SILVERSTONE, England: Nico Rosberg won the British Grand Prix on Sunday after four drivers, including early leader Lewis Hamilton, had to deal with exploding tires and three-time champion Sebastian Vettel quit with 10 laps remaining because of mechanical problems.
With Vettel’s Red Bull teammate 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 — then had to survive a stewards inquiry.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who started ninth, made a late charge and got past Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen with two laps remaining to claim third. Hamilton also recovered to finish fourth, after his blown tire 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 3 and 5. 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, who also won in Monaco and in China last year. “Our team has done such a fantastic job. We have such momentum at the moment, progressing all the time.”
Hamilton seemed poised to win his first British Grand Prix since 2008 after getting a great start and extending his lead over three-time world champion Vettel.
But on the eighth lap, the 2008 champion’s left rear tire exploded and he was forced to limp into the pits. Two laps later, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa lost his left rear tire and spun out. Then, Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne also lost his rear tire on the 15th, sending rubber flying across the track.
That brought out the safety car until lap 22 and sparked renewed concerns about the reliability of Pirelli tires. It also prompted drivers to later warn of the dangers of exploding tires — which affected McLaren driver Sergio Perez on both Saturday and Sunday.
Alonso admitted he was “scared” after being sprayed with debris from Perez’s tire and Rosberg called for action to prevent a similar situation in Germany next weekend.
“Well, we shouldn’t get into that situation,” Rosberg said. “We need to do what needs to be done to sort it out and make the tires last.”
The FIA has ordered tire supplier Pirelli to attend a meeting on the issue on Wednesday in Germany.
Pirelli said it was investigating the matter, but ruled out a new bonding process for the tires that was introduced ahead of the British Grand Prix being to blame. The company said “there may be some aspect of the circuit” that contributed to the problem.
“There have obviously been some issues with rear-left tire failures which we have not seen before,” Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery said. “We are taking the situation very seriously and we are currently investigating all tires to determine the cause as soon as possible, ahead of the next Grand Prix in Germany.”
TV pictures of Turn 4 on the Silverstone circuit, where some of the incidents took place, indicated the sidewall of the tires could have been punctured by a sharp part of the curb.
The wild finish leaves the championship wide open.
Despite his late exit, Vettel remains the leader in the drivers’ championship 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, some 43 points behind Vettel.