Fernando Alonso won the British Grand Prix thanks to an improved Ferrari, a slow McLaren and a dismal Red Bull pit stop.
With Red Bull and McLaren scrambling to re-engineer their cars this weekend, Fernando Alonso took full advantage and Ferrari's first win of the season.
Though the Spaniard was slower in wet and mixed conditions, once the Silverstone track dried out he was unstoppable. His pass of Vettel may have come courtesy of a pitlane slip-up by the Red Bull team, but he finished the race a long way clear of Vettel who squabbled with Mark Webber for P2 in the final two laps.
Lewis Hamilton had run as high as second in the race but had to settle for P4 after a clumsey late-race overtaking move from Felipe Massa almost took them both out of the race.
It had been raining in the hour before the start time at Silverstone which had left the pit straight dry, but the back of the circuit from Copse to the Hangar Straight very wet. The ambient temperature was 20C with the track at 22C, but no immediate prospect of more rain. It was too wet to risk slick tyres and everyone started on Inters.
Grid:1.Webber, 2.Vettel, 3.Alonso, 4.Massa, 5.Button, 6.DiResta, 7.Maldonado 8.Kobayashi, 9.Rosberg, 10.Hamilton 11.Sutil, 12.Rosberg
Start:He may not have got pole but when the red lights went out, Sebastian Vettel timed his getaway to perfection and was easily up inside polesitter Mark Webber into Turn 1 and Fernando Alonso slotted into P3.
There were plumes of spray from the wet track as the cars circulated on the opening lap. Behind the front three, Jenson Button got past Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton, starting from P10, managed to sneak past Rosberg, Kobayashi and Maldonado in the first four turns. Coming down the Hangar Straight he was easily past Paul DiResta into Stowe for P6.
Michael Schumacher also got another demon start, making up four places. So at the end of the opening lap the positions were: 1.Vettel, 2.Webber, 3.Alonso, 4.Button, 5.Massa, 6.Hamilton, 7.DiResta, 8.Kobayashi, 9.Schumacher, 10.Maldonado, 11.Sutil, 12.Rosberg
Although he was up to P4 Jenson button looked very tentative and both Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton overtook him easily on Lap 2. Sebastian Vettel was able to open up a gap in the damp conditions, likewise Mark Webber over Fernando Alonso. By Lap 3 Vettel had a 3.4 lead over Webber and the Aussie had a 3.0 gap over Alonso.
Lewis Hamilton was charging hard and all over the back of Felipe Massa and on Lap 4 actually overtook him going into Brooklands but went straight on onto the run-off tarmac and gave the place back, dropping back for a time behind Massa.
On Lap 5 the DRS was enabled, by which time Vettel had a lead of 4.6 seconds over Webber who had 3.5 on Alonso. By Lap 7 Vettel had a 5.8 gap over Webber who went over the kerbs at the end of the Becketts sweeps and lost time, and by Lap 8 had Fernando Alonso breathing down his neck. The Ferrari looked decidedly second best in the wet, but easily the fastest car in the dry.
A spin from Kobayashi on Lap 9 lost him two places; then replays showed why the Sauber had been revolving. Michael Schumacher had been able to use his DRS for the first time that lap and misjudged his speed at the end of the Wellington straight, cannoning his front wing into the rear tyre of Kobayashi and breaking off the Mercedes front wing.
So it was a trip back to the pits for Schumacher and the perfect time to risk some slick tyres. He was first onto the soft Options and proved that they could work better than inters by becoming the fastest man in the race (but now back in P17). Heidfeld was in next for them followed by Jenson Button.
On Lap 10 Vettel had a lead of 8.1 seconds as the front-runners started to be fed information on Schumi's progress. On Lap 12 Button and Hiefdled came in, then a lap later it was Webber, Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. The fact that Alonso was pitted first for tyres meant that Massa ran longer than optimal, and so in the pit-stop shuffle he lost a place to Hamilton and started to come under pressure from Jenson Button.
Button was flying on his warmed up tyres setting the fastest lap on Lap 14, he came steaming down the Hangar Straight and when Massa moved to cover the inside, Button opted for the outside line. They were side by side through the corner but on the exit, the Ferrari driver unexpectedly kept on coming to the outside, even though the Mclaren was next to him on the track.
The helicopter shot showed how dangerous a position it was and Button was forced to go off track to avoid a collision but kept his foot in nonetheless. Now he had the inside line for Vale. He made it through to P5, but locked his tyres in the process.
At the same time Lewis Hamilton made the most sublime pass on Fernando Alonso into Copse corner. On the same time tyres Hamilton dived past Alonso at the last minute, going off the racing line through the wet and getting his car through without running wide before Maggots. Breathtaking stuff.
On Lap 15 the positions were: 1.Vettel, 2.Webber, 3.Hamilton, 4.Alonso, 5.Button, 6.Massa, 7.DiResta, 8.Sutil, 9.Schumacher, 10.Rosberg, 11.Perez, 12.Kobayashi.
Michael Schumacher, despite his battered Mercedes, was still in front of Nico Rosberg, but was facing a stewards decision on causing an avoidable accident. Because of the short-cut nature of a Silverstone pit-stop, a drive-through penalty had been changed to a ten-second stop and go penalty, and so Schumacher duly had to come in and serve his time in the Mercedes pitbox.
Between Laps 16 and 22 the fastest lap was slashed by the front five with Button, Hamilton, Webber, Vettel and Alonso all bettering it. Hamilton in P3 and Alonso in P4 were catching the Red Bulls, but Alonso was also catching Hamilton very quickly now the track was drying out. On Lap 22 only eight seconds covered the front four.
