A Formula One World Championship without a British Grand Prix would be almost unthinkable. After all, England claims the mantle of the series' birthplace, and its GP (along with Italy's) stands as the longest-running in motor racing.
Despite all the history, this year's British Grand Prix almost didn't happen at all. At least, that's what Bernie Ecclestone might have had us believe. Amidst declining conditions at Silverstone, which first hosted the race in 1948 and has held it exclusively since '87, the contract almost went back to Brands Hatch (the track that alternated with Silverstone from '63 to '86). When that deal fell apart, Silverstone and its owner, the British Racing Drivers Club, sprung into action and implemented the first in a series of comprehensive renovations aimed at bringing the age-old circuit up to spec.
The result was a contract for hosting the British GP for the next seventeen years and a new layout dubbed "the Arena". After all the renovations, the negotiations and rivalry, the circus rolled into town and raced on the new track this weekend. Follow the jump to read how it went.
Though the results from Saturday's qualifying sessions may have come as no surprise to avid race fans, the controversy behind them spoke volumes. Having apparently failed to bring enough of its new front wings to Silverstone, Red Bull made the decision to take Mark Webber's entire nosecone and give it to Sebastian Vettel after the young German damaged his during practice. Webber was left fuming, the public got a rare glimpse into the team's favoritism dynamics, and Vettel took pole. Webber managed to bring in his downgraded RB5 for second place, ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton took fourth and Mercedes GP's Nico Rosberg surprised with fifth ahead of Robert Kubica (Renault), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Rubens Barrichello (Williams), Pedro de la Rosa (Sauber) and Michael Schumacher (Mercedes). Jenson Button struggled in qualifying to land 14th on the grid amongst the back-markers and midfielders.
Undeterred, Webber squeezed his teammate and rival out at the first corner to take the lead. Vettel was forced off-track, puncturing a tire in the process, which sent him into the pits. A similar saga played out between the Ferraris as Alonso lost position and made contact with Massa, who also burst a tire and was forced into the pits along with Vettel. Both the front-running young guns re-emerged at the back of the field to fight their way up to the front once again.
Subsequent laps saw few changes as Webber and Hamilton pulled away from their rivals. Kubica slipped past Rosberg for third, de la Rosa fell back several positions, and defending champion Button advanced to eighth position. With Hamilton unable to keep up with Webber, however, a long train of cars lined up behind Kubica.
The rest of the field began pitting after around a dozen laps. Button was among the last to do so, advancing up to fourth position and rejoining the race in sixth place after swapping tires. By the time Webber hit the pits, he had opened up such an insurmountable lead that he rejoined the contest unchallenged in first place.
Farther adrift, Alonso was forced off the track while battling Kubica on lap 17. Having gained position on the Renault by effectively (though unavoidably) cutting the chicane, the Ferrari driver would later be handed a drive-through penalty. Before he could take it, though, Kubica was sidelined with unspecified mechanical problems. Force India's Sutil, meanwhile, tried to get past Sauber's Pedro de la Rosa, whose car then lost part of its wing. Pedro would join Kubica on the pit wall as the safety car went out under yellow. Alonso would have to wait to execute his imposed penalty until the safety car was brought back in on lap 30, finally rejoining the race in 16th place on lap 32.
Come lap 33, Webber remained in the lead, but his lead over Hamilton was cut down under the safety car. Rosberg remained in third ahead of Button, who was back up to fourth. Barrichello, Kobayashi (Sauber), Sutil, Schumacher, Hulkenberg (Williams) and Petrov (Renault) rounded out the Top 10 as frontrunners Vettel, Massa and Alonso (12th, 13th and 16th respectively) picked their way up the field.
In a rather comical and unexpected turn of events, Massa temporarily lost control of his car coming around the final corner on lap 40, damaging his tire before regaining control on the pit lane entrance. Making the best of a bad situation, he took a surprise pit stop, catching the crew off-guard. The long pit stop that ensued dashed any hopes of his finishing inside the points. That didn't stop him, however, from setting a hotly-contested fastest lap that would later be bested by Alonso.
Across the line after 52 smooth laps, Webber took the checkered flag ahead of Hamilton. And what did Webber have to say for himself just as the broadcast tuned in to the race-winner's radio? "Not bad for a #2 driver". The message rang loud and clear to the Red Bull pit wall, with principal Christian Horner eating his hat as he sent a subordinate to collect the team's trophy.
Nico Rosberg stunned all with a solid podium finish, outshining his legendary teammate, Michael Schumacher, who finished in 9th ahead of Williams' Nico Hulkenberg. In between, Button took fourth place, Barrichello an impressive fifth, Kobayashi a notable sixth, Vettel a frustrated seventh and Sutil a defiant eighth. Both Ferraris finished outside the points at the end of a disastrous day for Maranello.
The results further cement Lewis Hamilton's and McLaren's lead in the championship standings with 145 drivers' points and 278 constructors', bolstered by Button's 133 in second place. Webber and Vettel trail in third and fourth places with 128 and 121 points respectively, combining for 249 for Red Bull. The circus heads next to the Hockenheimring for the German Grand Prix on July 25.