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Alonso clips Red Bull wings at Silverstone

10 July 2011


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.

The ever-changing ascendancy, however, soon turned in Alonso's favour, the Ferrari man beginning to bang in fastest laps as he closed on, the then repassed Hamilton, making full use of DRS into Brooklands to move back into third spot. Hamilton pitted at the end of the lap, precipitating a second round of tyre changes that would have a profound effect on the outcome of the event.

Webber was in a lap after the Briton, and a slow stop hinted at what was to come as he dropped to fourth. The slip wasn't enough to drop him behind Button and Massa, but gave Hamilton another sniff of the podium as retook third. The two men ahead of him waited another lap before stopping together and, as Vettel's rear jack refused to disengaged to order, Ferrari and Alonso took full advantage to emerge in front. Vettel was delayed to the point that he too dropped behind Hamilton, but his stop wasn't the worst of the round, as Paul di Resta's hopes of taking points in his first British GP were dashed by confusion in the Force India pit that saw team-mate Sutil's tyres waiting for him....

The Scot would be in the wars after exiting from the pits, slithering into Sebastien Buemi's Toro Rosso as the Swiss cut across his nose at Brooklands. While di Resta needed attention to his nose, Buemi's race was over when he proved unable to get his car back to the pits with its left rear tyre flailing in its wake.

If Hamilton thought that an initial half-second gap to Alonso might turn into an unlikely victory, his hopes were to be quickly dashed as the Spaniard pulled away, opening a 3.2secs margin by lap 30. The Briton was still ahead of the two Red Bulls, however, and, with Webber running wide and onto the grass exiting Becketts and Vettel seeking out the wet patches on Wellington Straight in an effort to preserve his tyres, the Briton was definitely in the mix for a podium.

Vettel took a look at the McLaren heading into Copse on lap 36, but pitted at the end of the lap to take on his final set of soft Pirellis, the need to run both slick compounded negated by the intermediates used at the start. This time there was no problem with the equipment, and the timing of the stop was good enough for the champion to benefit from the 'cutback' and emerge ahead of Hamilton when the Briton stopped next time around. McLaren then appeared to sell Red Bull a dummy by letting it be known that Button was to pit on the following lap in order to perform the same trick on Webber. Hearing the order, however, RBR pitted the Australian straight away, while Button remained on track.

Whether it was then the urgency to turn its driver around before Webber came around, McLaren suffered its own stumble when Button finally made his stop. After the race in Valencia where no-one retired, there would be five DNFs at Silverstone, and the last was of particular note to the partisan home crowd as a faulty gun - and the need to reach for a replacement - saw Button exit sans right front wheel.

At the same time, Vettel cleared the second Ferrari of Massa, as the Brazilian was left out on track in an effort to slow the German's progress, but still had a ten-second margin to make up on Alonso if he was to continue his winning streak. The podium finishers remained fluid behind the Ferrari, with Hamilton also having been told to conserve fuel, leaving him vulnerable to attack from Webber. Locking up at Vale with nine laps to go did little to help the Briton's cause, allowing Webber to enter the DRS zone as they headed onto the Wellington Straight. From there, the McLaren was a sitting duck, releasing Webber to home in on his team-mate, who was struggling with tyres after asking them to run longer than any of his rivals.

Webber was right with Vettel as the started the penultimate lap, and took a long look at the German through Woodcote - despite the Red Bull management instructing him not to race to the flag. The pair remained close to the end, but ultimately Vettel prevailed, extending his championship lead by three further points over the Australian. Hamilton finally got the all-clear to return to full speed with two laps to go, but now had Massa for company, and the Brazilian made his move for fourth as the pair braked for Vale last time around. Determined not to be denied, Hamilton left his braking as late as possible, and contact was inevitable as the pair scrabbled for grip. Both cars survived, the McLaren without part of its front wing, but Hamilton emerged fractionally ahead as they exited Club and crossed the line.

Behind them, Nico Rosberg held off Perez for sixth, both having made two stops to the three of those ahead, while Nick Heidfeld, the recovering Schumacher and Jaime Alguersuari claimed the final points. Among those missing out, di Resta finished a chastened 15th, four spots ahead of debutant Daniel Ricciardo, who came home three laps down on his first outing with Hispania Racing.

Ahead of them all, however, Alonso was a clearly delighted winner, claiming his 27th career win, but his first since being gifted the top step in Korea last season. Ferrari was quiet throughout the early weekend controversy over engine and diffuser rules but, as McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh revealed, clearly had the biggest reason to smile.


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