Nico Rosberg won a turbulent British Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday after Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton became one of four tyre failure victims and world champion Sebastian Vettel suffered a gearbox failure.
The left rear tyre of then leader Hamilton, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne exploded between the eighth and 15th lap (and that of Sergio Perez late in the race), causing grave concern among teams and sending out the safety car for several laps.
Red Bull’s world triple champion Vettel gained first place from Hamilton’s puncture but then came to a halt over the gearbox failure with 10 of the 52 laps left and brought another safety car phase.
Vettel’s misfortune put Rosberg on top as the German got his second victory of the season and third overall ahead Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
Vettel retained the championship lead with 132 points, but Alonso made up ground with now 111 points. Kimi Raikkonen has 98 from a fifth-place finish which gave him a record 25th straight race in the points, surpassing the 24 from Michael Schumacher.
Hamilton won the start from pole, and Vettel slipped past Rosberg into second, while Felipe Massa roared from 11th to fifth and Mark Webber went the opposite way for Red Bull, down from fourth to 14th after a slow start and his front wing being damaged by the Lotus of Romain Grosjean.
But all racing became secondary for a while soon afterwards.
Hamilton’s left rear was the first to fly off heading into the Wellington straight out of turn five in the eighth lap. Massa suffered the same fate two laps later at the same spot and when Vergne’s left rear also exploded shortly before the pit entrance in the 15th race officials had enough and brought out the safety car.
The teams asessed the situation as marshalls cleared the track, with Webber told by Red Bull via team radio that “we found cuts in the left rear (of Vettel) after a first pit stop” and drivers being instructed to avoid the curbs.
With no immediate reaction from Pirelli, teams appeared to fear that a combination of hot tyres and curbs, especially at the exit of turns, were contributing to the dangerous situation.
“We’re advising our drivers to avoid kerb crawling #GodSaveOurTyres,” Lotus tweeted.
The safety car phase ended in lap 22, and Vettel continued to lead from Rosberg through a second round of pit stops later on, with Raikkonen moving into third, Webber recovering to fourth and Alonso fifth.
However, just as there seemed to be no more tyre problems and Vettel cruising up front, the German’s car stalled for the first time in 15 races and came to a standstill at the start-and-finish line.
“It was a gearbox problem. I don’t know why,” Vettel said.
The safety car returned to the track until the Red Bull was recovered, and Rosberg and all top drivers except Raikkonen went for fresh rubbers to set up a furious final seven laps once the safety car left.
While Rosberg won in 1 hour 32 minutes 59.456 seconds,, the 2010 and 2012 race winner Webber made up four places on soft tyres to get his fifth straight Silverstone podium in second place. Alonso and Hamilton, who had been down to last after his early tyre failure, also got past Raikkonen.