Fernando Alonso put Ferrari back in the winners' circle for the first time since South Korea last year, after the Spaniard took maximum advantage of a problem which delayed early leader Sebastian Vettel during his second pit stop on the 27th lap of the British Grand Prix yesterday.
But while the famed Scuderia celebrated a much-needed triumph that coincided perfectly with their first ever -- won here 60 years ago with the historic car that Alonso had demonstrated earlier in the day -- controversy engulfed Red Bull afterwards and led to speculation that Mark Webber will not stay with the team next year as it emerged that he had been instructed not to challenge Vettel for second place after closing rapidly on him in the final laps.
The race had begun in difficult conditions after a heavy shower at lunchtime left the track wet and obliged everyone to start on Pirelli's intermediate rain tyres.
Vettel led easily and roared away from Webber and Alonso, and Lewis Hamilton pushed his way quickly into the top five after starting in only 10th place.
After the rash of pit stops to change to Pirelli's soft slick tyres was initiated by Michael Schumacher on lap nine, Vettel resumed in the lead but with his advantage slashed from 8.5 seconds to 3.3sec until he gradually eased away from Webber again.
Alonso, meanwhile, was struggling just as Hamilton was flying. The Englishman raised cheers from the record 122,000 crowd as he flew by the Ferrari going into the super-fast Copse corner on the 15th lap, and for a while it seemed that McLaren, so troubled during qualifying, might have a chance of victory.
A better stop for Alonso on the 27th lap, however, put the Ferrari ahead of the McLaren again. And following Vettel's delay that lap, the Spaniard moved into a lead he never thereafter surrendered.
Vettel fell to third behind Hamilton because of his problem, but the Red Bull driver pushed ahead after their final stops. Vettel got very close to Hamilton on lap 35 exiting Woodcote but could not make it stick and had to back off rapidly. "I got too much momentum at the wrong stage of the kink and couldn't make use of it subsequently," he admitted. "It was tough, but fun."
After that he opted instead to stop for fresh tyres again on lap 36. Hamilton did likewise on lap 37, but crucially the German moved ahead in the stops. Soon after, Hamilton had to start a Mobil Economy Run when he was instructed to back off in order to conserve fuel. He was powerless to do anything about Webber, who overtook on the 46th lap, and that set up a gripping fight with Ferrari's Felipe Massa.
Down into Vale corner on the last lap, Massa pushed ahead but Hamilton refused to give up and pushed down the inside of the left-hander. They made brief contact, which damaged the McLaren's front wing, but as Hamilton dived back for the inside line exiting the first part of Club corner, Massa stayed to the outside but ran wide and then into the run-off area. They crossed the line officially split by 0.024sec, with Hamilton dramatically maintaining fourth. The spectators loved that.
What at one stage looked a hugely promising race for McLaren, after their disasters in qualifying, turned into a major disappointment. Compounding Hamilton's fuel consumption problems, Jenson Button had to retire on the 39th lap for the reason dreaded by every pit crew.
McLaren's are no exception to all the others who are drilled to perfection, but incidents happen in the heat of the moment. Button was in the fight for a top-four placing and was running second during the round of final tyre stops. But his car was accidentally released from its pit before the right front wheel nut had been secured, and as the Englishman felt the wheel wobbling precariously on its hub he had no option but to pull over immediately, the game over.
Alonso said that it was a huge boost for his prancing horse to lead home the raging bulls.
"We were confident of being quick here. It was not an easy Grand Prix for us; the characteristics of the corners, and the layout were never our strongest points. Winning here is a good motivation for everyone and gives us confidence approaching the next few races," he said.
"When Hamilton overtook me he was very, very quick in that part of the race. We were fourth and stayed calm and I overtook him again thanks to the DRS and the KERS and all these things we have these days. This is a special win, a special event for every driver in F1 with the history of motorsport in England, and the privilege to drive Froilan Gonzales' car, the first Ferrari to win in F1, this morning.
"Sixty years ago here Ferrari won their first victory at this circuit. Today means a lot to all the guys here and the people working at Ferrari."
The delighted Spaniard was more cautious, however, about the slim chance of catching Vettel, who is 92 points ahead of him in the world championship contest.
"We will try to enjoy the moment, the win, and to keep working hard. We will have the same approach as we had in Malaysia and we had in Canada and here as well. It is to try to go for the victory every weekend.
"There are not championship thoughts at the moment because the gap is massive to Seb. We need to enjoy every weekend, and there is no time to think about anything else." (© Independent News Service)