuzzi joined the list of retirements just four laps from home after his Toro Rosso died under him.

The anticipation had also become subdued as the race entered its closing stages, the leaders strung out and with Alonso also appearing to have opted for conservation rather than chasing a lost cause and potentially damaging his Mercedes V8. That left the main attraction up front the brewing battle between Kubica - on course to repeat his fourth place from Magny-Cours - and Massa, who had found his progress up the order hampered by faster traffic once he made it into the points and had had to battle his way into fifth with help from the Ferrari team, which helped him dispose of Heidfeld during the final round of stops.

Once between the BMW Saubers, however, the Brazilian was able to up his pace a little and closed onto the rear of Kubica with three laps to run. The Pole was not to be rattled, however, maintaining his pace and line despite scarlet filling his mirrors. The composure paid off as Kubica added another five points to his tally. Massa took a resigned fifth, knowing that his error had compromised any chance he had of chasing a third victory of the year, while the Renaults filled the final points positions - Kovalainen ahead of Fisichella - the first of the lapped runners. The remaining Britons, one-stopping Jenson Button and two-stopping David Coulthard, came home 0.6secs apart, but in tenth and eleventh.

The home crowd, however, remained true to its reputation, staying to the chequered flag to cheer home its heroes and accord warm recognition to the victor for another consummate performance. Hamilton still leaves Silverstone as world championship leader, albeit with a slightly reduced margin over his team-mate after limiting the damage with a ninth podium finish.

It may not have been the result promised by pre-event billing, but the British Grand Prix enlivened the world championship as Raikkonen moved back into third place, one point ahead of his team-mate and just six behind Alonso, promising that the competition remains a four-way battle as the season heads into its second half.