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Webber out-duels Alonso for Silverstone win
8 July 2012
Fernando Alonso dominated the British Grand Prix - right up to four laps to the end, at which point Mark Webber was able to pounce on the fading Ferrari and snatch the lead away from Alonso to claim a famous victory, his second in the event and his second race win in 2012.
The only part of the wholly unpredictable British Grand Prix at Silverstone that had seemed a stone-cold sure thing going in was that the rain would have its say. A fully dry race was not on the cards after days of torrential rain and flooding in the area.
So of course, a fully dry race is precisely what we got, with the race starting under bright blue skies and hot sunshine. That changed everything as far as the teams were concerned, who now had to throw out everything that they thought they had learned on Friday and Saturday and instead start from scratch - including tyre strategies.
Since qualifying had been done on wets and intermediates, the teams got a free hand to choose which of the dry compounds they would start on. Fernando Alonso went for a first stint on the harder prime tyres, trusting in pole position to keep him ahead of Mark Webber who - like most of the cars up front - was going for the faster but much shorter-lived soft option tyres off the grid.
Alonso realised the danger this presented if he didn't keep the lead into the first corner, so he pulled off a vicious sweep to the left off the line as the lights went out in order to make sure that Webber didn't get a run on him. The Red Bull came within millimetres of losing its front wing and made everyone watching flinch with fright, but disaster was averted and the leaders got away cleanly through into Abbey.
Further back it was a brutal pub brawl for the first few laps, cars jostling each other in a no-holds-barred knife fight for every inch of track position that they could find. With the running order having been thoroughly mixed up by the rain-swept qualifying and with all the different tyre strategies in play, there were fights up and down the running order.
Sadly, Paul di Resta was the first casualty of the aggressive start as he was tapped from behind by Romain Grosjean and sent flying off the track with a puncture and damage to his suspension. The Force India team did what it could, but there was no way to effect repairs and di Resta was out of the race; Grosjean meanwhile had lost positions and had to come into pit lane for a new front wing, dumping him down to the back of the field and seemingly facing a long and frustrating afternoon's labours. At least both had made it further than Vitaly Petrov, whose Caterham had died on its way to the grid with engine failure half an hour before the race even started.
Once the race started to settle down, and with Alonso starting to creep away from Webber at the front, the main focus turned to the battle between their team mates - Felipe Massa was having to work overtime to fend off a feisty Sebastian Vettel, with the world champion coming close to taking the position through the Vale/Club complex at the end of lap 3. But Massa was in his best form of the year and stood up to the pressure, and Vettel fell back, leaving Massa to tangle with Michael Schumacher who was in third place in the Mercedes but seemingly grappling with DRS issues. That held everyone else up while releasing Alonso and Webber ahead. Massa finally struck on lap 11, passing Schumacher on the Hanger straight with an emphatic, no-defence-possible strong-arm move on the German.
While things were stable now at the front, there were battles elsewhere - many of them starring Grosjean, recovering from his first lap mishap by scything through back markers with considerable aplomb. Also battling hard were Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado, and the Mexican was getting very unhappy indeed with the Venezuelan's apparent blocking tactics and refusal to yield even when Perez got a nose alongside him. Finally tempers frayed altogether, and Perez' attempt to go around the outside of the Williams at Brooklands ended in contact with Maldonado sliding into the side of the Sauber and knocking him out of the race. While Perez was left fuming, Maldonado limped back to the pits and got repairs to enable him to continue, although he ended up a lap off the lead by the end.
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