F1: Round 10 – Silverstone, Great Britain – 11 July

Never make Mark Webber feel slighted. The Aussie is never more dangerous than when he thinks he’s been hard done by, and after a weekend which saw the team strip his car of a vital new wing to put it onto Sebastian Vettel’s car, it was clear that Webber’s hackles were up. And he was determined not to take it lying down.

He got the better start of the two Red Bulls off the front row, Vettel struggling with his clutch. Vettel then tried sweeping across the track to squeeze Webber out along the inside wall, but Webber was not having any of it: his body language seemed to yell, “You try it, mate, and I’ll come through you and take us both out rather than yield” – and he meant it. Vettel had to back off, and then Webber slammed the door shut by sweeping all the way the outside of the first turn, brushing Vettel into the run-off.

But Vettel’s car was already ailing, he just didn’t know it for another corner. In that initial tussle for first, Lewis Hamilton had closed right up to the back of the two Red Bulls in his trademark sniffing out of the slightest opportunity. When Vettel had to lift off it was right back into Hamilton, and the McLaren’s front wing end plate sliced into the right rear tyre of the Red Bull. The puncture immediately affected Vettel’s handling, and he had to limp around the first lap barely staying in front of the medical car to get new tyres.

Vettel was now dead last, and although his team was urging him on – having done his mandatory pit stop, they assured him he could still get into the points by the end of the afternoon – it seemed highly unlikely and was still a dispiriting situation. Unsurprisingly for the first dozen laps Vettel’s chin seemed down as he circulated a second off the pace of his team mate in the lead and soon coming under threat of being lapped before the proper sequence of pit stops started.

Vettel wasn’t the only one wrestling with a bad start and a clash with his team mate. Fernando Alonso also had a bad getaway from the line, overtaken by Hamilton, Robert Kubica and Nico Rosburg into the first turn and then clashing wheels with his team mate Felipe Massa. It was Massa that came off worst from that encounter, suffering a puncture that left him joining Vettel in the pits at the end of the first lap, his race day effectively ruined.

There was never any doubt about the leaders – Webber was in a class of one, and while Hamilton gamely held on to him while they were on soft tyres, once they switched to the harder compound there was simply no comparison. And Hamilton himself was completely safe in second, the rest of the field being held back by Robert Kubica in third who was generating a major traffic jam consisting of Rosburg, Alonso, Rubens Barrichello, Michael Schumacher and then in eighth the McLaren of Jenson Button, who had pulled off a stormer of a start to gain six places on the first lap to make amends for his dismal qualifying performance. In race trim, Button was looking much, much healthier – but now stuck in this train of traffic, it was looking difficult to know how he would be able to progress further.

Some of the cars – Schumacher first, then Alonso and Barrichello – came in early on laps 13 and 14 for their pit stops to try and break this logjam. By contrast, Nico Rosburg waited until lap 17, and the extra laps worked well putting him back out ahead of Kubica who was still holding up Alonso. Alonso started to get frustrated, and he pulled out all the stops to get past the Renault, finally pulling it off on lap 18.

But it wasn’t a clean pass – in defending, Kubica had forced Alonso completely off the track at Vale, and Alonso’s pass had therefore been achieved by cutting the corner. The stewards were invoked, and on lap 21 the word came down that Alonso was being ordered to return the position back to the Pole.

Moments later, however, it seemed that the whole matter was academic: Kubica’s car suddenly lost drive and he toured back to the pits, where the car was wheeled back into the garage. His race was done, and now there was no one for Alonso to return the position to. End of story, surely? Apparently not: to Ferrari’s disbelief, the stewards (joined here by former British world champion Nigel Mansell) felt they were left with no option other than to follow the escalation procedure, which now mandated that Alonso receive a drive-thru penalty for not returning the position.

If Alonso thought it couldn’t get any worse, he was about to be proved wrong. Elsewhere on track, a clash between Adrian Sutil (who had lost out badly in the pit stops) trying to overtake Pedro de la Rosa saw the two cars make contact. De la Rosa’s front wing was shattered, sending debris flying all the way down into Copse. After a few minutes, the stewards conceded that the debris was too dangerous to just leave, and so they invoked the safety car which had the effect of closing up the cars in track.

For Alonso, this made a simple drive-thru penalty into effectively a “go to the back of the lead lap” penalty out of all proportion with the original “crime” if such it was. Alonso had won no friends with his tantrums at Valencia and claims of “manipulation”, but here at Silverstone even his harshest critics had to concede he had been very roughly treated and had more than enough reason to go berserk. He tersely instructed his team that he didn’t want any further radio communications, and he set about taking out his anger on backmarkers. His biggest battle was with Tonio Liuzzi for 11th place, but in the end he achieved it by muscling the Force India aside going into Brooklands, which resulted in the Ferrari sustaining a left rear puncture that forced him into a late pit stop and a drop to 14th by the chequered flag.

By contrast, the safety car reignited Vettel’s race by eliminating the gap he’d been struggling to overcome at the back of the lead lap. Now, he was right up with the rest of the drivers, and he cut through them like the proverbial knife/butter cliché, even blowing away Michael Schumacher with the Red Bull’s superior engine power and unrivalled downforce. In the end his biggest obstacle proved to be Adrian Sutil, who drove impressively right through to the penultimate lap when he went a little too defensive and Vettel finally barged his way past – literally – to claim seventh place, a remarkable little damage limitation exercise.

