MERCEDES driver Nico Rosberg won an eventful British Grand Prix yesterday, after four drivers including early race leader Lewis Hamilton were hit by tyre blowouts and Sebastian Vettel retired while leading with 10 laps remaining due to mechanical problems.
With Vettel's Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber closing fast, Rosberg managed to win his second race of the year and third of his career by 0.7 seconds in a nail-biting finish – though he then had to survive a stewards' inquiry.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who started ninth, made a late charge up the grid and got past Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen with two laps remaining to claim third. Hamilton also recovered to finish fourth, after his blown tyre sent him to the back of the grid in the eighth lap.
Soon after celebrating, Rosberg risked seeing his victory slip away when he was referred to the stewards for not slowing down for yellow flags in turns three and five. The stewards ruled that Rosberg "did not make a significant reduction in speed" but would only receive a reprimand, or warning. After three reprimands during a season, drivers are given a 10-place grid penalty. This was Rosberg's first.
"Fantastic, it's very special," said Rosberg. "Our team has done such a fantastic job. We have such momentum at the moment."
It seemed like Hamilton might just win his first British Grand Prix since 2008 after getting a great start and leading three-time world champion Vettel.
But on the eighth lap, Hamilton's left rear tyre exploded and he was forced to pit. Two laps later, Ferrari's Felipe Massa lost his left rear tyre and spun out. Five laps later, Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne also lost his rear tyre, with the rubber exploding across the track.
That brought out the safety car until lap 22 when normal racing resumed.
It also prompted several drivers to warn of the dangers of exploding tyres, while the sport's ruling body FIA ordered tyre supplier Pirelli to attend a meeting on Wednesday.
Tyre troubles have been a running theme all season.
Pirelli, for its part, acknowledged there had "been some issues" with the left rear tyres. Pirelli's Paul Hembery said it was "taking the situation very seriously" and "currently investigating all tyres to determine the cause as soon as possible ahead of the next grand prix in Germany."
Hamilton was still clearly angry after the race.
"The safety is the biggest issue, it's unacceptable," Hamilton said. "Four blowouts is unacceptable. It's only when someone gets hurt that someone will be doing something about it."
TV pictures of turn four on the Silverstone circuit, where some of the incidents took place, indicated the sidewall of the tyres could have been punctured by a sharp part of the kerb.
After the restart, Vettel began extending his lead over Rosberg and appeared set for a fourth win. But on the 42nd lap, Vettel's car came to a stop after his fifth gear broke and Rosberg took the lead. That brought out the safety car for a second time for three laps.
When it went off with seven laps to go, it triggered some of the best racing all day. Alonso was among the most aggressive, passing McLaren's Jenson Button, Force India's Adrian Sutil and eventually Raikkonen for third. Webber also charged pass Raikkonen into second with four laps remaining.
The wild finish leaves the championship wide open. Vettel remains the leader with 132 points. His lead, though, is down to 21 points over Alonso on 111 with 11 races remaining. Raikkonen is third with 98 and Hamilton fourth with 89. The next race is the German Grand Prix on July 7.