When the lights went out at the start of yesterday’s British Grand Prix, it looked like it would be business as usual. Red Bull Renault’s Sebastian Vettel passed teammate (and polesitter) Mark Webber into the first corner, and proceeded to open up a commanding lead. The first pit stops came early, as drivers changed to slicks from intermediates as soon as the track proved dry enough. The real drama began with the second round of pit stops on lap 27.
Sebastian Vettel pulled into the pits in the lead, followed by the third place Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. Then, the unthinkable happened: Vettel’s Red Bull Renault team either made an error in the pits or suffered an equipment failure. Whatever the cause, the result was a game changer: Alonso exited the pits in first place, followed by the McLaren Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton in second place. Vettel re-entered the competition in third, and for a while it looked like it would be between Alonso and Hamilton for the win.
Hamilton fought a brilliant battle with Alonso (and later, Vettel and Felipe Massa), but his McLaren Mercedes simply couldn’t keep pace with the faster Ferrari and Red Bull Renault cars. When the checkered flag waved, it was Fernando Alonso grabbing Ferrari’s first win of the season, followed by Red Bull Renault teammates Sebastian Vettel (in second) and Mark Webber (in third). Hamilton fought hard with Felipe Massa on the closing lap, but was able to hold off the Ferrari driver (with some NASCAR style “rubbing is racing”) for fourth position.
The race had plenty of other drama, including a pit miscue that left Jenson Button without a right front wheel nut. The McLaren Mercedes driver made it as far as the pit lane exit before retiring for the day. There were team orders in place at Red Bull Renault, and Mark Webber was told to hold position when he began to threaten teammate Sebastian Vettel in the closing laps. If you needed proof that Vettel is the prodigal son and Webber is the red-headed stepchild, here it was. Despite trailing Vettel by some 80 points in the championship, and despite having a clearly faster racecar, Webber was forbidden by team principle Christian Horner from challenging his teammate for the lead. I can understand not wanting to risk a race ending collision, but the right move would have been to radio Vettel to let Webber by.
Webber, understandably, was less than amused at the team’s decision, and I suspect he’ll be a little more aggressive in defending into the opening corner at future races. It’s still a lock for Vettel and Red Bull in the championship, but at least Ferrari is showing signs of life in the middle of the season.