On Lap 24 Alonso used the DRS zone to overtake Hamilton with ease and a lap later Lewis was in for more tyres. Alonso was clearly the fastest man on the track putting in a succession of fastest laps between Lap 24 and 26. Webber, Button and Massa pitted on Lap 26 while Vettel and Alonso came in a lap later.
Vettel's stop was disastrous with a rear jack problem hampering the rear left tyre chage and the Red Bull was stationary for over 10 seconds. Alonso sailed past him in the pits, and when both rejoined the track it was all change. Alonso led with Hamilton not far behind in P2.
The positions on Lap 28 were: 1.Alonso, 2.Hamilton, 3.Vettel, 4.Webber, 5.Button, 6.Massa, 7.Rosberg, 8.Perez, 9.Heidfeld, 10.Alguersuari, 11.Sutil 12.Schumacher.
Vettel's stop hadn't been as woeful as Paul di Resta's, the Brit having run as high as P.7 before his second pit-stop. When he appeared in the pits his engineer yelled "stay out" at the last minute. Alas Paul was already in pitlane heading towards Adrian Sutil's tyres. The subsequent delay put him well down the order and an incident with Buemi later in the race removed his front wing.
After the second stops Hamilton closed on the Ferrari of Alonso for the first lap, but this wasn't going to be a repeat of the earlier heroics as Fernando put the hammer down and simply drove away from him. Vettel closed up onto the gearbox of Hamilton, but good defensive driving from Hamilton kept him behind. By Lap 34 Alonso had a 9.4 second gap to Hamilton and had virtually made his escape. At the same time Jenson Button was making steady progress on Mark Webber's fourth place and by Lap 35 was just 1.9 seconds behind him.
Unable to find a way past the Mclaren, Vettel pitted on Lap 37 for more tyres. To show how much of a short-cut the pitlane is, he actually registered across the line in P2 ahead of Hamilton while he was having his tyres changed. Lewis pitted a lap later in response but it was too late. Vettel had already taken P2.On Lap 38 team radio reported that Jenson Button was going to come in to try and leapfrog Mark Webber - who was just 1.1 ahead of the Mclaren at the time. So Red Bull immediately pulled him to prevent this and Button stayed out because they'd lost the advantage of surprise.
When Button came in a lap later, the McLaren front jack man went to reach for his second gun and the lollypop man misread the situation as "all-clear" and released Button. Thus Button got to the end of the pitlane with a wobbly, unasecured front right wheel and had to park up, his race over.
When Felipe Massa pitted very late - on lap 42 - the positions were: 1.Alonso, 2.Vettel, 3.Hamilton, 4.Webber, 5.Massa, 6.Rosberg, 7.Perez, 8.Heidfeld, 9.Schumacher, 10. Alguersuari.11.Sutil
Alonso now had an unassailable lead over Vettel whose KERS wasn't working, but he was under no threat from P3 Lewis Hamilton who was dropping back. When the McLaren team reported to a shocked Lewis that he had to save lots of fuel, Mark Webber was soon up with the Mclaren and passed him in the DRS zone.
In the last stages of the race there were three epic fights, Nico Rosberg fighting off a determined Perez, Mark Webber closing in on Vettel for P2 and Felipe Massa rapidly catching Lewis Hamilton.
Though Mark Webber was radioed by the team to hold station in P3, the Aussie was having none of it and almost got past his team-mate in the Luffield-Woodcote complex. Vettel had enough race craft to keep in front of him to the flag and Webber wasn't trying to get past him at all costs.
Massa was 13 seconds behind Hamilton when Webber had got past him, but because of Lewis saving fuel was picking up three seconds a lap. Massa caught Lewis on the final lap just when the McLaren team told Lewis he was clear to race again. By this stage his brakes had cooled so as Felipe made a run on the outside into the final turn he cut too sharply across the understeering McLaren which clattered into his side.
The Ferrari lost control, went off the road onto the run-off and almost finished the race off the track. Lewis retained P4 by 0.024 of a second.
However the main event was Fernando Alonso winning at a canter, Ferrari's first win of the year. Although he had been helped by Red Bull's delayed pit-stop and Vettel's failure to get past Hamilton when he needed to, the Ferrari 150 looked by far the fastest car. Thankfully, as the race had started with Intermediate tyres the team weren't obliged to use the much-feared hard Prime tyre which they had struggled with in Spain.
Behind Massa in 5th, came Rosberg ahead of Perez and Heidfeld, with Michael Schumacher scrambling back to 9th to get two points on a day when he really should have been sixth.
It was yet another incident-packed race for 2011 and one that will involve an extensive debrief in the Red Bull motorhome.
01. Alonso Ferrari 1h28:41.194
02. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 16.511
03. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 16.947
04. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 28.986
05. Massa Ferrari + 29.010
06. Rosberg Mercedes + 1:00.665
07. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 1:05.590
08. Heidfeld Renault + 1:15.542
09. Schumacher Mercedes + 1:17.912
10. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:19.108
11. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1:19.712
12. Petrov Renault + 1:20.600
13. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth -1
14. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth -1
15. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes -1
16. Glock Virgin-Cosworth -2
17. D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth -2
18. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth -2
19. Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth -3
Button McLaren-Mercedes -11
Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari -26
Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari -28
Trulli Lotus-Renault -41
Kovalainen Lotus-Renault -49