As well as Kubica and de la Rosa, the only other retirements were Lucas Di Grassi (out on lap 10 with hydraulics problems) and Jamie Alguersuari (who spun out in the gravel at Luffield with seven laps to go.) Felipe Massa also had a late spin into the final turn on lap 40, which he recovered only to find himself coming to a halt already in the pit entry lane: since he would have to drive through the pits anyway, and having flat-spotted his tyres with the spin, he surprised his team by pulling into the pit box unannounced and sending them scrambling for fresh rubber. It was not, at the end of the day, the best of races for the team.

It had proved an amazingly successful day against expectations for McLaren. Although not yielding the much hoped-for British victory for the home fans, the team had nonetheless managed to pull off an amazing recovery from their disastrous practice and qualifying tribulations. Hamilton had proved that the team were still running strongly compared with the Red Bull, while Button’s amazing climb from 14th to finish 4th (following Kubica’s retirement and Alonso’s penalty, plus dispatching Schumacher and Barrichello during the pit stops) showed that the world champion’s racing form had lost none of its sparkle – even if qualifying was proving a challenge.

But all eyes were focussed on Red Bull at the end of the race. Winning the British Grand Prix should be one of the sport’s biggest achievements, but team boss Christian Horner’s congratulations to Webber over the team radio seemed uttered through clenched teeth, and Webber’s riposte – “not bad for a number two driver!” – seemed to come with a hard edge rather than humour. Horner’s response was a terse “will you manage a smile on the podium today?” and in that request at least he wasn’t disappointed: Webber’s smile was a wide, bright and electric as any we’ve seen from him, delight at the win fused with the sense of justifiable retribution against the slights real or imagined that he had received from his team.

When cracks in a team are this public, it usually means things are far, far worse and much deeper in private. With the situation not clearing up, and patently affecting the team’s chances, you have to wonder if the entire championship won’t turn on this single case of human resources management.

The win puts Webber ahead of Vettel in the championship (but both of them behind the Mclaren duo), and Christian Horner confirmed that, yes, should there be a situation next time out where only one piece of equipment is available, it would go to Mark Webber rather than Sebastian Vettel. It will be fascinating to see whether that scenario actually comes to pass.

But petty team politics aside, the high point of the day – the biggest cheer of the entire event – came when the second place presentation was made to Lewis Hamilton. Not just a case of British fans cheering their man (Webber’s a popular driver with UK fans too), but because of who was making the presentation: Sir Stirling Moss, walking – walking – over with the trophy, just months after the horrific fall down the lift shaft came close to killing him. It was a sight to see, and brought a little tear to the eye and lump to the throat to anyone with a heart.

Race result

Pos  Driver      Team                  Time
 1.  Webber      Red Bull-Renault      1h24:38.200
 2.  Hamilton    McLaren-Mercedes      +     1.360
 3.  Rosberg     Mercedes              +    21.307
 4.  Button      McLaren-Mercedes      +    21.986
 5.  Barrichello Williams-Cosworth     +    31.456
 6.  Kobayashi   Sauber-Ferrari        +    32.171
 7.  Vettel      Red Bull-Renault      +    36.734
 8.  Sutil       Force India-Mercedes  +    40.932
 9.  Schumacher  Mercedes              +    41.599
10.  Hulkenberg  Williams-Cosworth     +    42.012
11.  Liuzzi      Force India-Mercedes  +    42.459
12.  Buemi       Toro Rosso-Ferrari    +    47.627
13.  Petrov      Renault               +    59.374
14.  Alonso      Ferrari               +  1:02.385
15.  Massa       Ferrari               +  1:07.489
16.  Trulli      Lotus-Cosworth        +     1 lap
17.  Kovalainen  Lotus-Cosworth        +     1 lap
18.  Glock       Virgin-Cosworth       +     1 lap
19.  Chandhok    HRT-Cosworth          +    2 laps
20.  Yamamoto    HRT-Cosworth          +    2 laps

Fastest lap: Alonso, 1:30.874

Not classified/retirements:

     Driver      Team                  On lap
     Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari    45
     De la Rosa  Sauber-Ferrari        30
     Kubica      Renault               20
     Di Grassi   Virgin-Cosworth       10

World Championship standings after round 10

Drivers:               Constructors:             
 1.  Hamilton    145  1.  McLaren-Mercedes      278
 2.  Button      133  2.  Red Bull-Renault      249
 3.  Webber      128  3.  Ferrari               165
 4.  Vettel      121  4.  Mercedes              126
 5.  Alonso       98  5.  Renault                89
 6.  Rosberg      90  6.  Force India-Mercedes   47
 7.  Kubica       83  7.  Williams-Cosworth      31
 8.  Massa        67  8.  Sauber-Ferrari         15
 9.  Schumacher   36  9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari     10
10.  Sutil        35   
11.  Barrichello  29   
12.  Kobayashi    15   
13.  Liuzzi       12   
14.  Buemi         7   
15.  Petrov        6   
16.  Alguersuari   3   
17.  Hulkenberg    2   

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