ROUND 8 – BRITAIN, 30 June 2013, Silverstone
1st: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1hr 32m 59.456s (av race speed 197.566 kph)
2nd: Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault) gap 0.745s
3rd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) gap 7.124
Webber 1:33.401 on lap 52
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:29.607
A BREATHLESS DRAMA OF EXPLODING TYRES AND POST-RACE FURY
All pre-race concerns that rising temperatures and limited opportunities to pass might produce a dull contest at Silverstone on Sunday were swept away in a dramatic flow of incidents and explosions at the British Grand Prix.
In the wake of Mark Webber’s announcement on Thursday that he intends to retire from Formula One at the end of the season, it was almost heart-stopping to see him on the charge in the final lap when he clocked the fastest of the 52-laps distance in his Red Bull car to finish just 0.7 seconds behind triumphant Nico Rosberg of Mercedes. The gritty Aussie had fallen to15th on the opening lap after starting fourth. Fernando Alonso of Ferrari came home third, Lewis Hamilton fourth for Mercedes and, after a hugely-promising weekend, Dan Ricciardo was eighth for Toro Rosso.
But all this came after four stunning tyre failures – including one that blew Rosberg’s Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton out of the lead after only eight laps – two interventions for the Safety Car and the first retirement of the season for championship leader Sebastian Vettel, in the other Red Bull, had re-shaped a race that ended in controversy amid claims by the leading drivers that it was “unacceptable” to continue racing with tyres from Italian suppliers that were so dangerous and unreliable. Vettel led the way until lap 42 when he pulled up with gearbox failure, leaving Rosberg to snatch victory.
It was furious and breathless stuff and it continued for more than two hours afterwards as angry drivers called for an investigation and for change following weeks of rows over Mercedes’ involvement in an alleged ‘secret’ tyre test with Pirelli in Spain, following the Spanish Grand Prix in early May. That furore ended with the team’s appearance before the International Tribunal of the sport’s ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA), but did little to wipe away the continuing impression that Pirelli’s tyres remain a cause for serious concern. Amid the tumult, however, it was also revealed that a dangerous raised kerb at Turn four, known as The Loop, may have been the cause of the left-rear tyre blowouts that created a spray of metal and rubber debris in front of following drivers.
Hamilton, who came home a storming fourth after resuming in last place following his puncture and forced early pit-stop, which me made after driving half a lap on the rims of one wheel, led the drivers’ concerns when he said: “Safety is the biggest issue. It's just unacceptable. We had that tyre test (in Spain) to develop and improve the tyres to stop that from happening and after that tyre test they didn't do anything. Someone could've crashed… I was thinking, behind the Safety Car, that it's only when someone gets hurt that something will be done about it. It think it’s a waste of time talking to the FIA. If they don’t do anything that says it all.”
Mexican Sergio Perez of McLaren echoed Hamilton's forthright comments. “This is unacceptable,” he said. “We are risking our lives and we shouldn't wait until something happens to all of us. If it happens at 250kph it will be a big shame so Pirelli has some work to do.”
After the race, there was further drama when the stewards called Rosberg in to answer claims that he had ignored yellow flags. It was a charge that might have seen him stripped of his win, but instead he was reprimanded and his victory stood. At the same time, the FIA president Jean Todt took a grip of the situation by organising talks that led to plans for a meeting of the F1 Sporting Working Group in Paris on Wednesday. He requested Pirelli’s attendance, but as McLaren chief Martin Whitmarsh pointed out, it will too late for any changes to be implemented ahead of the next race in Germany next weekend.
Pirelli chief Paul Hembery said: “Obviously today wasn't foreseen. We've seen something new, a different type of problem. We're currently performing our analysis. We've got to go away and understand what's happened today. When we've got the facts we can understand what's happened and get to the core of the issues. We take these things seriously and when we have the answers I'll let you know. It's pointless me adding anything else until we have all the facts."
Other views on the action
Rosberg was understandably delighted to record his second win in three races and third of his career as Mercedes, based only 12 kms away in Brackley -- delivered their first win at the British Grand Prix since Stirling Moss won the 1955 race at Aintree. “"With Lewis, I feel sorry for all the British fans," he said. “It would have been great for Lewis. It's always a massive disappointment, but that's racing. Sebastian stopped and I won't lie, I wasn't disappointed by that one! From then on, it was just a great race.
"The win was for the team. It’s our home Grand Prix and so many of my friends were in the grandstands. It's going better and better and the momentum that we have at the moment is amazing. It's so cool to be part of this team at the moment -- having a race car that can win is fantastic."
Webber was the other man with a race-winning machine in his hands, but he was philosophical afterwards after his fifth consecutive podium in his last appearance at the famous old track. "It has been an incredible day,” he said. “First there was my contact with Romain Grosjean -- and the wing was damaged. The boys did a great job changing that and then we got into the race. I was praying for the Safety Car, but not with the way they were coming!
“It was Russian Roulette. I made the most of them though. The strategy was one of our best, and yeah I thought: 'Here is Nico, the one car left.' It would have been nice to have a few more laps, but that is the way it goes. We could be standing here with punctures and no podium."
Fellow-Australian Ricciardo, strongly backed as a contender to replace Webber at Red Bull next year, said: “That was a chaotic race! For most of it, I felt strong with good pace, but I think we might have done better with a different strategy for the last Safety Car…Prior to that I was matching the Force India and the Ferraris. At the end, we were on used tyres – and those who changed were able to go past me. But, overall, eighth is a good result even if I see it as missed opportunity. It was dangerous. There was debris everywhere and I kept seeing people going off the track. I think we need to look into it.”
As to the championship, Vettel’s first pointless outing of the season gave Alonso his chance to cut the German’s lead back to 21 points. The triple champion leads now with 132 ahead of the Spaniard on 111 with Kimi Raikkonen third on 98, after slipping to fifth in the closing stages when Lotus missed a chance to pit him under the Safety Car. Hamilton on 89 is fourth and Webber fifth on 87.
Next race: round 9, Germany, July 7
Historic, rural, surrounded by forests in the Eifel mountains, the Nurburgring is a modern circuit in an old-fashioned setting – a track with a special place in German hearts.